Early on in the raising of Daisy deer, I did not think much about my role as the mother figure. Our little orphan needed someone to care for her and I was here all day. FD and I had raised many orphaned birds and a squirrel, so I knew this would be another learning experience and a lot of work. There is really no way to prepare oneself for the experience of raising a wild animal.
In the beginning the feeding schedule was hectic. I mixed goat’s milk formula each morning and bottle fed her five times a day. The first three weeks we kept everything sterilized. She was tiny, maybe all of 8 pounds, so her feeding station consisted of a shallow tub filled with cat litter. While holding the bottle in one hand, the other hand rubbed a baby wipe on her genitals to get the bathroom business going. Like many mammals, the baby does not have the ability to relieve itself on its own for the first few weeks so the mother stimulates it by licking. In the wild, the doe will lick the urine and feces from the fawn while she’s nursing and ingest it. This keeps the fawn from being detected by predators. Now, I consider myself a very good deer mother, but I do admit to skipping this part of the business! After feeding, I would take a small baby brush and gently stroke Daisy’s coat, mimicking licking as the doe would do to bond with her baby. This action also distributes oils on the hair, and the mother’s saliva contains a number of components that have been shown by scientific research to act against infection and promote wound healing. Daisy took up licking my arms or neck while I gently stroked her with a brush. It was our bonding time.
The first month and a half Daisy lived in the house with us. After feedings, she would scamper around with the dogs a few minutes, then head for cover, as she would in the wild. Her hiding spots were behind the couch, and in the back of our clothes closet. This is where she spent much of her day, sleeping and resting. Of course tile floors were not safe for her to walk on with her slick little hooves, so to Dollar General I went, purchasing several inexpensive floor rugs to get her from one carpeted area to another. She seemed to understand anything “off” the rugs and carpet was dangerous. She had fallen a couple of times while frolicking with the dogs.
Before long bottle feedings were becoming less frequent but she was taking in more ounces. Small cut-up apple slices and carrots were incorporated into her diet. We tried goat kid pellets but she ignored offers of those. I had read we should encourage her to nibble various greens. She didn’t seem interested in those either. She did like fresh dirt, which I had read is needed in their diet to aid in digestion and stomach development. Like a cow, deer have a stomach with 4 chambers. Daisy was also interested in exercise. She loved playing with our four Japanese Chin in the house, but what she really loved was a walk or run in the evenings. FD would put a small dog harness on her and a 20 foot leash and off she’d run. Instinct always took her to the woods, FD sprinting after her, not far behind. I did not enjoy taking her for these walks. Even at her small size, she was strong and wayward about being walked like a dog. FD was better at picking her up than I was. Those long legs were unbelievably strong and efficient at kicking. I had been clubbed enough times to refuse carrying her.
At one month of age, Daisy began urinating on her own. I first saw her let loose on the living room carpet. I hurried to put something under her but it was too late. Deer can pee buckets of urine at a time. Soon my laundry increased two additional loads a day. Daisy would either pee her bed (which was a small dog bed in a corner) or on one of the rugs or pee pads placed under her in her sleep areas. This was not going to do! It was time to move our little juvenile outdoors!
Within a week, family from Dallas had been dispatched to help put up fencing and clean out a section of the old barn. A friend donated straw bales for bedding. By July 5th Daisy was in her new quarters. A long row of cannas between the two barns provided her hiding spot during the day, and at night she sought out a corner inside the barn. And I, like any mother, worried all night long, getting little sleep for the next two months. Our fence was only 6 feet tall. I worried something could get her since she was still very tiny and unable to defend herself. She was lonely a lot. She cried out “naaaaah, naaaaah, naaaaah”, until either she became tired, or went to the cannas to hide. Sometimes I came to pet her and walk around with her for a while. Other times I grabbed an old glider cushion and lay on the ground beside her. She seemed better with her mama around.
