Two years ago, when I took on raising Daisy, an orphaned deer, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I discovered this sweet, little baby deer wandering around down below our slope one morning in late May of 2011. After observing the fawn from a distance for two days, being worried sick about its safety, and wondering what might have happened to the mother, FD and I decided to take this speckled babe into our home. FD searched the nearby woodlands, pecan orchard, and the ditches along a busy, nearby road, for signs of a doe who had died or been killed, but never found anything. We finally decided (and later had it confirmed by the game warden) that, with it being an extreme drought year in Oklahoma, perhaps the mother gave birth to more than one fawn and had abandoned this one, not being able to provide enough nutrition for herself and her fawns. In the world of wildlife, self survival comes first.
By October of that year, I found myself completely exhausted. Not only had it been one of the hottest summers I can remember, it was also one of the driest on record. I spent every morning and early afternoon watering my two gardens, flowerbeds surrounding the house, and landscaping plants that we had put in when we moved here two years prior. I was not about to let all of our struggling plants die in the brutal conditions. The only good thing I could find about the extreme heat and drought that summer, was that the mowing had, thankfully, come to a screeching halt. Our Bermuda grass burned up in the scorching sun, as did all of the weeds. At least I did not have to worry about spending my usual seven hours a week mowing this place!
Even with these brutal conditions to deal with, adding the care and responsibility of raising a little deer to my daily watering and harvesting of two gardens was a welcomed change… in the beginning. Daisy was so cute that, other than making and feeding her goat milk formula every four hours, I did not mind the added work involved. Actually though, the process was a little more involved than just having to mix and feed. I also had to sterilize her bottles the first few weeks, and there was cleanup after a feeding, extra work helping her to potty and cleaning that up, extra time for brushing and bonding, and making sure she had an area to exercise in safely, and an adequate place in the house to hide and rest.
But after a few months, the worry and responsibility for seeing to Daisy’s needs increased, and I found myself tired and weary by the end of a day. I watched as this little deer paced the fence, having to remain penned up until hunting season was over in mid January. I did my best to keep her company, and FD built additional pen space to provide more room for running. We searched the woods for browse and brought these goodies to her to eat. Despite doing this, and referencing numerous books on whitetail deer, reading every bit of material I could find, I often felt that I fell short of providing Daisy with everything she would need to survive when released to the wild. But I did my best.
For those who would like a little refresher, or to catch up with Daisy’s story, I wrote about my experience raising her in the post, Being a Deer Mother….
In time, Daisy proved to me that she could manage just fine on her own. Once she was free to be wild, her instinct took over and time and again, my worry proved needless. Each time I saw her in the wild, I was proud. Daisy had managed to balance living in a human world, with living in the wild of nature. She was, indeed, resilient and strong.
But now that Daisy has become a mother for the very first time – and to twins no less – my worry has started anew. Would instinct, once again, guide her in this new experience? After all, her own upbringing was quite unorthodox. Would she possibly rely on some of that experience to care for her young? I wondered, do we really learn that much from our parents about caring for our own offspring? And, if that was the case, how on earth would Daisy manage?
In answer to my questions, Daisy made it evident from the day she gave birth, that she had her own way of raising her little fawns. She hid them in the tall grasses in our neighbor’s backyard, a distance from where she had birthed them. And she guarded them ferociously. In fact, our neighbor reported that Daisy let him and his three older dogs know, on day one, that she was in protective mode and would tolerate no curiosity from the likes of them! He said when he let the dogs out for their morning pit stop, Daisy went over to his very old Labrador, clubbed him on the head three times, and stood staring staunchly, as if to say, “You may LEAVE NOW!”. Apparently they got the message, as all three dogs ran for the house! He also mentioned his four cats had been scarcely seen that day. Fortunately, he understood Daisy was just being a good and protective mother. In fact, he was so proud about Daisy having her twins in his backyard that he gave us permission to come and go to check on her and her fawns whenever we pleased.
On the day they were born, I was able to observe Daisy feeding each of the fawns, usually about two hours apart. It was such a delight to see and hear! Eager feeders, they sucked with such vigor that I could actually hear the noisy production from my observation point a distance away! Daisy was loving and gentle with her babies, and she cleaned them meticulously. While a fawn was nursing, Daisy licked its anal region, stimulating its bladder and bowels. Instinctively, she consumed all the fawn released in an effort to keep the fawn’s scent down. Then, after nursing time, Daisy provided a really good bath for baby, licking any milk froth from around its mouth to ensure all traces of odor were eliminated. I was so proud to see that Daisy was being such a good mother to these two sweeties!
By evening that first day, Daisy had decided there was too much dog and cat traffic up top behind our neighbor’s home, and she should move her twins to the woodland area below. Daisy maneuvered down the steep decline with her usual ease, but both fawns had difficulty following. The first fawn rolled and tumbled to the bottom, while the other became entangled in wild honeysuckle, finally giving up and simply dropping in exhaustion. With Daisy not stopping to wait, FD assisted the tired little fawn, a buck, and freed him from the honeysuckle. Down at the bottom, the other fawn, a little doe, became stuck in the wire of an old, metal gate that was partially buried in the woodland bottom. FD freed it as well, and attempted to put the gate in an upright position so the fawns would not become entangled again. Daisy, foraging ahead in the dense trees, brush, and weeds of the woodland floor, was still on high alert for predators, but was not bothered by FD’s presence. Leaving the twins safely again with their mother, FD walked away and, in time, they each found a place to settle down and rest.
