There are few more comforting and satisfying sounds then the gentle squeaking and nuzzling sounds of newborn puppies. Add to this the warm glow of a heat lamp over a nest of straw and a favourite old bitch curled up feeding her new family, and you have a scene of serenity.
Part of the excitement is the fruition of months of planning. You’ve closely observed the bitch in the hunting field to make sure she has most, if not all, of the working attributes you desire. You’ve selected a suitable mate, which may include visits to other kennels and hound shows throughout the summer, followed up by seeing him work and then trawling through pedigrees to check they are an eligible match.
The Pytchley hounds are a blend of old and modern English breeding but I find myself leaning increasingly towards the old or pure English type. I have been blessed over the years to borrow some superb stallion hounds from the Holderness, Wynnstay and Belvoir. It is a great responsibility to borrow someone else’s hounds and some huntsmen would give up their children more freely than their tried and trusted old hounds. It does, however, provide me with the perfect way to assess their skills and temperament and, as every hunt country differs, it is a good way to see how they tackle our particular set of challenges.
The satisfaction of seeing the new puppies is mixed with the anticipation of what is to come, as this is of course only the beginning.
Meals and walks
We had a bad start to the breeding season, with several of my selections either not coming into season or not mating successfully. We now have several litters on the ground, the first of which, at the time of writing, are three weeks old and beginning to feed. It never ceases to amaze me how they will suckle and pull at raw meat well before they have learnt to lap.
Puppy feeding varies from pack to pack depending on huntsman and availability of feed. My preference is good fresh mutton and beef. This can be left on the bone but scored with a knife or run through a mincer. Milk from powder is also used if necessary.
Having had their dew claws removed at three days old, been regularly wormed and vaccinated twice, they will be ready to go to walk when they are eight weeks old.
We are lucky to have so many good walkers at the Pytchley, which means, unlike an increasing number of packs, all the puppies are able to leave the kennels.
We have added several new walkers this year to our list of long-suffering faithfuls. It is great to hear about the adventures of their puppies and, with the addition of social media, keep an interested eye on their progress — what would early 20th-century Pytchley huntsman Frank Freeman think, looking at hound puppies on Facebook?
There is no set time for them to return to kennels and lots of first-time walkers often ask me when they should be returned, to which I always reply, “don’t worry, you’ll know when the time comes”. They usually get to the stage when they’re either becoming destructive, disappearing off hunting or the walker wants to go on holiday.
Ref Horse & Hound; 26 April 2018