From the time Daisy deer delivered her twins in early June, it was evident her mothering instinct was strong and going full-throttle. For the first couple of weeks before giving birth, and for roughly a month after giving birth, a deer mother will patrol and protect her birthing territory with vigilance. Daisy was no exception to this rule. During this period, she was more alert and watchful than I had ever seen her. I often caught sight of her checking the perimeters of what she had chosen as her birthing territory. For Daisy, this area covered approximately 5-acres of land.
After giving birth to her twins, Daisy settled in to a daily routine. She would graze and feed throughout the day and into the nighttime. Lactating mother’s eat almost constantly to provide nutrition to their young. While filling her belly, however, Daisy did not venture very far from where her young were bedded down – generally in separate places. Before nursing either fawn, Daisy carefully conducted a patrol around the property, making sure it was safe to bring her babies out for feeding. She cleverly walked in the cover of trees, shrubs, and tall weeds to make her way to a secure nursing area.
When she neared the area where she knew her fawns were hiding, she communicated with a slight “buzzing” noise delivered soft and low. This was her “moo” call to let a fawn know to come to her. Once fed, she let the baby exercise for a while, usually in a well-shaded and protected area. When sufficiently tired, the fawn would choose a place to bed down nearby. Daisy waited for the fawn to settle in its spot, and would then either go off to graze or rest nearby where she could keep an eye out for predators or other signs of danger.
When the twins were a month old, I noticed Daisy was more relaxed about exercise time and having both fawns together. She did not run after the frolicking fawns to keep them close like she did when they were tiny. Rather, she allowed them room to explore, and to have time to play hide and seek or a game of tag. Play time for fawns is important for developing good muscle tone and skills of dodging objects and fleeing danger. Playing tag or chase are excellent games for building strong legs to carry a fawn quickly away from trouble. Games of hide and seek help to develop alertness and the kind of hiding skills a young deer will need for survival. Often while playing, the fawns would disappear into the woods and out of sight from Daisy, only to show up seconds later in full chase. The little buck, however, always pushed the limits. Several times, I saw Daisy run off to the woods after him when he did not reappear with his sister. That boy always seemed to have a mind of his own!
After a month of observing the fawns, we decided on names for them. In the end, it was their personalities that led us to the names “Rowdy” and “Spirit”. Rowdy, the little buck, was just as his name suggested. He was rambunctious and wayward. From the time he was only a wee fawn, we often saw Daisy running after him, mooing her command for him to mind and come back. But Rowdy seldom seemed to pay much attention to Daisy’s calls. During my research into animal rehabilitation, I remember reading that orphaned bucks could be quite destructive and wayward, and that it was often wise to free them at three months of age when they were weaned.
When Rowdy and Spirit played together, they could often be heard “mewing” in excitement while running and leaping about. As this was going on, Daisy simply grazed nearby, keeping an eye out and offering a lick or bath when one of the fawns came near to her. Like Rowdy, the little doe, Spirit, loves to run, leap, and gambol about. But she is always mindful of Daisy and tends not to venture too far from her. I have many photos of Daisy and Spirit together, grazing, or resting and grooming each other. Obviously, a special bond exists between mother and daughter of all species.
Always, Daisy was a ferociously, protective mother. She hoofed off feral cats in the area, and chased opossums and armadillos from the canyon. She seemed to understand it would not be wise to tangle with skunks, but still made sure they were well on their way from her territory, by “pushing” them from a safe distance and waiting for them to leave. I also noticed hoof marks on Daisy occasionally. These were possibly the result of warding off other does, while Rowdy and Spirit were still very young. More than once, I observed Daisy crashing through the brush and trees in the woods, going after something that she considered a threat. She is a fearless mother.
One morning about three weeks ago, Daisy came home with a rather large puncture wound on her left side. Spirit too, had a patch of raw skin on her neck. A thunderstorm had come up the night before, so we assumed they had been spooked and, literally, ran into trouble.
In the days to follow, I noticed Daisy licking both her and Spirit’s wounds. Though it took a long time for Daisy’s open puncture wound to close and heal, she never acted as if it bothered her. In contrast, Spirit’s wound healed rather quickly, even though it did leave a bit of a scar on her neck. I often wondered what happened to Daisy and Spirit that night. Was it simply the storm spooking them, or had something threatened Spirit, and had Daisy gone to battle to protect her?
Friday, this past week, I saw Daisy out bright and early with Rowdy and Spirit. Daisy was eating deer chow, while the twins played chase nearby. I grabbed my camera and sat on the slope above, watching the trio go about their morning routine. Rowdy stopped for a bit of respite at the old bathtub that sits just below the slope and serves as a water station for all wildlife. Lately, I noticed the fawns were mimicking Daisy while she grazed, and had recently seen them feeding on some greens themselves. They often smelled and nibbled on what they observed Daisy eating. Now, Rowdy had picked up on how to get water from the tub, and drew in a long drink before heading off to the west. Daisy and Spirit followed. Perhaps Daisy had given up trying to control Rowdy’s wayward ways, I thought, and was now allowing him be the leader for the morning – at least until he tuckered out for a nap!
Later that morning, at around 10:30, I noticed the heat was beginning to get the best of me. I had just finished weeding and watering in the garden, and was shutting off the hydrant, when I saw something black dart along the fence at the edge of the woods. Before I could make out what it was, however, the dark form disappeared into the woods near where Daisy often bedded Rowdy and Spirit. I quickly drove the electric buggy across the pasture to the slope, hoping to catch sight of whatever it was as it passed through the woods. Seeing nothing moving to the north towards the pecan orchard, I drove back to the south and checked the area of thick weeds where I had originally seen the animal disappear. Again, I found nothing. From there, I drove down the lane to the canyon bottom, weaving in and out of trees in hopes of seeing something that would help to solve this mystery. But alas, there was nothing to be seen down there either, so I finally gave up. Hopefully, I thought, the unidentified critter had moved on elsewhere.
