"Over the summer I chaired and judged a couple of panels on the quality food awards, as I mentioned in one of my previous blogs. Last year the category of meat, poultry and game was won by a superb product from Highland Venison, which then went on to win the overall Golden Q award.
This win by a UK venison product pleased me no end, especially since it was the first time game had been entered into the category, and I was glad that good quality Scottish venison had beaten some 30 other (very good) products and made a name for British venison, as opposed to the imported New Zealand Venison which certain supermarkets insist on carrying.
Back in the hot seat
This year, as I sat in the chairman’s seat again and cast my eye over the list of 35+ entered products, I was very happy to see three of the major supermarkets had entered venison products. Great, I thought, it's about time we saw more British Venison on our shelves.
I made the assumption that this was English, Scotch, Welsh or Irish Venison, because all the products that we looked at proudly carried the Union Jack or the Scottish, Welsh or Irish flag. But I was wrong - every one of the products came from New Zealand.
Questions to be answered
Why oh why are they buying in New Zealand Venison when we have an ample supply in the UK? I asked this question of the supermarkets and was given a whole bunch of reasons as to why: for example, “The UK can not supply the demand for the Venison we need.” Rubbish - we have a great supply of Venison in the UK and through good management of wild stocks as well as naturally farming on large areas of open land, we supply more than any supermarket will ever need.
“The quality of the Venison we get from New Zealand is superior to the UK venison.” Rubbish again - the Venison we have in the UK is a natural product of our countryside. The only time when Venison is hit and miss is when non-specialist suppliers deal with it and do not know how to select animals for certain products.
But remember that we are dealing with a wild animal that has had very little intervention in its selective breeding. Let's not try to turn it into the modern day economy chicken that has no flavour. These birds exist because this is what the supermarkets demand - a 1.5kg or 2kg bird full of useless muscle, that cannot fly and can barely support its own weight. Venison is not what they would call perfect and calculable in portions as lamb, but then wild animals never are.
Another argument was that “We have to be accountable to our customers that the venison we buy has had the best possible husbandry and has been humanly slaughtered.” All our venison is, and I would go as far as saying that an animal shot in the field has less stress then one taken to the slaughterhouse. Our wild venison lives free, goes where it wants to go, eating what it wants to eat, it is as free-range as you can get, has the best husbandry of all, because it is a wild animal that is harvested quickly and cleanly with no stress. Our naturally-farmed venison lives in large expanses of countryside and in many cases is shot in the field.
Ladies and gents of the supermarket world, you are buying venison from New Zealand because it's cheap and because you can cheaply ship it over in containers with frozen New Zealand lamb. Our venison is some of the best in the world and the chefs I teach know this. It comes from our countryside, is supplied fresh and travels a relatively short distance to your shops, not half way around the world. Let’s not ignore this fantastic British commodity and let's be as patriotic about venison as we are now about our pork, beef and Lamb - making it available to all.
Jose's demos go down a treat at the New Forest Show
“This month when the CLA Game fair came to an end, my wife Charlotte and I travelled down to the New Forest where both of us would be working in the Countryside arena.
A new venue
This is a new show to me and I was a last minute booking as the organisers had been let down by their usual chef from a local hotel due to a mass influx of business. Because of this, I was a bit wary as to what to expect in the way of equipment and the type of demonstration they wanted. The brief was prep and cooking of game and they would supply a selection of game for me to use. I prepped a few bits to take with me and once I was there found a great kitchen set up with everything I needed.
The first demonstration was breaking down a haunch of venison into it primal cuts and showing the first and second class cuts from the joints, followed by a tasting of venison steaks cut from the topside. Each demonstration followed the same sort of layout there after with Pat, a local housewife, doing home cookery in between my demos. By the end of the first day, all was going well and the organisers came to see me saying that this was the first time they had had butchery demos and it was going down a storm.
