Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Animal Valuation

So far in our discussions we have wondered about the purpose of animals in the countryside and in towns. One debate was about whether the decisions made by demesne farmers or urban butchers were as economically driven as historians claim them to be. The rabbit and the carp, two animals that combine town and country in their use and purposes, give us insight into the economic minds of their human managers. Rabbit and carp’s economic values were clearly prioritized by medieval humans in ways sheep or dogs seem not to have been. Introduction of both species into England, in particular, stimulated a growth industry based in the countryside but became most influential in its destinations in English towns and even in other European countries.
            The first big difference between rabbits or carp and sheep, horses, or dogs is their origin. Neither rabbits nor carp are native to England, and their integration into the country assisted their valuation. Rabbits were introduced after the Norman Conquest, and they struggled to adapt to the cold and wet climate of England. Medieval rabbits preferred dry and sandy land ideal for burrowing, which was their only defense against predators. In England, the land was damp and the predators abounded, so the rabbit required special attention and cultivation.[1]
            The carp was introduced later in the fourteenth century and experienced a similar need for attention. Carp prefer shallow, warm, muddy waters with little to no natural current. To replicate this preference while building a sustainable fish population, medieval fish managers built extensive pond networks, ranging from tens to dozens of interconnected ponds that moved the carp from stage to stage.[2] These artificial ponds required active manipulation and attendance in order to create the ideal carp breeding and growth conditions while being sustainable year round. Being rare and finicky in their new habitats, rabbit and carp gained a luxurious value. Their presence revealed the owner’s own wealth in being able to afford the animals’s significant management systems, but most importantly, these animals were rare and valuable because of that.
            The inherent value of rabbit, in particular, became more obvious once commercial markets developed around the animal. Both animals stimulated new markets of trade and consumption that quickly led to their commercialization. In the wake of the Black Death, rabbits were ideally positioned to take advantage of the increased purchasing power of the population. After the 1370’s, commercial rabbit value grew due to a demand for meat, a change in fashion and taste, and the poor arable cultivation at the time. New market opportunities pushed rabbits into a profitable spotlight and increased their commercial value.[3]
Further evidence of the high valuation of rabbit and carp is the extended benefits of professionalization for their human managers. Because these animals were unstable in England, they required vigorous maintenance, which became professional care. Rabbit warreners were full-time employees on manors responsible for keeping the rabbits healthy and safe. Along with the rabbits, warreners were highly valued by their employers for their expertise and paid accordingly. They approached their work with a professional eye for improvement: most warreners bred their own ferrets, the best animals for trapping rabbits out of their burrows, and building artificial burrows called pillow mounds with the ideal design for the rabbits’s comfort.[4]
In the same way, carp raising stimulated the professionalization of a number of fish specialists. “Pond master” or “fish master” were the titles of professional managers on manorial pond systems who were high-ranking and salaried servants. These men, like the warreners, were responsible for the design, maintenance, and protection of the carp ponds.[5] Both professional positions of  animal caretakers indicate that the humans handlers were just as valuable as the animals themselves. Not only did the rabbit and carp have an inherent value, but also the warrener or the fish master were valuable for their role in the animal’s value. And this spread of professionalism was not limited to the people directly involved in the maturation of the animals, for other services gained specialization as a result of the growing rabbit and fish industries. Fishmongers, boat mean, skinners, and other specialist craft men became more prominent vocations with the rise of rabbit and fish markets.[6]
The opposite of this professional value was the growth of poaching around rabbit warrens and carp ponds. For rabbits, poaching increased at the same time rabbit culling experienced significant growth in the mid-fourteenth century.[7] Rabbits were easy to poach because of their tendency to leave the burrow at night, and most poaching incidence seemed to be one-off offenses. However, there was another class of poachers who clearly planned their operations by investing in good nets, trained ferrets and dogs, and a collective gang of poachers.[8] Poaching had become just as serious and lucrative as being a professional warrener. In fact, poaching activity resembled the steady professionalization occurring around rabbits in the way poachers were collecting resources and knowledge and their operations were efficiently planned and ruthlessly acted.[9]
Carp poaching, on the other hand, was focused on the social value of the fish as it represented nobility. The effects of pond expansion and aquaculture meant the flooding of arable peasant land, and this caused tension between commercial fish raising by manor lords and the smaller domestic practices of peasants who would fish for food. [10] Such tensions led to peasant resistance in the form of stealing fish directly from the ponds.[11] Hoffman claims that these acts of poaching were not for the right to own ponds or fish, but rather a symbolic gesture of stealing the prestige of nobles.
The rabbit and the carp were physical embodiments of prestigious social value and commercial monetary value. The same kind of valuation study could be applied to sheep or other work animals, but there is something distinct about the growth of rabbits and carp. The most fundamental would be the foreign nature of rabbit and carp which made them unique, rare, and expensive to acquire; however, both animals have lost their distinction and value since their populations proliferated in England from the middle ages.

