Foraging For Fawns

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.

Emma and Ronnie eating Antlermax feed, mixed with a few fruity kibbles and corn.
Emma and Ronnie eating Antlermax feed, mixed with a few fruity kibbles and corn.
Emma and Ronnie roam around the pen eating deer plot greens, elm tree leaves, acorns scattered about, and sweet potato vine.
Emma and Ronnie roam around the pen eating acorns that we’ve scattered about, deer plot greens, elm tree leaves, and sweet potato vine.
Ronnie likes to play in the water, dipping his nose way down and swirling his head in the water!
Ronnie likes to play in the water, dipping his nose way down and swirling his head around!
Refreshing!!
It’s so refreshing!!

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!

We have a lot of elm trees on our place. I trim the higher branches for leaves for Emma and Ronnie. We try to leave lower growing branches and suckers for Daisy and the wild deer to nibble on.
We have a lot of elm trees on our place. I trim the higher branches for leaves for Emma and Ronnie. We try to leave lower growing branches and suckers for Daisy and the wild deer to nibble on.
I trim cat brier to four feet from the ground and pull down what grows up high. That way I leave plenty for the wild deer to graze on.
I trim cat brier to four feet from the ground and pull down what grows up high for Emma and Ronnie. That way I leave plenty for the wild deer to graze on.
Venturing across the pecan orchard to the old river channel in the buggy, allows me to choose an abundance of greens for Emma and Ronnie.
Taking the buggy across the pecan orchard to the old river channel, allows me to choose an abundance of greens for Emma and Ronnie.
This is the view of the pecan orchard as I'm headed home with the buggy full of good deer eats!
This is the view of the pecan orchard as I’m headed home with the buggy full of good deer eats!
This is about half of the cat brier I need to feed Emma and Ronnie for a day.
This is about half the cat brier I need to feed Emma and Ronnie for a day.
We are fortunate it is a bountiful year for acorns!
We are fortunate it is a bountiful year for acorns!

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!

I appreciate the work the dung beetle does to aid in poop pickup in the deer pen!
I appreciate the work the dung beetle does to aid in poop pickup in the deer pen!

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…

August 7, 2016 Pecan Orchard, heading to old river channel.
August 7, 2016 – Pecan Orchard, Daisy and Rooben heading to old river channel.
September 6, 2016 In pasture, looking toward Emma and Ronnie's pen.
September 6, 2016 – In our pasture, looking toward Emma and Ronnie’s pen.
FD took this last photo of Rooben September 11, 2016. He was bedded down nearby while Daisy ate from the feeder.
FD took this last photo of Rooben September 11, 2016. He was bedded down nearby while Daisy ate from the feeder.

© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 


37 thoughts on “Foraging For Fawns

  1. You have been an awesome caretaker of the wildlife in your hands. Nature and the circle of life is so tough for them and for us that have loved and nurtured them to freedom. I always count each day as a blessing and knowing that they had a chance at being wild and free. I think of you often and want you to know that you and FD are always in our thoughts.

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    1. Thank you, Yetta. You are such a dear, deer sweet friend. I know you understand the difficulties and the joys of animal rehabilitation. Those little squirrels are what brought us together. I’m thankful every single day for our friendship! 🙂

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  2. Wow Lori, I’m amazed at how much work you have to do to gather food for Emma and Ronnie every day. And I love how you’re so thorough in your foraging for them, making sure to get a variety of things for them to eat. Really like that image of Ronnie dipping his nose deep into the water!

    And I’m so sorry to hear about Rooben.

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    1. Hi Kim! I don’t “have” to do any of the gathering. Most rehab folks probably offer feed only, after weaning. It is amazing how much Emma and Ronnie have flourished with the knowledge we have gained from raising Daisy, and observing her after release. I don’t know what happened to Rooben but I assume since Daisy has been gone for more than a week now, she has moved on from her role as a mother this year.

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  3. Buongiorno, Lori! We just arrived in Italy last night and reading this note from “home” was a wonderful way to start the day today. I noticed in the photo of Emma and Ronnie that they are different colors. I’ve noticed that with our deer in Montana, too. I figured the variation meant they were from different herds, but can one deer give birth to fawns with different fur colors? Probably a silly question, but I’ve often wondered about it. Hope all is well and that you will see Rooben and Daisy again soon.

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    1. Ha ha!! My goodness, you and Chris don’t stay put for very long! Emma came from a little town just 17 miles southeast of here and Ronnie came from a rural area just 9 miles north of us. And I suppose it is possible for a doe to birth fawns of different coat colors – I never thought about it! Bucks cover quite a radius of miles during the rut so I believe genetically it is very likely. From what I have seen of Daisy’s fawns from year to year, the coats are the same colors, but the faces and sometimes builds are different. I should really document these observations!!

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  4. You have done so much caring for these magnificent animals, but just look at how much you have learned from them! Some people never find their true purpose in life, you have, and it’s a blessing in so many ways. You’ve worked hard, but the return has and will continue to enrich your life. Thank you for sharing your journey.

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    1. Thank you, Amy. It has been a magnificent journey all around. I know there is more yet to learn and experience, and though difficult at times, both FD and I feel fortunate to have discovered this love of wild things.

