The month of September has been a time of transition for our orphaned fawns, Emma and Ronnie. Normally, fawns can be weaned from milk anywhere from three months of age to five or even six months. In the wild, most mothers have weaned their young around the three-month mark, but a very tolerant doe will continue to allow her fawns to nurse beyond that. I cannot imagine too many does choosing more time putting up with a fawn knocking its head under the mother’s udder in an attempt to stimulate more milk flow. I have observed Daisy enduring this aggressive action from her fawns when they were young but, as they grew, she eventually would walk away when a fawn started this activity, and thus the stage of weaning began. Even though Emma is nearly four months old and Ronnie is just more than three months old, I continue to give them a very small amount of formula once each evening. For one thing, we still have a good amount of powdered formula to use and, secondly, they still seem to enjoy their evening treat of a few swallows of milk.
While it is a relief to no longer have scheduled bottle feedings throughout the day, I have also incorporated other deer chores, but at a leisurely pace. Fortunately, Emma and Ronnie both took immediately to Purina Antlermax Watershed pelleted deer feed. And from several years of observing Daisy deer’s food preferences in the wild, I knew I could forage in the woods for greens and browse that I know deer regularly consume. So, each morning, you can find me setting out in the electric buggy to clip elm tree branches and gather thorny green brier that, fortunately, is prolific in our woods and the pecan orchard property. I am also prone to pruning my rose bushes a little more often, since another thing Daisy taught me is that deer love rose leaves and blossoms. Goods from the garden are a treat this time of year as well. Sweet potatoes and sweet potato vine, yellow squash, carrots, chard, kale, and cucumbers are all tasty treats for deer. And this year, our oak trees have produced a bumper crop of acorns. So one can often find me under my mom-in-law’s large, white oak tree picking acorns from the tree while the squirrels chortle at me! Sometimes I am vying for acorns with six or seven squirrels!
Another necessary duty in the deer pen is poop pickup. When eating a lot of greens, deer can defecate more than thirty times a day. Greens cause them to form “clumps” of round pellets, while a drier diet of deer feed and browse lends to single droppings of scat pellets. I pick up what I can so that the deer pen is not overcome with deer droppings. I am also thankful that dung beetles often take care of the bulk of daytime deer poop in the pen. Most mornings, I have deer poop to pick up, but with dung beetle activity during the heat of the day, there are only tidy little piles of soil where once there had been several piles of poop!
Though the pace is more leisurely with bottle feedings being a thing of the past, foraging can be time-consuming and weather conditions are often not pleasant. Most mornings are already hot and humid by the time I venture out to the woodlands and pecan orchard to gather greens and browse. Mosquitoes and gnats are a constant nuisance, and cat brier is thorny and difficult to work with. Often, the vine has grown up into trees and the tugging and pulling required to get it down, leaves me with a few painful punctures to the fingers, even when wearing protective gloves. And though we have numerous patches of the horrible poison ivy plant on our property, and deer do eat the leaves, I do not pick it for the fawns. But last week, as I cut and tugged at cat brier growing up into a tree, I learned the hard way that sometimes poison ivy is intertwined with the cat brier. Yes, I will be wearing long sleeves from now on!
As late summer gives way to fall, I will be cutting Hackberry limbs with yellowing leaves, and gathering the fallen leaves of the Osage Orange tree – both of which are high in nutrient for deer to utilize in the colder months. I will also venture to the west end of the pecan orchard in late autumn to pick up the bean pods of the Honey Locust for Emma and Ronnie to eat. Yes, I will be the deer mother who searches for ways to supplement the diet of her little charges. I hope when they are free in mid-January, that they will already be familiar with what the surrounding area has to offer, and that they will also know that we will still provide feed and water for them anytime they venture back to their home.
For much of the summer, Daisy deer brought her surviving buck fawn up top to her old deer pen. Most times, Daisy and Rooben touched noses with Emma and Ronnie through the fence of the pen. Rooben often scampered around in play, while Emma and Ronnie paced the fence. We have been hopeful that after we have freed Emma and Ronnie when the rut is over this winter, perhaps Daisy would allow them to tag along behind her and Rooben. But, nearly a week ago, I found a few tufts of fresh deer hair along a buggy trail in the pecan orchard where we had often seen Daisy and Rooben browsing. For the next couple of days after, we noted Daisy down at the feeder alone. It was the 19th of September when I last saw Daisy alone down below the slope. When I walked down to visit her, she mutual groomed me and I petted her and pulled a few ticks from her ears. She stayed with me a long time that day and I followed her as she gently mooed while taking a path through our woods, her nose down and checking for scent. Occasionally, she jerked her head up and watched intently in the distance. Then, all at once she took off running to the west, towards the old river channel. She has not returned since.
I do not know what happened to Rooben, or to Daisy, if anything. And maybe, I do not want to know. Regardless, I will be the same deer mother that I have been for Daisy when we give Emma and Ronnie their freedom after hunting season closes. Sure, I will wonder about them if I do not see them for a day or two, and I will search. I guess I will worry and wonder about them, until I don’t anymore. I imagine it is much the same for Daisy when she no longer has the company of her fawns, though I do not have understanding about what animals experience. It appears Daisy has run off to the river and beyond, looking for the company of the wild herd, as we suspect she has done the last two years after her fawns were taken. As I go through the motions each day of foraging and gathering food for Emma and Ronnie, I think of Daisy. And I worry a bit too. But in the end, I focus on being thankful that Daisy continues to show me her resilience in living a free and abundant life in the wild…
© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…