Ron, the manager of the Countryside arena, mentioned that he had a roe buck in his farm shop chiller at a place called the ‘Owl Barn’. I asked if he could bring it in so that I could show the crowds how to skin and break down a whole carcass. The next day the roe buck was brought in and a large crowd watched and enjoyed as I set to work. This is a great show in a beautiful part of the country and with some really lovely people. There is everything here from the massive equestrian presence to the country sports, food and local produce. I also had the pleasure of meeting fellow H&C blogger Howard Kirby for the first time and had a natter about my dog and its ability to go deaf on me every now and then. Howard and his guys put on a great dog display that was entertaining and very informative at the same time which I really enjoyed, you can tell that his dogs love what they do and love to please their master. All in all a great show and one I hope to be at next year.”
“The CLA Game Fair this year was as fantastic as ever. Much of that is down to Nicky Barr and her army of staff that make the cookery demo tent run like clockwork. A special mention must go to Richard, Mary and Nicky’s mum who helped me and the other chefs with many aspects of our demos and not forgetting Viv. Viv is one of the corner stones of the cookery demos making sure all the food is there, helping with prep and running about all over the place for us.
The demos were as popular as ever, and I had a brief chance to catch up with friends and fellow chefs Mike Robinson, Rachel Green and Michael Moore (who is an ex-student of the College) as well as Marie Taylor and Alan Claxon. All of us where kept busy by the sheer number of people watching the demos; I don’t think I counted an empty seat over the three days.
A new falcon
During the show, a friend of mine delivered my new young Peregrine falcon and she is a stunner. Training started in earnest during my time at the show by sitting with her quietly in the evenings. She is going special and a replacement to Isabella and Sophia, who died last winter after contracting a mystery air borne virus that killed 36 female Peregrines around the country in captivity but that now seems to have stopped with no more cases since March.
Lovely Bubbly Champagne
The Game Fair seems to be getting better and better each year and I look forward to the atmosphere and people I meet. Yet again this year, Mike and Fiona from Lovely Bubbly Champagne were on site with their Champagne Bar. Mike always does a spot with me matching Champagne to my food and believe me when I say that there is nothing they do not know about the fizzy stuff.
“Champagne is not just for special occasions. It is to be drunk at any time and the best thing is we invented it,” Mike tells the heaving crowd at one of my Alaskan seafood demos. “The French used to send to us here in the UK the lesser wines during the middle ages and, thinking they were being clever, added malaises and sugar to it to make it more palatable. This wine took up to a month to travel to the UK and during this time a second fermentation took place which caused the bubbles in the wine. The French thought they were sending us flat, second rate wine but it was only many years later that they discovered they were sending us a fizzy wine now known as Champagne.”
Mike and his wife Fiona import Champagne from the smaller producers in the Champagne region therefore supporting family run businesses who are focused on the quality of their limited product. During my demos for Bradley Smokers and Alaska Seafoods, Mike matched many Champagnes to my dishes, one of my favorites being Lancelot-Pienne Cuvée Rosé. This rose Champagne is limited to 5000 bottles 2500 of which Mike and Fiona stock. This Champagne sat well with my Wild Alaskan Salmon Tartar and before the Fair was over we shared a few glasses. Just the drink for the summer. Cheers!”
“At work over the last six years I have been using a Bradley smoker to enhance and give a new dimension to the food we prepare. Home smoking was quite a difficult affair until we got one of these fantastic machines; up to that moment the likelihood of you setting fire to the smoker, the food you where smoking and yourself were quite high. But now the smoker controls how long the wood smolders for in a safe enclosed unit. With the Bradley, you just simply place the wood chips into the stacking system that then automatically feeds them through on to a hot plate where they smolder and produce the smoke, which, with the help of a heating element, flavours and cooks the food.
Hot and cold smoking
This is what we call hot smoking – that is, cooking food and flavouring it with smoke at the same time. Bradleys can also be used for cold smoking with the help of a cold smoke adaptor that fits on to the unit. Cold smoking is flavouring cured foods by placing them in a smoky environment with no heat so that they gain the smoky flavour but do not cook. An example of this is smoked salmon. Traditionally, food was smoked to extend its shelf life but nowadays we like the smoked flavor and have found ways of enhancing the food we eat by smoking it. Smoking can also add value to your food if you have a business or a bounty of food at set times of year, such as game or fish. To give you an example, a ready smoked chicken will cost around £7.99. I can smoke a chicken myself for £3.00. I have also smoked game, such as pheasants, in the same way I have smoked chicken and produced an exceptional starter during the season when game is plentiful.
