The day I got the phone call about orphaned fawn, Tukker, I was given very little useful information by the woman who brought him to me. Mostly, the story sounded like a fabrication. I was told he was a month-old fawn that had been taken in by a local trucker, who claimed he’d scared up three deer while mowing. According to this accounting, the mother and another fawn ran off, but this fawn did not run and the mother never returned for him. The trucker took the fawn from the field, quite often bringing it to work with him at the trucking shop. There were stories about how the fellas at work thought it was funny to watch his legs slide apart, doing the splits on polished floors. Supposedly, they all took turns feeding him, depending on who was available and not out on the road. Then, suddenly, the trucker was killed after apparently falling asleep at the wheel early one morning while on a trucking run about two hours away from the shop.
After the trucker was killed, a co-worker thought to get the fawn which had been left at the trucking company when the trucker went out on his run that morning. The co-worker gave the fawn to this woman, thinking since she lived in the country she might be in a position to raise it. This lady went on to say she would have raised it herself but she had several grandchildren and three pit bull dogs and just did not have the time. In response, I informed the lady that it was illegal to raise wildlife without a permit, and that she had done the right thing by calling me. Still, her grandchildren wanted her to keep the fawn, which is why she ended up being nearly an hour late in meeting me – the kids were crying and begging for her to let them keep the fawn.
When I got home and opened the door to the pet crate in which the fawn had been transported, it was evident to me that this was not a month-old but rather a week-old fawn – if even that. When the woman recounted the story that the mother and another fawn had run away from the tractor cutting the hay field, it made me wonder if the mother had just given birth to twin fawns, and was still with both when the mower came along.
From observing Daisy, the first orphan fawn we raised, I knew the only time the mother has both fawns with her is for about an hour after birth while she cleans up the birthing area and feeds and cleans the fawns. For the next three to four weeks, the doe beds them in separate locations. When the fawns reach about a month of age, the doe will bring them together, sometimes going on short outings as a family. At this age, the fawns are able to keep up with the mother, for the most part. I wondered if Tukker was the last born of two fawns and was too weak at the time to follow after his sibling and mother? Had the man left Tukker be, the mother might have returned, as I have observed Daisy and her first fawn, Spirit, search for their missing fawns for up to a week.
It took me a long time to coax Tukker from the pet porter. He was docile, more like a newborn or a fawn of only a few days of age might behave. He had a large rub wound on the knee of a front leg and hair missing on his nose, likely from pushing his nose through the wire gate of the pet carrier. After finally coaxing him out and giving him a little petting and attention, I gently stroked his hips (to mimic a mother cleaning its baby), and he immediately lowered his hind quarters. It suddenly dawned on me that he likely had not been stimulated to be relieved in a long time, if at all. It was soon obvious that it was the latter, and upsetting to me how long he urinated and how strong the scent was. But the really strange thing about this first bathroom business was that the feces was pelleted – something that is normal for a month-old fawn, but not for a newborn or fawn of less than a week of age. And another oddity – this little fella drank water from a bowl but would not drink formula from a bottle, and he was ingesting a lot of dirt. Nothing made sense about his story.
After three unsuccessful days trying to get Tukker to suck a bottle, I called the lady back. I asked if she knew or could find out what kind of milk or formula he was being fed. She promised she’d find out. When I said he wasn’t a month old but more like a week old, she said all she knew was what the co-worker told her. She didn’t call me back about the milk, but a man claiming he was her husband did call and insisted I give the deer back because he wanted to raise it for a pet. After a bit of arguing about that being illegal, he changed the plea to allowing him to bring his friend’s daughter to see the deer so she could get closure for her dad’s death. When I kindly refused that request, stating there was nothing about that scenario that would benefit the well-being of the fawn, he became belligerent and refused to tell me what kind of milk was supposedly used. Finally, he just hung up on me.
After all this, FD and I suspected that Tukker had been taken from his mother just after birth. We suspected the trucker never could get Tukker to suck the bottle, which is common when first trying to transition them from their mother’s teat. We think it is possible that Tukker was so hungry by the time we got him that he was instinctively eating plants and dirt to get by (thus the pelleted feces). We knew he was highly stressed, having been through so many confusing experiences already, and that it would take time for us to earn his trust. Day after day we went through the process of gently prying open his mouth, squirting formula down his throat, waiting for him to swallow, and then repeating the process until we’d gotten a few ounces down. How he was surviving on so little I do not know. But he continued to eat lots of dirt and drink water from the bowl.
Seeking help and advice, I called Wildcare, a larger rehabilitation facility about an hour away with a veterinarian on staff and experts in every animal and bird species. The fawn division assured me that I was doing everything they would do, and that it was about persistence at this point, and to keep on trying. Try a different formula, try different nipples, try holding him differently. Keep him from stressing and try to continue to build trust. Still, I was feeling a bit defeated, wondering if he could survive much longer. But the Wildcare staff continued to encourage me and FD remained patient as well, reminding me that Tukker had been through a very stressful time in the last days, something that we could only imagine. Then suddenly, on the evening of day six, Tukker started sucking the bottle as if a switch had been flipped from “off” to “on”. FD and I were both relieved and elated!
Now that Tukker, the new champion bottle sucker, was getting good formula, another problem presented itself. Diarrhea indicated that his body was not properly absorbing nutrition. Once again, I conferred with Wildcare. They made a few suggestions but, mostly, their advice was about trying anything that might work. I took a couple of fecal samples to the vet to test for infection, parasites, or anything unusual. But both samples came back clean. I tried a coagulant paste the vet recommended, but it did not work. The vet also suggested adding a probiotic to his formula and to offer some greens. Following up on this suggestion, I went to the local Walmart in search of the cleanest Greek yogurt I could find (as in no added sugars). I trekked to the woods in search of cat brier, and I picked clover from our yard. I clipped the canes of overgrown rose bushes, and I went in search of fresh elm branches. After a couple of weeks, we began to see a bit of hope, but the consistency of Tukkers feces was still not quite right. That is, until FD came home with a container of sheep’s milk yogurt from Natural Grocers. After two feedings with this new yogurt added to Tukker’s bottle, we saw beautiful, naturally-shaped pellets of poop forming!
Today, Tukker is doing quite well. He has been outdoors in the barnyard deer pen for a week now. He is growing quickly, filling out nicely, and he loves to leap and run. I find myself thankful for FD’s determination and patience. And Molly, from Wildcare, who on that very first phone call waited for me to finish talking about all of the things I had observed that did not make sense with the story I was told, finally said to me, “Lori, you need to forget the story. People tell us stories every day that may or may not be true. Go with what you see, and what your gut tells you. The sooner you discard that story that doesn’t make sense, the better you will be at helping the animal placed in your care, as it will have your full attention and caring. And just keep trying. As long as you are trying, you are giving that fawn the best chance it can have at survival.”
This pearl of wisdom from Molly really spoke to me. For I realized that I have been carrying all sorts of my own stories around for most of my life. Most of these revolve around injustices, and Molly helped make it clear that it was not doing Tukker any good for me to focus on the injustices he had endured in his young life. And, sure enough, when FD and I left the story behind and simply went forth with goodwill and caring, Tukker flourished.
Wild creatures never look back to question and wonder. Instead, they keep trying, living in the now, constantly moving forward. For that is Nature’s way of survival – and of life.
© 2019 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…