Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

off entire, but not always simultaneously, although there is sometimes a very short interval between the shedding of one and of the other antler. This gradual loosening of the old horns is produced by the progressive internal growth of the new horns, which forces them out of their sockets, so that at last they fall by their own weight, the tops of the new horns being slightly prominent.

This effort of nature to get rid of an incumbrance is sometimes witnessed by the foresters who are on duty. One antler has been seen to drop a few minutes after the other, merely on the stag's sudden movement of surprise occasioned by the fall of the first: sometimes two or three days intervene before the second antler falls off. These interesting facts in reference to deer in their wild state fall only within the range of the attentive forester's observation; but he has interest in the matter beyond that which arises merely from the gratification of his curiosity, inasmuch as the horns which are shed, and which fall to his lot, are not without their value. A pair of horns of large dimensions are sometimes from ten to twelve lbs. in weight.

Rutting generally commences about the 1st of October, exhibited by the swelling of the necks of the stags. Period of gestation of the hinds is eight months. All the calves found by the foresters, I should mention, are marked in a particular manner, so as to admit of their being subsequently identified. The barren hinds, when fat, are excellent, and generally come into use in the winter months. Spaying the female calves is sometimes practised, but not to a great extent; the operation not being absolutely necessary, its propriety may possibly be questioned. An objection also may be urged against the emasculation of the males, but the practice seems to have received the sanction of all ages; and with regard to many other animals, in consideration of the numerous important advantages derived from the practice on them, the operation may be considered justifiable; indeed, the world could not be supplied with the necessary amount of wholesome food without it. When a similar operation was performed on the Chapter of Suez and on their newly-elected bishop, by the command of Pope Gregory, simply because the Chapter had carried the election into effect without his authority, Gibbon philosophically remarks, that of the cruelty of the act they might justly complain, but not of the loss, for having made a vow of eternal chastity to Heaven, they were, in fact, only deprived of a superfluous treasure.

Now, with regard to the varieties of animals which are specially reserved for the food of man on whom this operation is performed, the removal in question is not of a treasure, but of a noxious superfluity; hence its justification. In many parts of Australia, where considerable traffic in cattle takes place—so much so, that several hundreds are purchased at one sale—this operation is practised to a great extent on both sexes, and irrespective of age; consequently some of the most advanced in years succumb, but not more than three per cent. When six or seven hundred cattle are purchased at one sale, the practice is to select a few of the best for breeders, and to subject the remainder to the deprivation in question.

After the selection has been made, the remainder of the herd is brought up into close quarters, in a position arranged for the purpose, and each animal is driven through a narrow pass, where the operator is stationed ready to perform his duty: each operation occupies about three minutes. When this ordeal is over, the cattle are driven to the pasture where it is intended they should remain. Two objects are attained by this process; in the first place, the cattle, which would otherwise roam to a distance, are indisposed to move from the ground on which they are located, and soon become reconciled to it and remain perfectly tranquil; and in the next place,.they more speedily become in sufficiently good condition to be sent off to the market. A quantity of mutton is sometimes sent to the London market which has not undergone this salutary process, the animals being from fifteen to eighteen months of age: this is easily distinguished by the whiteness of the flesh and by its strong disagreeable goaty flavour. By the omission of the usual process, a more marketable animal in size and substance may possibly be secured at an earlier age, but of decidedly inferior quality. Good mutton is easily distinguished from the bad by the practised eye, the colour and grain of the flesh being different. The flesh of old wether mutton is dark and of fine grain. The flesh of young mutton is pale, and when cooked almost white. Mutton to be really good and of first-rate quality ought to be four years old, and, of course, wether mutton; and when of this age the Southdown is not to be surpassed by any other breed, not even by the highly-famed Welch.

In the London markets at the present day very few wethers are sold which have even reached two years of age, which fact may explain why so much mutton of inferior quality is constantly met with and justly complained of. But good mutton can always be had by those who know the good from the bad, and who will take the trouble to search for it, as amongst the large quantity of young mutton there is always a certain proportion of excellent old wether, in the shops of some few firstrate butchers, reserved for those who scrupulously avoid the bad, and who have no objection to pay a little more for the good. Those who are indifferent on these points, and who are not aware of the difference between ewe and wether mutton, between young and old, and who receive whatever the butcher chooses to supply them with, as a matter of course get very indifferent meat. The butcher and the wine merchant very soon discover those customers who are deficient in taste, and supply them accordingly; and bad wine very frequently accompanies inferior meat.

THE EOE AND ROEBUCK.

These elegant little animals abound in many parts of Scotland, and are to be found in woods and plantations. As they are by no means wild, they can very easily be killed, either by having the woods and plantations driven, several guns having been previously placed in the passes (which are generally known to those who are acquainted with the covers); or they may be hunted by one or two couple of hounds, and waited for at their pass as they come round; but, in my humble opinion, it is most wretched sport. They lie so close at times, that you may come within a few yards of them before they will rise; so that you may shoot them easily with small shot.

When out woodcock shooting I have shot them

« ForrigeFortsett »