All seemed well with the arrangement of having her fawns in the neighbor’s woodland area until the afternoon of day two, when Daisy showed up with her right eye mostly closed, and some scratches and scrapes on her nose. Seeing Daisy’s condition, FD and I looked around for the twins that evening, but only spotted the little buck still lying in a rather dangerous spot near the fence line bordering the pecan orchard – and very near a well-traveled animal trail – where I had seen him earlier that morning. Finally, we discovered Daisy with the little doe up top in the neighbor’s backyard. This was quite a distance from where the buck fawn laid and, though I had seen Daisy nurse the doe in this area a couple of times that day, I had not seen her nurse the buck at all. Perhaps the buck had moved on his own, and Daisy had not been able to locate him. By dark, Daisy seemed to be looking for the buck up top, calling and pacing nervously in the area he had been the day before. Finally, FD and I made the decision to retrieve him from the dangerous spot he had chosen to bed down in near the animal trail. It was a good decision. Daisy seemed very relieved to see her boy again, and he nursed heartily as soon as his little hooves touched ground!
On day three, Daisy had opened her right eye, but she still had a lot of facial swelling from some kind of altercation the day before. I gave her plenty of attention that morning, which she seemed to enjoy. That afternoon, I was away from the ten-acre ranch for a few hours, going to a nearby city for supplies. On my return, I heard a terrible ruckus coming from down in the canyon. There was repeated deer snorting, and crackling of dead wood. Hearing all this commotion, I dropped my goods and ran to the bottom of the slope, finding Daisy thrashing wildly at something in the fence line bordering the pecan orchard! I had never seen her like this! She was crashing into the fence repeatedly, with her front hooves beating the thickets along the fence line. Her loud snorting echoed loudly in the woodland bottom, while chattering squirrels and screeching birds joined the din! I could not make out just what it was that she was after, but it was very clear Daisy was serious about warding off the “whatever-it-was”!
Daisy remained on high alert the rest of that day. She patrolled the neighbor’s backyard almost constantly. By the time FD got home from work, it had become clear Daisy was searching for a better place for her fawns. We watched as she led the little doe to the chain link fence that separates our property from our neighbor’s backyard. Soon, Daisy jumped over to our side, but when the fawn could not follow, both became distressed. The fawn scampered back and forth, mewing like a kitten. Daisy encouraged the fawn to follow her, with short, deep grunts. But the little fawn could not jump the fence, nor could it find a way along the fence to get through to Daisy. Daisy did not seem to understand why the little doe could not follow. Finally, after about an hour of watching Daisy and her fawn go back and forth along the fence, with the fawn mewing and Daisy grunting, then the fawn resting while Daisy continued to pace, then the whole process starting up anew, FD and I made the decision to assist. FD climbed over the fence, retrieved the little doe while Daisy supervised intently, and handed her over to me. Daisy was right there as I put the little doe on the ground. Mother and baby where now both very happy, and with a low grunt from Daisy, they headed off together to FD’s mother’s iris beds, located under a lovely canopy of trees that Daisy used to enjoy as a comforting place to rest when she was a young yearling.
Of course, seeing all this now had FD and me wondering what would happen to the little buck? We knew where he was hiding in our neighbor’s back yard, but dare we move him now? It was already dark and any assisting at this point would have to be done with flashlights – and quickly! We decided to go ahead and bring the buck to Daisy so that she could settle the little fella on our side of the fence and not have the same pacing, bawling, and grunting scenario come up again in the night. So, while I watched Daisy settle the little doe, FD went off to retrieve the little buck.
After the doe laid down, Daisy began to graze in the pasture just south of our house while I walked with her. Suddenly, she became very alert and bounded off swiftly and purposefully in the direction FD had gone! Panicked, I yelled to FD that Daisy was heading his way and to “PLEASE SAY SOMETHING!” because Daisy was acting as if she sensed a predator in the area where she had left her buck fawn and might be in attack mode!
Arriving at the fence, Daisy looked ferocious, her body language showing full-tilt concern! Quickly, FD did his “Daisy” whistle and then spoke gently to her. I could see her body relax in the flashlight beam, but she was still worried and continued to pace the fence. Finally, FD emerged from the trees and handed the little buck over the fence to me. Once in my hands, I held the fawn out for Daisy to sniff. Immediately, she licked her boy and, making two, low grunting noises, beckoned the little fella to follow her as I set him down. Daisy led this fawn towards Mom’s house as well, while FD and I looked on, exhausted. Here it was, 11:15 at night and FD had to be up early for work the next day.
The next morning, I felt the need to call my own Mom. She had mentioned many years ago, that when she came home from the hospital after each of us kids were born, her mother always came to assist for a few days after. During these times, Grandma helped with cooking and housework so that Mom could rest and enjoy a little pampering. As I chatted with Mom, I wanted to know more about Grandma’s help and what it had meant to her. I explained to Mom how very tired I had been these past days, but that I was also glad to be able to help Daisy when she had a few little problems. I do not suppose anyone takes on the role of being a new mother while knowing exactly what to do or how motherhood should be, other than by tapping into instinct and what we remember from our own experiences of “being” mothered.
After all the events of this first week of Daisy’s motherhood, I realized that, in some ways, she still needed assistance from her weird parents. I also wondered if, just maybe, she drew on the loving and petting and care she received from us in her own “childhood” as guidance in being a loving and caring mother to her offspring. Thinking this was possible, I felt a pride and warmth inside, realizing just how good it feels to be needed, and how rewarding it is to be able to help someone we love…
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…