By Martin Scott for The Field
Friday, 17 February 2012
Foxhounds have changed over the years but their evolution has never been left to chance. They are carefully, and sometimes controversially, selected. What kind of pack do you follow?
Several types of hound are bred to hunt the fox in this country and around the world, though at the moment, sad to relate, they cannot serve their purpose here. Fashion has had a hand, to a degree, in the lines people have followed and this has not always been good for the hound itself.
Fortunately, certain breeders have stuck to the type that suits them, their country and their hunt. This must be encouraged, not derided, especially when such hounds are needed as an outcross, for example with the Old English foxhound. In England only a handful of purebred Old English foxhound packs remain, and a similar number in Ireland. Likewise, in the United States and Canada the demise of the American foxhound and the English foxhound to make way for the crossbred and the Penn-Marydel-type, caused by the spread of the coyote, may create problems in the future, as the use of the two original types is reduced.
Some people today consider the Peterborough influence to be rather too great, and they may have a point, especially with so many packs using the same stallion hounds. Recently, one stallion was used 99 times. While this may reduce the gene pool, it is not detrimental to the packs that use such blood, as it should improve their stock. It is worth noting that some of these influential "Peterborough" packs have also been the leaders in finding and using fresh outcrosses.
One of the problems with outcrossing is that to give it a fair chance at least two litters should be attempted. The danger of neither litter working could leave a depleted and un-balanced pack in the third season, when they are most influential. An additional conundrum for breeders is the optimum time to go back to a successful outcross before it becomes too diluted, without changing one's own pack's type or losing quality.
Some of the best outcrosses have been due to "nicking in" as well as the brilliance of both the sire and the dam. Sometimes the first outcross can be brilliant and then those hounds' offspring are not quite so outstanding. Apart from deciding when to go back for the next refresher of the outcross, some breeders have found a double outcross beneficial. An example of a double outcross is when a sire with a Welsh outcross may be put on to an outcross with American blood or hill hound mixed with American; both of these, incidentally, have proved to be successful.
An outcross introduced by a female line can take longer to conform to the kennel type, and thus unbalance the pack. The idea of a balanced pack is to have the hounds all arrive at the moment critique together rather than be spread out like a washing-line.
Around a hundred years ago English foxhounds were bred to a fashion known as the "Peterborough type" and I hope that we will not fall into such a trap again. This type be-came extremely heavy, with masses of bone and in some cases knuckling over at the knee as depicted in the picture of South Staffs Denmark 22. This fashion also developed the colour known as "Belvoir tan".
For many years I kept a painting of one of these thugs to remind me not to breed such heavy hounds. My great-uncle, CT Scott, had his favourite hounds painted. One, North Cotswold Pilgrim 05, was the Peterborough champion bitch in 1908 but looked more like a doghound than a quality bitch of the type we see at the North Cotswold and elsewhere today.
Fortunately, a number of packs disregarded fashion and maintained their good hunting hounds. Some of the MFHs and huntsmen at that time wanted hounds that could hunt and catch their foxes in good style, and the popular heavyweight brigade found this difficult. Not only did they struggle to turn with their fox but they lacked a certain amount of nose and voice, too.
At the same time, on the edge of Wales, Sir Edward Curre had been breeding hounds that went back to the best of the English type and best of the old Welsh hound, and had blended himself a wonderful pack of white hounds famous for their cry. An American called Ikey Bell became the leader of a revolution to get away from the heavyweight hound and carried forward what Sir Edward Curre had started. However, these revolutionaries, including Sir Peter Farquhar, Sir Ian Amory and my father Bill Scott, were extremely un-popular with some of the old guard before the Second World War, and were accused of ruining the English foxhound.
The constant aim of the breeder should be to have a hound that will hunt the quarry farthest, fastest and longest, and therefore the balance of pace points and stamina points needs to be taken into account and a happy medium maintained.
Sometimes a great working stallion with a fantastic voice and nose might be slightly too heavy for the speed merchants but those who use such a dog will be rewarded. These two attributes, along with power, are often passed down through the blue mottle genes of Carmarthenshire Nimrod 24. Portman Grossman 52 and his grandson Old Berkshire Grammer 61 are examples.
