Paradise with the Hounds
We meet with Simon Hunter, Huntsman of the Fitzwilliam Milton Hunt to see the next generation of hounds and have a catch up in the sunshine…
After a busy winter’s hunting, you might wonder what all those people in their red coats do in the warmer months. You’ll be surprised to hear it’s a relatively relaxed affair for the animals; horses get turned out on holiday in the field and the hounds are taken care of by the hunt staff. Simon Hunter, the aptly named Huntsman at the Fitzwilliam (Milton) Hunt tells me life is, “Just as busy during the summer as in the winter,” and it’s far more than your average doggy day care at the Fitzwilliam kennels.
With 48 couple of hounds (that’s 96 in total) there’s an awful lot of exercising and feeding to be done. Each day the kennels need cleaning out, hounds sleep on wood shavings like horses, then they’ll go out on the bikes and take them for a three-mile exercise. The closer they get to the hunting season the further they’ll go. “We head out for about an hour,” says Simon. “If it’s a warm day, we’ll take them to the lake for a swim.”
The hounds live a life of luxury, their diet is what domestic dogs can only dream of and to be part of a pack in the beautiful setting of Milton Park is surely hound heaven. Something that many people are not aware that hunts take care of, perhaps out of blissful ignorance is that of Fallen Stock.
As you may know, farmers lose some of their livestock each year year-round for various reasons. It can be an expensive and totally heart-breaking journey but thankfully, hunts are there to help out local farmers. Simon makes a few trips each day to farmers who need animals taking away for whatever reason and as long as they haven’t had the fatal injection, they can be fed to the hounds. “Whelps move onto mince at three weeks,” Simon tells me. “Then they go straight onto flesh at around six weeks.” It’s amazing really that such a tiny puppy can digest proper meat so soon. But when you’re in amongst full-sized foxhounds you realise how much growing they’ve got to do and just mother’s milk isn’t going to be nearly enough initial weeks following birth.
This year, the Fitzwilliam hounds have had four litters of whelps. “We aim to have 10 couple of hound puppies each year,” says Simon. Some of these hound puppies will be going to join other hunts as far as Wales but the majority of them stay and will learn everything by mixing in with the original pack out hunting. To come up with names, there’s a very old-fashioned rule whereby if a visiting dog comes to the kennel to mate with a bitch, the names will be made with the first two letters of his name. If it’s your own dog, then it is the first two letters of the bitch’s name. If you go out hunting yourself, you’ll know that a Huntsman and the Whipper-ins will know all of the hounds by name. Even though there may be well over 96 of them by the
beginning of the season, they’ve all got their own characteristics and when you’re with them day-in, day-out, you know who they all are. When the puppies are big enough, they go off to hunt followers’ homes to grow up before they return in the Autumn for hunting the following season. I can tell you from personal experience, there is no puppy as naughty as a hound puppy.
I worked on a yard just outside of Oakham when I was still at school where they took on a couple each summer. If you left something on the floor for even a second it was chewed and if they managed to squeeze through the back gate alongside the wheelbarrow they were off, noses down and turning into specks in the Rutland countryside after what was obviously a delicious scent. It took hours to get them home, then they would pile on top of each other and sleep for the rest of the day before finding new tricks to keep me busy. Adorable and time consuming, like anything cute really. It’s not all fun and games, hound puppies also have to do their bit at puppy shows.
Puppy shows are held in the summer to thank the volunteers and hunt supporters that have been busy walking the hound puppies. The shows demonstrate how far the puppies have come and their progress since they’ve been back into the kennels. The judges (usually a Huntsman from another pack) will judge the hounds on their overall conformation. They will check they have good feet, shoulders, backs and also see how freely they move. As the famed sporting writer and poet George Whyte-Melville of the foxhound once stated, “On the straightest of legs and the roundest of feet / With ribs like a frigate his timbers to meet / With a fashion and fling and a form so complete / That to see him dance over the flags is a treat.”
So that’s what the hunt does during the summer months — look after hounds and adorable foxhound puppies, attend events and just generally take care of the followers, supporters and farmers who out of generosity and passion, take care of the hunt throughout the long cold winter months.