Over the next few weeks I will be doing demos as Holkham and the CLA on smoking foods so I thought I would blog the recipes below for some of the foods I will be using. Happy smoking and see you at the shows - look out for Bradley Smokers at the CLA.
Whole hot smoked chicken
1 whole chicken
2 lt cold water
200g curing salts
1) Mix curing salts and water together to create a brine.
2) Place the brine into a small container so that when you submerge the chicken into it, it covers the bird.
3) Leave the chicken in the brine overnight.
4) Take the chicken out of the brine and drain any liquid out of the cavity.
5) Truss the chicken (tie ready for cooking)
6) Take a cloth and dry the skin well on the chicken, then place it on a cloth covered tray in the fridge again overnight. Do not cover it, because you want the skin to dry out so that the smoke will stick to it.
7) Fill the stacking tube with wood chips. I have used hickory and oak for chicken.
8) Fill a dousing bowl with water. Wood chips may fall into this when they have burnt out.
9) Turn smoker on and set to high heat.
10) Place the chicken on a smoking rack and into the smoker. If you are smoking more than one, make sure they are not touching so that the smoke can get all around them.
11) Cook the chicken in the Bradley for between 45 to 60 minutes but check the juices are running clear and that the thickest part has a core temp of least at 65 to 70°C - use a temperature probe to do this.
12) Once cooked, remove from the smoker, allow to cool then refrigerate. It can be used cold for salads, sandwich fillings or warmed up to be used in soups and pasta dishes amongst many other uses.
Hot smoked salmon
1 side of salmon
300g caster sugar
150g table salt
1) Make sure the salmon is free from bones.
2) Trim the tail end off so that the side is the same thickness and width all the way through. Also make sure it fits on a rack nicely, allowing the smoke to freely pass around it. If necessary, with very large fish cut it in half.
3) Place the salmon on to a tray.
4) Mix the sugar and salt together well then sprinkle the mix over the top of the salmon. Use all the mix.
5) Place in the fridge and leave overnight.
6) The next morning, wash the sugar and salt mix off, then dry the salmon well using a cloth. If you have time, place in the fridge for a few hours to dry out further.
7) Brush the skin side with some olive oil and place on the smoking rack.
8) Fill the stacking tube with wood chips - I have used hickory, maple and oak for salmon.
9) Three-quarters fill a dousing bowl with water. This is the bowl where the wood chips fall after they have burnt out.
10) Turn the smoker on and set to high heat.
11) Place the salmon in the smoker for 30 minutes. The salmon should be cooked but still moist in the middle. Its better slightly under-cooked as it will continue cooking once removed from smoker and allowed to cool.
12) Once cooked, remove from smoker, allow to cool then refrigerate. It can be used cold for salads, sandwich fillings or warmed up to be used in soups and pasta dishes amongst many other uses.
“If you love the countryside and discovering new things, what better way to spend a summer’s day than at a game fair. There is plenty to see and try that will entertain all the family.
This month I will be conducting demonstrations at two prestigious fairs and will be enlightening the public on the following topics:
Selecting and cooking game such as venison, pheasant and partridge.
Home-smoking food including fish, poultry and game.
Cooking sustainable fish, primarily wild Alaskan.
Of course there will be plenty of tastings too!
So here are the details:
Holkham Country Fair (16 and 17 July)
I will be doing one demonstration on each topic on both days in the ShowCookery Theatre:
A taste and celebration of game cooking
Sponsored by The British Association of Shooting and Conservation who are doing great things to promote game cookery in their “Taste of Game” Campaign.
Smoking your own food
Sponsored by Bradley Smokers, I will be using one of their smokers to demonstrate the delights of smoking your own food.
CLA Game Fair (22 - 24 July)
Held at Blenheim Palace, I will be doing several demonstrations and can be found in the Main Cookery Theatre.
Cooking with sustainable fish
Sponsored by Alaska Seafood’s, I will be preparing, cooking and offering tastings of wild Alaskan salmon, Pacific cod and pollock. There will be two demonstrations on Friday and Saturday and one on Sunday.
Smoking your own food Sponsored by Bradley Smokers following the same format as before. There will be one demo on Sunday.
Further details of the exact times and locations for all these demonstrations can be found on their show schedules.