The summer was hot and brutal. Daisy lost a lot of her hair, which I suppose, was a natural reaction to the heat. My garden quit producing, so I left the spoils to her. She ate the carrot tops and I dug up a carrot or two a day for her. The celery was dry and looked bedraggled. Daisy loved it! She nibbled on bean plants, and a particular type of potato we had planted that we didn’t like the taste of. She munched on cucumbers all summer, and we fed her a few cherry tomatoes that managed to survive the scorching hot sun. The old apple tree let go of a few, small apples, though most of that crop was destroyed by a late freeze in the spring. Daisy loved apples. She couldn’t get enough of them. After our supply was exhausted, to the store I went. Fresh, crisp apples from Washington became a weekly item on the grocery list. Finally, she began showing a little interest in deer pellets. Her appetite growing, we often laughed about her football-shaped belly – regulation, NFL-sized. If we went out with snacks for her it was time to “feed the football”!
Always educating myself and reading up on deer, I noted that fawns learn what plants, fruits and vegetables to eat from their mothers. Great. This put both of us at a disadvantage. FD had a habit of feeding Daisy leaf shoots off of the old apple tree, and leaves from the persimmon tree near her pen each morning on his way to work. This went on all summer, and then one day I noticed something had been nibbling on my nearby cherry tree! That prompted me to go to the other fruit trees on the property. Sure enough, deer were coming up on the place and having late night feasts on my fruit trees! They had also eaten on my blackberries and raspberries. Instead of being upset though, I was tickled. First of all, other deer were coming up to Daisy’s fence. I hoped, at some point, this would help her get in with a herd when we freed her. If they were familiar with her scent they might not hoof her away. Secondly, I realized that the current vegetation on our place provided many sources from which to help Daisy get what she would need in the wild. To keep her diet varied we began looking around and being more observant about plants and trees on the property. We trimmed trees, giving her the branches in order to strip the leaves off for food. She seemed to like the leaves that were turning yellow best. The old persimmon tree, hack berry trees, and various fruit trees took turns daily being trimmed. Daisy was always delighted when a new branch came over the fence.
I cut wild vine from the woods, and trimmed gangly rose stems from various rose bushes. Most evenings you can find me with a basket, gathering acorns that have fallen from a nearby Red Oak tree. A friend across town gathers Burr Oak acorns for me from her yard, and FD gathers acorns from White Oaks in a wooded area he hunts this time of year. Early this autumn, we took the spent garden area and tilled it up, planting peas, oats, turnips and other greens for a food plot. Daisy loves her greens and one can find her out grazing most all day long.
Down in the canyon further back in the woods where light spills into an open area, we tilled and sowed another deer plot for feeding. This spot contains a more invasive crop of deer grazer that we hope will be around for years. All around the 10 acres, we are aware of what we have to offer the deer. I realize next year, when Daisy is on her own, we will have to take precautions to keep the garden safe, and my berry plants safe. The fruit trees will grow taller and only the lower limbs will be at risk. We’ll lose a few things… maybe I won’t have so many roses, flowers and herbs like I used to, but I do not mind. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.
I suppose like any mother, human or animal, I have done the best I could with Daisy. I am thankful to the universe for sharing her with us and for insight in appreciating the “deer people”, as the Native American’s would say. Daisy is a gift in our lives, as is every living creature. I am quite certain there will be other little orphans who will come our way and, as many times before, we will take them under our wings to nurture and give them a chance to survive.
When we first found Daisy, while researching online, we contacted a wonderful woman from near the Abilene, TX area who had raised a fawn doe more than 8 years ago. She was helpful in encouraging us and offering advice when we had questions and concerns. She shared her experiences raising her fawn, named Sassy. Sassy still comes to visit them regularly. She brings her fawns to meet her “people herd” each spring. Sassy’s herd family is 7 generations strong now. I hope our experience with Daisy is long-term too. I hope she’ll come to share an apple or wander up from the canyon to spend an afternoon bedded down in the shade among the trees. I hope she always feels safe here. Regardless, if she never gives us another thought, like all deer mother’s, my hope is that she enjoys her life, wild and free.
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