Mutual Grooming

I have become a bit spoiled this summer, by seeing Daisy deer and her fawn, Spirit, just about every day. Often, before daylight each morning, I will catch two pairs of green eyes reflecting in the flashlight beam as I scan the grounds before letting the dogs out to do their morning business. Our girls are generally bedded down in the pasture just south of the house until just before sunup, when they rise, and Daisy nurses Spirit. Soon after, they trot off to the woods for the day to graze on lush greens and other browse. By noon, I imagine they are driven deep into the woods to seek shade and a cool breeze, wherever it can be found.

Even though Spirit is getting to be a big girl, Daisy still tends to her grooming after nursing.
Even though Spirit is getting to be a big girl, Daisy still tends to her grooming after nursing.

Around 7:00 in the evening, and sometimes later, we see Spirit coming from the west, poking along down the trail to the corn feeder, with Daisy following behind, alert of any danger. When we see the two of them headed our way like this, FD and I cannot resist bringing home-grown cherry and pear tomatoes down for Daisy to snack on – they are her absolute favorite! Our visit down below the slope does not last long, however, before the mosquitoes begin attacking. Daisy and Spirit might be used to these biting, stinging blood suckers, but FD and I do not have much tolerance for them!

Spirit takes part, tending to grooming her mother's forehead. Daisy appears to enjoy it!
Spirit takes part, tending to grooming her mother’s forehead. Daisy appears to enjoy it!

After a good nibble of corn and deer chow, the two often make their way to our yard, up top of the slope. When they do, this is where the fun begins! If the girls are near the picnic table, I start the sprinkler up in that area so that FD and I can watch Daisy and Spirit run and gambol in the mist. Sometimes, they put on quite a show! Spirit often dashes about, mewing and kicking up her hooves. Other times, we pull elm tree limbs down so the fresh leaves are within Daisy’s reach, or we pick ground cherries, or cucumbers from the garden for her to snack on. While Daisy is having her treats, Spirit grazes on nearby weeds or makes a stop at the petunia patch, choosing a few select flowers for munching (see my previous post – Where Have All the Petunias Gone?). Soon, the mosquitoes make their appearance, and it is once again time for FD and I to head back to the house and bid our girls a safe good night.

Without mutual grooming, a deer could never mange to keep its ears clean, except to scratch a bit with a hoof!
Without mutual grooming, a deer could never mange to keep its ears clean, except to scratch a bit with a hoof!

Last night, Daisy and Spirit showed up a bit early. It was about 6:30 when they arrived at the corn feeder. As usual, I took Daisy’s tomatoes down to her, and then went back up the hill to fetch fresh deer chow for the empty feed pans. Our girls are not the only deer who frequent the feeders throughout the days and nights, so I like to keep the feed pans full. On my way back down, I decided to tote the camera along. If I leave the camera behind, It never fails that I later wish I had brought it along.

Spirit is gentle with her mother. Daisy still bears the scars on her face from the bobcat attack.
Spirit is gentle with her mother. Daisy still bears the scars on her face from the bobcat attack.

When I reached the bottom of the slope, it was apparent that Daisy had just finished nursing Spirit, as she was now licking her, making sure to clean up any milk mustache, and to give her a little bath. But before long, I noticed Spirit licking Daisy as well. For more than five minutes, I observed the two performing mutual grooming. For a doe and her fawn, this is both a bonding and a grooming ritual. Care is taken to clean the neck and head, removing parasites and licking any wounds that might present themselves. It was a beautiful moment for me, to observe these two tending to each other in this manner.

This is my favorite photo of all. Daisy appears to be in heaven, eyes closed, floating on clouds. What else could this be, but a mother's love?
This is my favorite photo of all. Daisy appears to be in heaven, eyes closed, floating on clouds. What else could this be, but a mother’s love?

Seeing this, I thought back on the many times Daisy licked me in the same manner. Often it was my arms, neck, and face that she gently stroked with her tongue, sometimes using her teeth for a little scraping action if she felt the need to “deep clean”. I never thought of it as anything more than her giving me love. Now, I realized, she was only doing what deer do in the herd; grooming and attending to each other. Even as a little fawn, she instinctively knew this. Perhaps she understood my efforts to brush her, pick ticks and other parasites off of her, and to scratch her ears, was my clumsy way of practicing mutual grooming.

Spirit patiently waits for Daisy to finish the bath!
Spirit patiently waits for Daisy to finish the bath!

I will never know Daisy’s thoughts about these special moments she and I shared together. For me, though, I will always reflect on the love and caring I felt passing between us. There are just no words to express it…

© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


55 thoughts on “Mutual Grooming

    1. Good idea, Kat! I usually make my own greeting cards. I have many suitable animal photos from walking to the river, through the woods, and from animal rehabilitation experiences. The humorous ones are the easiest to work with.