I look forward to seeing some of you there. If you make it to Holkham, look out for CJS Birds of Prey in the main arena as this is my wife’s falconry display team which is fascinating to watch, if I say so myself.”
"Last year, I had a phone call from Judi Smith, the wife of a farmer who’s land I have hawked on for many years. Judi informed me that she and her friend Debs Collis had just started a new business venture inspired by their love of bringing people together and hosting events.
A few years ago Judi and her husband Phil were at home in the village of Standon in Hertfordshire when they heard an almighty crash. They rushed outside to find that a lorry which had lost control on a bend and had careered into the old barn at the side of their property causing considerable damage. It was while the barn was being repaired that Judi and Debs came up with the idea of insulating and decorating it to hold demonstrations, and so became “The Brewhouse Workshops”.
Judi contacted me not long after the advent of these workshops and asked if I would be interested in doing some demonstrations on game and other food related subjects. We agreed the first date for November 2010, which was to be a game evening focusing on and tasting a whole selection of British game including duck, pheasant, partridge and venison. To accompany the tastings, Justin Waples from Waples wines was enlisted to select a wine to match the game I had to offer. The evening was a fantastic success with around 40 people attending.
A fishy subject
Two weeks ago I returned to The Brewhouse to conduct a demo on sustainable fish - a subject much in the news at the moment. Once again Justin supplied the wine to match.
This is what I cooked:
Pan fried mackerel with a parsley and spring onion dressing
Hot smoked wild Alaska salmon
Teriyaki style sea bream
Wild Alaskan salmon tartar
Fish sausages with samphire and shell fish sauce
Pan fried wild Alaska salmon
I began the demo by discussing and showing the preparation of round fish such as
mackerel and sea bream as well as comparing wild salmon with farmed. We then addressed flat fish (plaice, Dover sole and lemon sole). Finally, we discussed the sustainability issues that surround fish. We covered Pacific cod, halibut and Alaska wild salmon, examining how they are fished and why these fish are so abundant in Alaska.
Another well received and well attended evening with many other subjects brought to the table. Many were surprised at just how unsustainable fish farming can be.
The Brewhouse runs frequent evening and day time workshops such as these - as well as covering many other lifestyle topics. They make for a fun and informative time so I hope to see you at the next one.”
“BASC, The British Association of Shooting and Conservation, has with the Countryside Alliance been at the forefront of promoting the eating of game in the UK. The BASC Game On campaign as well as the Game To Eat Campaign from the CA has done wonders with the help of a selected few specialist game chefs in educating the general publics perception and appreciation of game as a main stream product.
Game dealers such as UK Game and Yorkshire Game have played a big part too. These guys have improved the quality of game ten fold and are capable of supplying a quality product all year around. As part of the BASC Game On promotion they run a competition every year to win a meal for eight people cooked at your home by one of their game chefs. This is something Countrywise TV Chef Mike Robinson and I have done for the past few years. This year, a Mr Colin Bell was the lucky winner of my services for the evening. Colin is a keen countryman living in Berkshire and once he had won the competition we liaised over email and phone calls to agree a menu for him and his guests. Game and fresh fish were always going to feature on the menu and it was with this in mind that Colin and I agreed the following:
Petit tass of leek and potato soup with cepe dust
Pan fried scallops with lemon butter and chive sauce
Roast loin of Norfolk fallow with truffle mash potato, broad beans, pancetta and game jus with a selection of green vegetables
Apple and nut crumble with cream and butterscotch sauce.
The soup was a typical leek and potato soup finished with cream and a sprinkling of dehydrated cepe mushrooms that, when warmed by the soup, gave a burst of flavour to the soup.
The fish course was three large king scallops pan fried lightly and then served with a butter sauce where the butter, lemon juice and wine are emulsified together so as to give a rich glossy sauce.
Game had to be featured and in all its glory! Loin of Norfolk fallow shot by my own hand, sealed and roasted then served with a rich mash potato, flavoured with truffles. Game jus was made from the venison bones and garnished with pancetta and board beans. This was accompanied by a mixture of green vegetables, which included asparagus, snow peas and fine green beans.
