Monday, 30 July 2012

From Dovecote to Dove-not

Gamekeeping, in its broadest definition, can cover many jobs on an estate, but the common thread is always the care of game destined for the table.

The manor house on this estate has a dovecote, which was built by a previous owner circa 1660, at the same time as the chapel -

Chapel (L) with Yew tree, and free standing Dovecote (R)

Dovecotes were a special privilege of the noble classes. Some 350 years ago when this example was built, pigeons were a valuable addition to any manor house. Pigeons provided three crops: eggs, squab, and dung. A breeding stock of pigeons was kept. Unlike other poultry, pigeons pair bond. According to Wikipedia, ten pairs could produce eight squabs per month, without extra feeding (I assume this is minus any eggs harvested).

The dovecote and its inhabitants was 'keepered by the pigeonnier. We haven't got one of those on this estate and sadly the breeding stock, without management, has fallen prey to disease and parasites. I guess squab just doesn't have the same value it once did before the advent of supermarkets.

Lady S decided that the stock had to go, and the dovecote fumigated and laid fallow before healthy stock could be reintroduced. So the gamekeeper was called. As he was busy, the gamekeeper's wife was called.

Inside the dovecote are, well, pigeon holes. Hundreds of them lining the walls, occupied by hungry young pigeons and their harried parents. We were able climb up and remove many of the eggs and young birds. The parents were a different problem. We opted to shoot them as they flew in and out of the dovecote-

They didn't always present a sporting shot, and some were dispatched where they sat, on the roof of the sawmill and along the edge of the dovecote itself -

Sawmill (now a cafe)

Dovecote entrance

We had to be as judicious as possible with our shooting, but I'm afraid ricochet was inevitable. I've left my mark -well, pockmark - on this historic old building with my 20 bore Beretta. A century from now some Lord will be wondering what idiot shot the hell out of his dovecote. I am that idiot. 

Over a week we cleared out 70 adult birds -

One morning's work

Spud was on hand to ensure nothing suffered -

Good old Spud.

Sadly, none of the birds could be eaten because of their potential to carry Avian Tuberculosis, which can also infect some wild bird species and humans (via ingestion or inhalation). It was a difficult decision to take, but I understand why it needed to be done. 

Once the dovecote is habitable again, a selected stock of ornamental doves will be introduced and managed. A feast for the visitors' eyes, if not for the Lord's table.

On a more uplifting note, while I was carrying out my dove genocide, I happened to look into the chicken house. Long time readers may remember Myfanwy the social-climbing chicken? Two years ago, she went to live at the Manor House and has been a favourite visitor attraction ever since. She's hatched 3 chicks this year, carbon copies of herself -

Myfanwy is the daughter of my original flock of hens and Charles the cockerel, and it's wonderful to see her progeny. Though, if their egos and personality are as big as their mother's, I'm not sure 2,500 acres of estate will be enough for all of them.

1 comment:

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

What a grim job. Sorry you had to do it.

I, long-time reader that I am, most definitely remember Myfanwy, and am happy she found a happy home. Those are lovely little barred rocks.

I hope you have a respite from shooting things for a while.