Different hunting qualities are required in different hunt countries. Heavier types of hound would not succeed in the fells, while the fell hound might not cope quite so well in a heavy plough country. A large hound would find it hard to get through, over and across the stiffly banked and hedged Westcountry; the native Westcountry harrier can do it far quicker. Voice is vital in heavily wooded countries, while nose is essential on brash and highly cultivated land.
On taking over a pack it is best to try and maintain those lines that have hunted its country successfully. The introduction of new lines may not be regarded favourably. If the new blood has a broken coat or different colour it is easy, even for those without any knowledge of hounds, to notice a change and happily criticise the effort if a day's sport is not up to their wishes. When I was out with a pack that had recently introduced an American outcross, one rather loud-mouthed and opinionated individual proclaimed how much he disliked the American blood. I asked him in an equally loud voice which American type he did not like; the Walker or Trigg strain or those from Virginia or Georgia with the July strain.
I then asked him, as the pack hunted with great drive and cry over a ride in front of us, which of the leading hounds he did not like, considering they were all American.
While some of the Welsh packs were elig-ible for entry in the Foxhound Kennel Stud Book (FKSB), a number of other desirable outcrosses were not. It was under the MFHA chairmanship of Sir Peter Farquhar that further outcrosses became possible. He opened the book to any hound whose sire and dam could be proved to have hunted the fox for six generations in 1955. Since then, a number of hounds with fell hound, French and American blood have been entered in the FKSB, as well as harriers. So it is worth looking at the usefulness and merits of these outcrosses.
The Welsh hound is probably the most ancient breed, having come over from France with the Normans, if not before. It is known for its long, woolly or broken coat, superior nose and wonderful voice. The Welsh type tends to produce larger doghounds than bitches. This trait has been passed on through outcrosses, therefore stamina may become a concern. Welsh hounds need a degree of independence to hunt the Welsh hills and so have acquired excellent brains. Longevity is an-other characteristic found in the Welsh hound and also in the fell hound.
Fell hounds descend from the northern hound rather than the heavier southern hound, and hunt the fells and land close to the Lake District. Here the steep ground demands that they be independent, as their huntsman is on foot and cannot be with them that much. Their "hare" feet allow them cope with the steep hills and mountainous screes that abound in that part of the world.
Hill hounds are part fell and part modern English, and are mostly hunted by a mounted huntsman. One of the best-known hill packs
is the College Valley/North Northumberland and recent outcrosses from this pack have not proved too independent when introduced to the modern English packs, and have brought with them voice, nose and drive as well as great keenness to hunt.
The Old English are almost purebred and have avoided the infusion of Welsh or any other outcross. While they have been careful not to breed too close over the years, their gene pool has become smaller and smaller as they have been limited in where they can go. While a little "tainted" blooded has crept in, they have maintained their wonderful type and colour. However, at the puppy show of one of the premier Old English packs last summer, one of the winners was certainly tri-coloured and must be a throw-back to a distant ancestor, in the days when colour was not regarded as so important.
The Old English are well-known for their toughness, and their speed in the vale countries has always made it hard for the mounted field to keep up with them when scent allows it. They have provided an outcross for packs of the modern English type in recent decades. There are a number of Old English packs in Ireland, where the breed's toughness allows hounds to draw those thick gorse coverts. Latterly Captain Wallace used Old English blood for its toughness.
The West Country Harrier had been hunting the fox as well as the hare successfully up until the recent Hunting Act and outcrosses from these wonderful hunting hounds have been appreciated by modern breeders on both sides of the Pond.
American blood is very diverse but certainly the recent outcrosses in England have been successful. Old Dominion Gorgeous 68 has brought great nose in dry conditions. Live Oak Drummer 89 and Midland Hardaway 89 have brought drive. French blood has brought nose and cry to the modern foxhound, mainly via the former Dumfriesshire kennel.
After the Second World War, ease of travel helped to make the "modern foxhound" type more uniform but outcrosses are extremely valuable to those breeding the modern foxhound today as they allow us to widen the gene pool a certain amount. Only time will tell which of these outcrosses have been the most successful. As ever, different types will suit different countries. One hopes that not everyone will follow fashion.
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