In brief. . .
Where do they come from? The European Fallow Deer (Dama dama dama) is found throughout Europe. Some sources say the Normans introduced them to Britain in the 11th century, but there is evidence that Fallow Deer were present here during the first century AD. Today, wild herds are widespread across England and Wales, but less common in Scotland. Fallow Deer are a traditional choice for English deer parks and the grounds of stately homes.
Antler size: Fallow Deer antlers become palmate (broad-bladed) in adult bucks over three years old. The tines or points are less distinct than those of Red Deer. Each antler can grow up to 70 cm (27”) in length, with a wide and impressive spread.
What else should I know? The only British deer with palmate antlers. The male is called a buck, the female a doe, and the young is a fawn.
Background information . . .
Fossil evidence shows that the European Fallow Deer (Dama dama dama) was present in Britain before the last Ice Age, but subsequently became extinct. It is not known for sure when the Fallow Deer was re-introduced, and by whom: some sources suggest the Romans, others the Normans.
By the end of the 11th century, Fallow Deer were classed as ‘Beasts of the Forest’, and therefore a preserve of the King and his nobles for hunting purposes. Royal permission was required to establish a Fallow Deer park on an estate. By Tudor times, Fallow Deer were widespread throughout England but they suffered a decline in later years through excessive hunting.
Today, the Fallow Deer is the most widely distributed deer species found wild in the UK, being present in most counties of England and Wales. There are some pockets of Fallow Deer in Scotland, particularly on Mull, Islay and Scarba. Ireland has a number of estates with Fallow Deer, possibly introduced in the 13th century.
Fallow Deer prefer deciduous or mixed woodland, making them ideal for country parks and estates. In hilly areas they don’t venture onto mountain or moorland habitat, remaining in the wooded valleys. Their diet depends on the surrounding habitat, but generally consists of grass, heather, conifer, holly, bramble, acorns, fruit and fungi. Like Red and Sika Deer, Fallow Deer form herds, and often roaming over large areas.
In body size, Fallow Deer are somewhere between Roe Deer and Red Deer. An adult buck can weigh more than 70 kg and measure up to 95 cm at the shoulder. The does are smaller, weighing about 45 kg.
Fallow Deer display four main variants in coat colouration, ranging from dark brown or black to white. The variants are called Common, Menil, White and Black (melanistic). In summer, the Common Fallow has a chestnut coat with white spots, turning darker brown in winter.
Fallow Deer can live up to 16 years, but the average lifespan of a buck is about 10 years.
How Fallow Deer antlers grow . . .
The pedicles from which antlers grow are not visible in young Fallow bucks until after their first winter. A Fallow Deer buck’s first antlers are simple, unbranched spikes between 1 cm and 20 cm in length. The following year, the antlers generally have two spikes and the beginning of a palmate area may be visible. In wild Fallow Deer, the palmation doesn’t appear until the buck is four years old.
The time for Fallow Deer to shed or cast their antlers is late April or May. New antlers are developed during the spring and summer, and once they are fully formed the ‘velvet’ covering is shed.
Technical terms . . .
The fully developed antlers of Fallow Deer are described as palmate, and are fringed with a series of small points called spellers. The first point or tine is known as the brow, and the second is the trey. There is no bey tine, as there is on a Red Deer. Above the trey tine is the palmation.
The pedicle is the part on the skull from which the antlers grow. Pearling or small bead-like nodules can occur on the coronet, where the antlers join the skull.
Yearling Fallow Deer bucks are called prickets. As the buck ages, the antlers become more palmated, but once a buck is past his prime the antlers start to decrease in size and weight – a process called ‘going back’.
Choosing Fallow Deer antlers . . .
Size: Depending on the buck’s age and condition, a Fallow Deer’s antlers can reach 70 cm (27”) in length, with 20 or more points, making an impressive display.
Colour: The colour of Fallow Deer antlers varies from light brown to dark greyish-brown.
Source: You may wish to know how the antlers were obtained. Shed antlers (or cast antlers) have been shed naturally by the deer during the winter. Cut antlers are removed from live animals for practical reasons, for example when they are being transported. If you are looking for antlers with a skull but you would prefer the deer to have died naturally, make sure that you look for the word ‘fatality’ or ‘winter fatality’ in the description. You can find out more about the different sources of antlers and skull cuts here.