The dessert had to be kept simple; a bramley and russett apple base topped with a nibed almond crumble, served just warm with a helping of butterscotch sauce and cream.
Wine matched to the food
To compliment the meal, Tanners the wine merchants matched wines to each course, which I mush say after sampling them sat well with each of the dishes.
Colin had not told his guests the plans for the evening, so it was to some quite bemused faces I arrived and introduced myself. Once shown to the kitchen, I busied myself with the menu in hand and soon had an audience following my every move and asking questions about what I was doing. Colin being a keen foodie was intrigued by how I did things but I soon found that he was quite adept in the kitchen - something that I should have guessed from the mountains of cook books around and the very well stocked and equipped kitchen. I also found out that Colin had eaten in some of the world’s best Restaurants including El Bulli, so no pressure then! As the evening passed and dinner was served, everyone enjoyed a fantastic evening. It was a pleasure to prepare and cook for people who had such an interest in food.”
“Hi all, it’s been a while since I posted a blog but during that time lots has happened.
The first thing to tell you about is the conclusion of a year’s worth of work with Alaska Seafood. Just over a year ago, fellow lecturer Norman Fu and I set up a competition for Alaska Seafoods - please read my blog ‘Alaska Seafoods Working with Young Chefs’ 29th April 2010. The idea was to ask our second year students to come up with recipes for Alaska Salmon and Pacific Cod. Both these fish are highly sustainable and for the past two years we have worked with Alaska Seafood using the model of how Alaska polices its fisheries to teach students about good fishery management and its importance.
This is something vital for chefs to learn as in many cases these are the guys that set food fashions and trends which are then followed by the supermarkets. After the competition, the winners were chosen and the prizes given, then all 15 finalists’ recipes were taken by me and food styled for a book Alaska Seafood planned to produce. After nearly one year, the book is now complete and on 9 April we had the launch at the college. This was a fantastic affair and Norman and I prepared miniatures of some of the recipes in the book as well as some others to show off other sustainable seafoods from Alaska. These included:
1) Yuzu koshyo glazed Alaska king crab on avocado.
2) Wild Alaska salmon gravalux with Alaska king crab lemon cream, mango and citrus dressing
3) Wild Alaska salmon tarter on melba toast with dill, grain mustard dressing.
4) Pancetta wrapped wild Alaska salmon with an orange butter sauce.
5) Sous vide wild Alaska salmon on buttered baby leeks with a green pea mousse.
6) Wild Pacific cod on chorizo and puy lentils with sundried tomato and chorizo oil.
7) Cured and seared wild Alaska salmon with seaweed salad and citrus soya sauce dressing.
8) White miso Alaska black cod on Thai salad.
9) Grilled wild Pacific pollock glazed with a cheesy Welsh rarebit mix.
10) Wild Pacific cod filled with wild Alaska salmon mousse and spinach with a creamy caper and cheese sauce.
This book is a fantastic achievement for the students to be involved with and will be sent all over the world to show the future chefs of tomorrow working towards a more sustainable world. For further information about the recipes or to obtain a copy of the book, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0207 389 9404.”
"In the UK we have many breeds of pigs; some go way back and some have more recently been selectively bred for their size or eating qualities. Much has been said about the best breed and the way they are reared. Gloucester Old Spots are one breed that seems to pop its head up every now and again as one of the finest old breeds around.
A few years ago fellow lecturer Patrick Carey and I where asked by the then Meat and Live Stock Commission and Hotel and Caterer Magazine to look at the differences between a Gloucester Old Spots and free range Blythburgh pigs. They expected the Gloucester Old Spot - being the breed of the day - to beat the Blythburgh hands down both in flavor and in yield. This was not to be the case as you can see in the article called 'Which Pig'.
We actually found that the modern Gloucester Old Spot was not the Holy Grail of pork that we had been lead to believe. Why? Well I have my own thoughts on this which were backed up on a recent trip to Spain.
Gloucester Old Spots are great pigs with a good flavor and a good layer of fat, and where there is fat there is flavour. The Victorian books tell us that most large country houses of this era had large fruit and vegetable gardens. They also had Gloucester Old Spots which where kept in a pig pen and then as autumn approached, they would be turned out to feed on the wind fall of apples from the orchards. This way of finishing became so main stream that Gloucester Old Spots became known as the orchard pig.