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  5. What a bitter sweet story, Lori. Your dedication to foraging and looking after, not just the rearing, but the rehabilitation for the deer you raise, is so heart warming and impressive. Your posts stir something deep within me like nothing else does. We have to do what we have to do in life, even if it is with a heavy heart at times. Best wishes with all you do…and no more poison ivy! xx

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    1. Oh, thank you, Ardys. I find your words comforting. I am still battling the poison ivy rash, and now that it is cooler I’ll be wearing long sleeves to protect my arms when gathering greens for the kids. I witness many things in the wild. Some fill me with indescribable joy and elation. Others are heartbreaking and sometimes horrific. I try to learn, appreciate, respect and gain wisdom from these experiences. And always, I yearn for more.

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  6. You are so amazing with these beautiful and delicate creatures! Keep at it! 🙂
    I have a fossil deer skull from the Oligocene Period, 30 million years ago; they were small back then. They didn’t evolve into today’s present form of deer, but they were closely related. Back then it was creodonts and newly emerging dogs and wolves after them; now it’s mostly coyotes and bipedal primates.

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    1. Thank you, Tom. Your knowledge of so many subjects fascinates me. I have never even heard of the Oligocene Period and I had to look up the term “creodonts”. How is it that you acquired this fossil? Do you know what area it came from?

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    1. Ha ha! I’ve become a bit of an expert on scat over the years. It really is interesting to study different animal scat while tracking or walking along animal trails. Many times one can observe the scat and determine the diet of the critter that left it behind! It was a surprise this summer though, to find that I had some helpers on the poop scoop detail. Dung beetles are strange but fascinating to watch. I believe the type we have are the “tunneling” dung beetles. They dig tunnels and take the deer scat pellets into their tunnels where they have laid their eggs. When the young hatch, they feast on the pellets which offer moisture and nutrient.

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    1. It is a mixed bag of emotion for me, but I try to think of Daisy’s life in the wild. She has done well, and she has been a fearless mother, fighting for her young. She is a warrior of the woodlands.

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    1. Aw, thank you, Lynda. Your words are a comfort. I am thankful that nature provides gentle signs at times like this – the tufts of hair and Daisy simply taking off. Many times I do not need to know the whole story.

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  7. That’s amazing that you have taken such wonderful care of these deer! I love animals and am always so amazed when people form relationships with wild animals….I think it’s amazing ❤️

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  8. The first thing I thought about was poison ivy. YUCK.
    Nothing is as good as locally fresh HA HA. I used to go out every morning to gather fresh greens for our “free range’ bunny and ginea in our open air 3 sided atrium. They were most appreciative and preferred fresh to factory made.
    Wonderful that your orphans are touching noses with possible future neighbors/grazing mates. Hopefully Daisy and fawn are off frollicking with friends.

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    1. I have not spotted Daisy while tootling around the pecan orchard, but I’m sure she’s off to the river area. I haven’t ventured that far to the west as the weeds are taller than I am and it’s a complete misery allergy-wise to venture into that stuff. Later in the fall when the rains and wind take down the taller weeds I’ll walk out there with the camera and perhaps I’ll spot her. And yes, I hope Rooben is fine.

      It’s a wonderful thing to supply Emma and Ronnie with fresh eats. Their appetites are amazingly huge since the weather turned cool. Those winter coats are just beautiful and oh so soft!!

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    1. Thank you, Charlie. What I hoped to show in the video was the throat, how the food is swallowed after being chewed or as it’s being chewed, and then shortly another “lump” of food comes up from that first stomach chamber. It’s truly an amazing process.

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    1. Ha ha! I believe they will know they can come back to visit. Just like with Daisy, we’ll always keep corn and feed out for an extra treat should they come to visit. I have to admit, I’ll be sort of glad when winter gets here and I won’t have all of that gathering to do!

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  9. “I focus on being thankful that Daisy continues to show me her resilience in living a free and abundant life in the wild…” Ultimately this is what parents / caretakers want, right? As hard as it is …
    You are working hard, my friend!

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  10. I’d been wondering what word to use to describe that sound that squirrels make. Your choice of chortle seems a good one. I wonder what alternative you would have chosen if Lewis Carroll hadn’t combined chuckle and snort to create chortle.

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    1. I certainly didn’t know that little tidbit about the word chortle! As a young girl I read the book “The Adventures of Chatterer The Red Squirrel” by Thornton Burgess, so I have often used “chattering” to describe their noise. But when they are scolding or warning of a predator, the word chatter always seemed too friendly. There is a real depth to the warning noise and chortle just sounded more appropriate to me!! I suppose it’s a personal thing! 🙂

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      1. I can see why you feel chatter sounds a bit too friendly for that warning sound. The article at

        https://www.wired.com/2014/06/squirrel-alarm-calls-are-surprisingly-complex/

        uses chatter but also gives some other words that people have created.

        Chortle appeared in the poem “Jabberwocky” in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. The relevant stanza is:

        “And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
        Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
        O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
        He chortled in his joy.

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        1. I had forgotten about the use of chortle in that famous poem! Thank you for enlightening me. I’ll be thinking more about the words I use to describe the calls and cries of nature! 😀

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