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    1. Thanks Yvonne! I hope this autumn I will have more time to follow Daisy and Spirit, learning more about doe and fawn interaction. I have noticed Daisy and Spirit with doe Scarlet again. Scarlet is the dominant of the group, but Daisy seems to keep company with her anyway, just like last year . When it’s cooler and the weeds are down, and snakes gone, it will be a better time for me to hike with them and watch interaction with the local herd.

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  1. Wonderful post, as always. The photos are so beautiful and it’s amazing what you can learn simply by watching them interact. Thanks for always sharing the photos and the lessons 🙂

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    1. I’m happy to share Daisy and Spirit with everyone, Dounia! There seems to be much for us to learn, simply by observing nature. That Daisy has touched so many people all across the world, is an amazing thing!

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    1. Kim, it’s wonderful to watch Daisy and Spirit. I feel so much better about Daisy having a little companion now. She is a wonderful mother, and I know she loves the company. I always felt bad for her being alone so much that first year.

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  2. I cannot believe how fast they grow! This is so lovely, Lori, so I am glad you remembered your camera. (I know exactly what you mean about not bringing the camera!)

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  3. It is like a gift of angels when these two visit like this. You are indeed blessed. And you are so right about taking the camera with you always, mine ends up sitting in the strangest corners while I am working. I love the idea of deer playing in the sprinkler what atreat that must be to watch.. have a lovely day today.. c

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    1. Hi Cecilia! Daisy and Spirit always excite us when we see them. This morning, in the dark, there they lay just beyond the house near a young peach tree. Our mower broke down two weeks ago so the grass is tall. I could barely see the two forms in the tall grass, but those “green” eyes reflecting gave them away. Tonight we’ll put the sprinkler out again if they arrive early enough. Daisy still runs around like she did as a fawn, delighted with water!

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      1. They must love being able to hide in the tall grass, i wish my mower would break down, now I have to go out there and mow.. Oh and those bobble headed owls (named Bobble and Squeak) are doing a fine job of keeping the birds off my grapes. Thank you so much for the info and encouragement! c

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        1. I’m a little peeved right now. I called to check on the mower and they haven’t even looked at it! They said maybe late next week. Oh, I’m so glad Bobble and Squeak are doing a banner job for you! Are these grapes for wine? I might have to come for a visit in that case!!

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          1. Yes they are a Vidal Blanc, we will take them right through to the first killing frost then begin to make another batch of ice wine. John leaves each vintage in big demi-johns for over a year so i am not tempted to have a wee taste. This year we will also be making pear cider and apple cider. The cellar will be loaded, John may have to buy a lock! c

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  4. Daisy knows that she and Spirit are safe within the boundaries of your property and isn’t Spirit growing big! A really lovely share Lori, gorgeous photos and I, too, love that image of Daisy and Spirit where Daisies eyes are shut. How can anyone say that animals don’t have souls?

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  5. It just keeps getting better Lori. Wonderful marriage of words and photos, and the one you like is an award winner, imo. Although the last one is really good too. Loving it. Thanks.

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  6. All your photos are beautiful, however my absolute favorite is the same as your’s! What an incredible bond they have. What I find most amazing though, is the bond you and Daisy share. She remembers who her mama is, and where she feels loved and safe. After all, she wouldn’t have come back to have her babies so close by, and raise little spirit that weren’t true. Beautiful post, Big Sister!

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    1. Thank you Baby Sister. This whole connection with Daisy, and now Spirit is very amazing… but then, isn’t the Universe an amazing place for all of us to be? I’m so happy you and I are siblings… and that the difference in our ages, allowed us more than we could have hoped! Spirit will long to be with her mother always, as Daisy longs to be near me, as I long to be near you, my sweet Baby Sister.

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    1. Ha ha ha!! Yes, Daisy is all the time trying to groom Spirit and most of the time Spirit walks off not wanting attention. This mutual grooming moment isn’t often seen, but I know all deer do it, even the bucks. That would be interesting to see, but it’s rare I see two bucks in the canyon. That’s one of those hiking adventures where I’d have to go to the river and just sit and wait to see what comes along.

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    1. Thank you… that is the only time I have seen Daisy and Spirit spend that long grooming each other. It was amazing! Funny you should ask about the collar. I just made 3 collars this weekend. I use orange Duck brand tape and reflective strips to fashion the collar. They’re designed with Velcro so if Daisy should get hung up on something, she can tear free of the collar. We put a collar on Daisy last week, but I just do not feel we’ll ever manage one on Spirit. She allows us about 5 feet from her, but we’ve never been able to touch her or even hold much eye contact with her. I think she somewhat trusts us but she’s wild. As long as Daisy has the collar, I think Spirit will be fine, since she tends to follow. She’s too small to worry about hunters this year, and she’ll likely stay with Daisy this next year. But next year in the autumn, Spirit will be in more danger of hunters, and crossing the nearby road alone (if she ventures that direction… which Daisy often did when she was a yearling). The people who own the pecan orchard do not lease it to hunters (I think specifically because they love Daisy!), but we know trespassers often frequent the river area (just a mile from here). We just hope for the best.

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