Thoughts from Europe

by | Jul 11, 2014 | What's Happening

I am writing these updates from a restored old farm house in the Saône-et-Loire department of eastern France, as we are four months into our year long sabbatical travels in Europe. We left an interesting Lyon the other day in a scorching 37C heat and even up here at nearly 600 metres the temperatures were soaring high. Late yesterday afternoon a cold front suddenly came across and dropped the temperatures dramatically, creating severe thunder storms and hail the size of apples. This happened on two consecutive afternoons.

I’ve just admired a beautiful young roe buck, coming out at the edge of a nearby forest, grazing in the paddock next to our house. During my time in Denmark in the 1990s I used to hunt roe deer, using our well-trained English pointers to walk through the forestry blocks. I shot my first roe deer brought out past me after excellent work by Agertoften Isabella. Hunters are still the ones actively working to create habitat and good living conditions for the wild game animals around us. Many people still haven’t understood this. We certainly appreciate the beauty of these animals at least as much as the non-hunting animal-lovers but we also participate in nature and are not only sole spectators.

As I probably already have stated in the past, I started to enjoy cooking my wild game dishes because I was hunting & fishing, while these days I harvest to be able to do my cooking. I wanted to take best possible care of the game I brought home and create nice food. I take what I think I should, if I can, and harvesting of nature’s surplus is neither ugly or cruel. I appreciate nature’s beauty every day and the immense enjoyment just seems to increase with age. One of the things I value highly about travel is experiencing different cuisine in different cultures and areas. I have a fascination for the history of food, the use of local ingrediences and day to day recipes. Whether the food is fancy or peasant style I always seek taste and flavour to celebrate what we’ve brought home.

I’m also keeping an eye out for pointer & setter material on these travels. I’ve had some focus on some pointer lines which I’ve known and seen a couple of decades ago. During my visits in Portugal and Spain during this trip I have further concluded to some of my past observations. I envisage some exciting projects could develop from this. So this is another great pleasure for me to be back in Europe and know I haven’t completely lost touch with the pointers.

Regarding the English setters in my home country of Norway I am amongst a group of enthusiasts with some grave concerns towards the dictatorial health focus practised. The Norwegian English setter population has for the past century benefited from the passionate and insightful work by some outstanding breeders, who’ve been hunters as much as they’ve been dog people with an eye for great gundogs. Computer stats can be a great tool in assisting a breeder to assess potential breeding dogs and their families. However, it has been misused for over 30 years by counting hip-dysplasia references left, right & centre and thereby dropping valuable breeding dogs/lines without consideration for environmental influence and the fact that hereditary patterns are very complicated. The strict HD-regime embraced in Norway for so long has contributed little or nothing to limit the number of dogs developing dysplasia. It has been a costly affair which has only been fruitful for the veterinarians.

Some of us have always understood that finding the two most ideal mating partners is a challenge and that particular dogs does matter. A brother or son or uncle is not equal. Other potential health defects has had further restrictions to the same gene pool, which gets more narrow by the day. The latest fashion in Norwegian English setter breeding is PRA (progressive retinal atrophy). Many dogs carry the gene but relatively few are affected by it. In severe cases some dogs develop blindness but usually in later stages of life. However, by that stage numerous other can be just as likely. If you breed a PRA carrier with a non-carrier then there won’t be any affected pups. If you breed a carrier with another carrier you may or you may not affected off-spring. The Norwegian vets (whom shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near any kind of animal breeding) have got a new golden calf they can dance around. The Norwegian solution is expanded testing of puppies and adult dogs and simply to ban mating a carrier with a non-carrier. With the amount of dogs affected they’re further tying arms & legs on breeders wanting to breed the best possible working setters. In the end none of us want sick dogs but the fascism seen here keeps slicing away huge chunks of breeding material, which in the end might give a population with very few PRA carriers but in the process we degrade the high flying English setter to just a mere dog with lesser quality than what breeders before us created.

Restrictions and prohibitions and fast-disappearing gene pools are no benefits for serious breeders, whom should be able to breed after their best conviction and deal with potential carriers or potential sick dogs the way we’ve always had to. It is still the same way we’re dealing with other severe defects, often strongly hereditary, in which we can be allowed to still give a quality stamp on excellent bird dogs with strong natural abilities.

Back home in New Zealand has kept things up both in the field and on the water. He borrowed Bella in early May so that neither of them missed out on opening weekend just because I’m away. They had a good weekend with excellent work on Cali quail, brown quail and pheasants. We were in Portugal at the time and I must admit to having sent some longing thoughts back to NZ then.

Just a few days ago Craig also went on a very productive fishing trip where he caught some decent size Hapuku and Kingfish. One of the latter weighed in at 32 kg and the puka I’d say were even heavier but not as much fun to catch as the kingis… Let me finish this update with some awesome fishing off the rocks in Sagres, Portugal – definitely not for the faint-hearted! Our moves in Europe can still be followed on our macolsenblog