At noon, just after preparing FD’s lunch, I looked out the back door (as I usually do when I pass in that direction) and spotted Daisy, having a nibble of corn at the feeder below the slope. Grabbing a handful of fresh blackberries, I hurried down the hill to give her a treat while the fawns were not with her. I always culled the bird-pecked berries and saved them for Daisy. She absolutely loves blackberries. As I neared Daisy at the feeder, I quickly became horrified at what I saw. My heart raced and my gut tightened. My girl’s face was covered with dried blood! Her left ear had a one-inch split at the top and the blood from that wound was dried and crusted on the ear and down the side of her face. I began to fret even more as I looked over the rest of her body. There were large patches of hairless skin down her back and sides, and they were red with irritation. In these patches, there were scratches – some still oozing with gooey blood, and other areas where bruising had already set in, looking purple, and swollen, and angry. Daisy was panting harder than I had ever seen her do before. What in the world had happened to her? Did it have anything to do with that black animal I spotted earlier?
Hearing my despair, FD raced down the slope to calm me, thinking Daisy just had a few barbed-wire scratches – her usual. He too was taken aback by her bloodied, beaten and bruised appearance. He noted the torn right ear where an artery had likely been slashed in a fight. Two of the three snaps on her orange collar were undone. Whatever Daisy fought, it had attacked her from the front mostly, but a large “paw” slash also marked her back, just above her tail. Perhaps Daisy had encountered more than one attacker?
Daisy did not linger long at the feeder, and walked off favoring her right front leg. She was still panting hard, though some of that could be contributed to the near 100° temperature we were experiencing at the time. Despite her slight limp, she ambled up the slope in urgency, taking her normal patrol route inside the fence line of our property, and heading to the iris beds where the fawns often bedded down in the mornings. After sounding her mooing call in the iris beds, Daisy located Spirit and nursed her for a short time. When Spirit was through, it did not take Daisy long to bed down for some rest herself. She licked Spirit, then licked herself, and appeared to catch her breath in the shade of the big oak tree towering above her.
Within an hour, I noticed that Daisy was up and appeared to be looking for Rowdy in his usual spot on a knoll overlooking the canyon. However, I did not see that she was successful in finding him. By early evening, Daisy was on the move again, this time sniffing the ground and catching scent while traveling along slowly. FD and I followed her, keeping watch from a distance. I had already been out looking for Rowdy most of the afternoon and FD joined me when he got home from work. It was pitiful listening to Daisy moo, and groan, while looking for her little buck.
Time and again, Daisy’s nose took her to a few spots where perhaps the scent of her boy still lingered. She followed a trail west into our woods, then over the fence to the pecan orchard. In here, she lingered at times, putting her nose to the air, or smelling grasses. After a while, she headed back to the feeding area on our property. Then, back up the slope and around the perimeter of the fence bordering our property, she continued her search for Rowdy, mooing constantly. At dark, FD and I watched Daisy and Spirit grazing just beyond the front porch. They were doing what deer do at night – just the two of them.
Saturday morning, I donned my hiking boots and headed to the woods, again in search of Rowdy. I saw Daisy twice, also searching. The area is vast and, with an abundance of spring rains this year, much of it is overgrown with weeds, trees and brush. I gave up my search for a while when the afternoon heat got the best of me. Then, around 4:00, I set out again, following Daisy, who was going along the same path as before. As she walked along, her mooing increased, sometimes ending in a long, low groan. At times my eyes became so blurry with tears I could hardly keep Daisy in sight.
Still, we continued our search and I noticed that Daisy would occasionally look my way as I walked a distance behind her. I wondered if I was more irritating than being a help to her. While Daisy is gifted with a tremendous sense of smell, it is difficult for humans to track anything in the woodlands. My sense of smell is pathetic next to hers, and my vision is limited. Also, human feet leave a large imprint on the woodland floor. And, though I tried to walk softly and avoid stepping on dead, brittle wood or dried leaves, I could not come close to the quietness of Daisy’s nimble, dainty hooves. But together we walked, this odd pair, in search of Rowdy.
Finally, Daisy ducked under a fence and into a property with a completely impassable woodland area. At this point, I was not about to crawl through the thick brambles and poison ivy in order to follow her. I did not want to encounter snakes, both on the ground and in trees. It was dark and insect-infested in there. I was already miserably hot and sweaty, and wishing I had thought to take water with me. Sadly, I walked back to our gate alone. But by the time my heavy boots took me to the end of the long animal trail, I found myself greeted by Daisy at the feeding station. She had already walked skillfully through the dense, dark woods and beat me home!
Sunday morning has brought rain and cooler temperatures to the ten-acre ranch. When I walked with Daisy this morning, I noticed the rain had helped to clean her wounds. It has been hard for me to see Daisy so beat up and battered. It has also been very distressing for me to watch her roam and search for her boy, calling out and alertly listening for any response. And again, in this morning’s gentle rain, Daisy continues her search – stopping to look and listen, catching scent, and finally moving onward. I hope she finds her little Rowdy boy. I hope he finds her. I pray for a happy ending to this long, and heart-wrenching search. But mostly, I am thankful Daisy survived the attack – that she fought a brave fight in defense of her son… and herself.
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…