By Richard Prior
Sunday, 24 April 2011
Q) Are the separate colours on fallow deer distinct strains that breed true or is it natural for them to become multicoloured? M. DERBY Surrey
A) Fallow have been kept in captivity for centuries and have been subject to the changing tastes of park owners, so it is necessary to look back to the original wild species.
The Persian fallow dama mesopotamica is a real rarity these days, but it never suffered the domestication of our familiar dama dama, which also originated in the Middle East. In their summer coats, Persian fallow are a reddish-brown with distinct white spots, shading through sandy to white on the belly.
Victorian naturalist J.G. Millais suggested that the common form of dark chestnut with white spots and a dark line running down the back to the tail, the flanks lighter coloured with a white belly, would have been the most likely original coloration of our fallow. He adds: After years of isolation and in-breeding, we have numerous aberrant forms, always the result of whole or partial domestication.
The most usual mix in our fallow today is black, really dark chocolate brown, white (not albino) and menil, in which there is no black either striping the back or framing the tail. The spots are still visible in the winter coat. The first black fallow supposedly came from Norway in the time of James I — around 1620 — and appeared originally in Scotland and then Epping Forest. However, this is unlikely to be true, as there were black fallow in Windsor Park 150 years earlier. Victorian park owners vied among themselves to produce varieties, some blue, some partly coloured.
Walter Winans, in Deer Breeding for Fine Heads, recognises 10 different varieties. In various parks one can see single-colour herds, and without doubt this has been achieved by selection. One park of menil fallow with which I was concerned regularly produced one or two black fawns, and great effort was put into eliminating them before they could breed.
Sergeant Alan Dennis, a soldier from Nottinghamshirewho was badly woun... Read more
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