Myth would have us believe that the reason a Gloucester Old Spot has the big black spots is because as the apples fell they hit the pig and so caused a bruise that then became the spots. These pigs fed well on the left over food from the house as well as the apples just before the cold weather set in and they where slaughtered. I am sure that this finishing of these pigs had a lot to do with the end product and that is why the Gloucester Old Spot was held in such high regard. Now a days The Gloucester Old Spots are not finished in this way and because we have developed an aversion to fat, so the pork we produce is much leaner and fed to produce muscle.
This theory of the way pigs are finished and fed relating to the pork we produce today was underlined on a visit to an Iberico pork produced in the Castilla Leon Spain called Monte Beco.
I did some work with these guys for The Restaurant Show, as you may recall from one of my recent blogs. At Monte Beco they breed and produce Iberico pigs - a very old breed that is synonymous with quality. Spanish air dried hams and chorizos produce a succulent well marbled meat. These black pigs are the same breed found in small villages all around the Spain; it is a breed that does well in the Spanish climate.
In many areas where these pigs are kept, the countryside is covered with nothing but Spanish acorn trees. The trees drop their rich cargo of acorns at the beginning of autumn and it is here amongst these areas of wild countryside that true Iberico pigs spend their time freely roaming feeding on the acorns and other food. These pigs were free range before we’d even heard of the idea and have been bred and reared in this way for generations. The husbandry and feed these pigs receive has maintained the characteristics of this pork. Nothing has changed here, and yes Monte Beco does it on a larger scale, but they have kept to the traditional methods of rearing. The pigs can eat over 500kg in acorns during their three year lives and are reared in three different ways:
These are the pigs that eat nothing but acorns and food they find out in the acorn groves. They are much prized small animals, the meat is tight but has lines of fat running through it called 'marbling'. This makes it fantastically moist. It also has a slightly nutty flavour which comes from the acorns. The hams from these pigs are known all over the world as 'jamon Iberico pata negra bellota' (Iberico black leg acorn fed ham) and can fetch over £250 each. It has an exquisite flavour and colour which changes depending on age and how it is cut.
Recebo y Bellota
As the Acorn season draws on there are not as many acorns available as the pig farmers would like because it is a wild food, so these same black pigs are still in the field but their diet is supplemented with barley. These are known as a 50/50 pig; the hams from these pigs are cheaper than the bellota and have a lighter flavour but are larger. They are called 'jamon Iberico pata negra recebo'.
Again these are the same pigs but they are fed on pig feed and barley. This produces a larger pig with more meat and a good flavour, but not a patch on the other two. These hams are known as 'jamon Iberico pata negra'.
The meat from these three rearing processes is exquisite. It is darker than the pork we traditionally find in the UK and has marbling running through the meat which adds flavor. These traditional black pigs have been as much a part of Spanish life as paella, and the tradition of breeding, rearing and husbandry has been passed on through generations. So I say, bring back traditional methods of rearing bring back the pigs of old!
Culling deer is essential to keep their population under control
“Recently in the press there has been a lot written about a certain stag that was shot in Devon: The Emperor of Exmoor. Some called his death barbaric, while others see it as just a normal part of life of the countryside and some people are not really bothered.
Since I am involved in game, its management and the promoting of game, I feel a need to comment on what has been said in all camps for many reasons but mainly because:
I understand the conscience of poor deer management and would hope to be able to explain this to people that do not have an involvement or understanding of the countryside.
And finally because I am a country person that lives and understands the beauty and cruelty of Mother Nature.
A load of codswallop
I can comment only on what I have read or seen on TV and, as I understand it, this was a very large stag that was quite old. I did hear one report say “that they could only hope that this animal had passed on its genes to future generations.”
What a load of codswallop. Of course it has. If you are a beast that is that old and big, you gain the right to father many offspring. The question is, are the females of the quality that can bear the good stock that produced this animal?
Good deer management
I have no doubt that this animal was alive because of good management and selective culling to keep the strong best stock. This will produce a good, fit breeding animal, that in turn will ensure that these animals will always be there for future generations to see and enjoy.