[1] Bailey 5
[2] Hoffman, “Carps, Cods, Connections,” 8
[3] Bailey 12
[4] Bailey 8
[5] Hoffman, “Carp, Cods, Connections,” 15
[6] Bailey16
[7] Bailey 16
[8] Bailey 17
[9] Bailey 18
[10] Hoffman, “Carp, Cods, Connections,” 17
[11] Hoffman, “Carp, Cods, Connections,” 18


  1. This post illuminates the advent of new industries that surrounded luxury species—rabbits and carp. A commodity in and of themselves, these two animals created networks of commerce, jobs and reinforced notions of class status. If we are looking at rabbits and carp as industries, however, we must look not only to the internal structure of the industry and jobs created therein, we must look to the entire ecosystem effected by introducing these species. This post mentions that both rabbits and carp were non-native to the region—England—and how they adapted to the new environment. Yet, how did the environment adapt to these species? It seems that the introduction of rabbit and carp had real and significant effects on the environment. Arable land was flooded for carp, which was not only a class issue but complicated the peasant’s ability to farm for themselves, and perhaps altered harvesting schedules. This is significant for the people and the land. The professionalization of animal caretakers and related professions must generate waste—animal or that associated with the processing of the animal. Additionally, the environment is shaped in less obvious ways by these two species. As poachers learned more about the landscape to be able to more efficiently capture rabbits—excelling in their newfound industry—they changed how they conceived of that landscape. Once a space of farming or other industry, this was now a specialized space for rabbit farming and consequently, ideal for rabbit poaching. This designates the space itself as specialized. The space was being codified in poachers’ minds. The landscape was changed based on how it was conceived—in subtle, but definite ways.

    --R. Alderete Baca

  2. Very nice account of the way in which the introduction of rabbits and carp brought about the development of the various professions required to manage the animals. It would have been interesting to hear how you would compare this professionalization with that which you talked about in your previous post, in the management of animals like cattle and sheep. Sheep, of course, are not native to England either, and their introduction created the need for pasture as well as shepherds. RLFB

  3. In writing my final, I took a second look at some of the information on ponds, and was once again fascinated by the size and scale. In one case, I found the ponds of the Count of Flanders, yielding a whopping 264,000 eels in 1187 alone. Raising that number of eels certainly must have taken a lot of manpower, and that’s exactly what you touched on here with the importance of the men who would be taking care of these animals.
    Looking back on the class as a whole, it’s interesting to reexamine the role that the employees of noblemen played when it came to taking care of a noble’s animals. The extent to which this occurs varies by species. Frederick’s falconry guide seemed to suggest the noble needed to take a very hands-on approach when it came to raising the falcons. In the case of the horses, a small team was needed to take care of the animals and train them. In terms of hunting, often groups pre-hunt for the royals. Of course, these fish ponds do not yield animals that have any sort of intimate connection with their masters in the way that horses or falcons would. Even so, one has to ponder how much a particular lord interacted with his ponds. While they strolled the ground, would they oversee the production in their ponds? It’s hard to say. But it is interesting to see how animals created jobs, particularly how imported animals created jobs here.

    -Jeramee Gwozdz

  4. This is very interesting post and about water animal I know one thing that nature has given the freedom to live them so in my pond I used Pond Repair by Pond Pro 2000 to let the live because its Eco-friendly.