We should be aware that we have created countless imbalances within our environment. ‘HOW?’ I hear you ask. Well, each species of animal has another which it relies on for food and to keep it in check. Animals will only breed to the amount of food available to them. That is, if there is lots of food, there will be lots of healthy young.
No natural predators
During the Middle Ages, wolves, bears and other predators kept our deer population in check, as well as the few that we humans took. Fast forward to the present and we are producing 100 if not 1000 times more food in our fields then ever before, so the deer breed better than ever. On the surface, this sounds positive, but we have eradicated the wolf, the bear and any other predator that fed on the deer. Add that to that the fact that we now have three species of non-indigenous deer breeding in the UK in the wild as well and we have a population problem.
We humans are the only predator of deer left. We are the ones that can save the species by doing what the predators did years ago by taking the young and the old to make way for the young and the fit. This is not cruel. This is what Mother Nature would do, as we created the problem, we must be responsible.
An argument for culling
Let me give you a scenario that happens every year in the countryside and offers the reason that animals need to be culled.
Farmer Peter has a small acreage of woodland that holds and sustains a herd of 20 fallow deer comfortably. Farmer Peter also has four very large fields near the woodland which he plants with crops every year. The crops grow, the woodland flourish and the deer feed on both. Because of the abundance of food and lack of predators, the deer do well in the breeding season and produce many young. Now our herd of 20 has become 35, which is okay because there is food in the woodland and in the fields.
Along comes the harvest season, and the farmer takes up his now dwindling crops that the deer have been raiding. By the end of the harvest, the only food available to the 35 strong herd is the woodland, which, if you remember, can only sustain 20 animals. The deer do not take turns at eating or the allow the younger animals to eat first - they all try to eat as much as they can and this puts a serious strain on the amount of food available.
As winter approaches, the younger and older animals will start to show signs of malnutrition and some will not have the fat reserves they need to sustain themselves throughout the winter. Some will die. Depending on the severity of the winter, the stronger animals will also begin to suffer because the food that would normally be available to them at this time of year would have been consumed by the larger herd and therefore leave a great gap in the availability of food. So not only will the young and old animals suffer, but the health of the stronger breeding stock will also suffer, affecting the numbers of the herd and its ability reproduce the following season.
Why does this happen? There are two factors. Firstly, there is a missing link in the food chain - the predators (wolves and bears) that we removed from our countryside. These animals would have preyed on the deer and kept their numbers in check so that the herd always kept the strong animals that ensured good breeding stock and good blood lines.
Secondly, the farmer has created an unnatural food source with his crops and - like it or not - the deer will feed on this. This abundance of food triggers the animals to breed well, the bucks are fat and strong and the does have all the vitamins and minerals to produce good young and in many case even producing twins. But then once the young are born, the food source is removed and then we have too many deer for the food available.
Man: the last predator
This is where the responsibility of deer management comes down to us, the last predator. If we want generations to come to be able to see deer herds in the wild, we need to manage our herds so that we can harvest a certain number every year for food. This harvest should be a process of selective culling. By this I mean certain young animals that do not show the strong characteristics and formation of good breeding stock need to be shot, older animals that have had a good life and are at the point of being ousted from the herd (if they are an older buck) or breeding females who are coming to the end of their breeding life also need to be removed.
Selective culling is not only about taking out the deer that are on their last legs or the weak youngsters that will not make it to maturity - even though these animals also need to be culled - it’s about doing what the predators and Mother Nature would have done to move animals out of the herd, so that the younger animals can fall into their place within the herd and carry on the strong bloodlines.
Humans created the problem
We humans have created a problem in removing the predators that would feed on and control the deer. Deer are not the only animal breeding in unnatural numbers that need to be controlled by us – think about foxes, rooks, crows, squirrels and magpies. There is a whole host of species that needs man’s intervention to prevent the pressure of over-population from wiping them out.
If the Emperor was indeed shot (and there have still been sightings of him), he was an older animal and while he may have been shot as a trophy, the meat will not be wasted. If, as the reports suggest, it was a mature stag then it may have been part of a selective cull so he was harvested at his peak. He would have passed on his genes and if, as some reports also suggest, he was not shot and is still walking around Devon, then fantastic. But his time will come in the not too distant future to safeguard the future of the herd, and that is the cycle of life.”