Winter Foraging For Tukker

Last week I found myself picking acorns for our orphaned fawn, Tukker, from an oak tree near the old river channel. We have a good number of oak trees on our property, but it just was not a great production year for acorns. I had been picking from this particular tree for a couple of weeks, and it was clear I had gotten about as high on the ladder as I could get, which left me to crawl around on the ground looking for fallen acorns. In a way, this was the most fair way of harvesting. I was competing with the wild animals for my share. I did not have the keen olfactory system of a deer to locate acorns, but I could see them as the sun cast a bit of a shine on the shells, and I could feel their hardness beneath my hands and knees. It was evident from scat in the area beneath the tree that raccoons, deer, and squirrels had harvested ahead of me. But nature provides plenty for all and by the time I returned to the house late that morning, I had a small bagful gathered that should get Tukker through the next cold snap. I knew when the Arctic front hit later in the evening, I would not be out and about foraging until warmer weather returned.

I often see wild things when I venture to the old river channel. As I picked acorns I noticed this coyote pup coming my way. The wind was in my favor that day so it didn’t detect my presence until it got closer. We have seen this pup near our home during the nighttime hours. It appears to have one lame, rear leg and it is often alone.

We had been fortunate to be able to do plenty of foraging for Tukker in late summer and during the autumn months. In deciding what to harvest, I was relying on information I had gained during the years I followed Daisy deer through the woods, observing her eating habits and knowing her favorite plants. When we raised Emma and Ronnie deer back in 2016, these same plants and browse got them through the first seven months of their lives in the deer pen, helping them to grow strong and healthy and ready to be freed after hunting season ended in mid January. But Tukker had been different all along. Since we expanded the deer pen, Tukker was able to forage for many plants on his own. Some I had never seen our other fawns eat. He even ate Bermuda grass! But Tukker was picky about elm. He wouldn’t touch the Siberian Elm that we have plenty of on our property, and he didn’t care for big elm leaves. He preferred the tender, newer leaf shoots from the native elm trees. So I grabbed my pole saw each morning and went into the woods to fetch slender branches with new growth. Tukker loved Hackberry and Redbud tree leaves too. He managed to trim every tree sapling we had in the deer pen. He foraged on dandelion greens and other unidentified greens and plants. I watched him often, needing to know more about what all his species ate, so that I would know for future reference. Cat brier had been a favorite of our other deer kids, but Tukker did not seem to care for it much. He might nibble a leaf or two, but most vines of it were left to wither and die in the sun. That was fine by me, as I was happy if I never had to handle that wicked thorny vine ever again! I still bring it to him on occasion though, thinking maybe some day he will enjoy it.

Nature seemed to bring us all that we needed for Tukker this year. I have seen many mammals eat dirt, which benefits their digestive systems. Tukker ate a lot of dirt, and so for the first time ever, I found myself thankful for the many gophers digging out their mounds this fall and winter. From the gopher mounds,Tukker had plenty of fresh dirt to eat each morning! With all of the rain we had this spring and summer, there were plenty of weeds around for Tukker to feast on in his pen. As I attempted to dig weeds in the vegetable garden next to Tukker’s pen, he benefited from the plant and vegetable discards that I tossed over the fence. I managed to put in a small food plot for grazing – casting a “Throw and Gro” mixture of seed in Tukker’s pen, then covering it with branches to allow growth without Tukker bothering it too much. It produced a nice grazing patch for him early this autumn.  This year we also enjoyed the best fruit and berry crop we’ve ever had, so persimmon, apples, pears, apricots, peaches, blackberries, and currants were plentiful. Foraging for Tukker had been a walk in the park, until recently.

Tukker found all sorts of plants to nibble on in his pen. He surprised us by eating Bermuda grass, which we have never observed deer eat before!
From the time Tukker was just a few weeks old, he foraged for his own food.
Tukker got the last of my garden greens before the freezing weather hit last week.

Winter arrived in late October this year instead of the usual January and February months. The most recent Arctic system brought 50 mph winds that stripped leaves from the trees. Yesterday, in the bitter cold, I walked around wondering what on earth I would do now that our tree leaves were gone. I found a couple of Hackberry trees with a few scraggly, yellowed leaves hanging on small limbs and sawed them down. What I did not know is that deer LOVE hackberries! Tukker immediately went to nibbling the tiny, red berries, pulling at them gently with his capable lips. After a few, quick crunches, he downed them and went on to the next cluster of berries. Those two small branches were cleaned from leaves and berries in no time! As I walked around the pasture, I found many dandelion greens that had survived the recent nights of freezing temperatures. I found clover in an old plot we’d always kept for Daisy. There were still freeze-tolerant plants I could rely on if I took the time to look around. Of course, we will continue to supplement his diet with Purina’s AntlerMax deer feed, and some good alfalfa hay.

I often placed branches along the areas shaded by the mesh fencing. Tukker’s winter coat came in long before the cold weather hit. I often found him bedded down along the fence or in the little shade hut I constructed for him.
Elm was plentiful all summer and autumn, until this recent cold snap hit. Elm is a favorite of deer.
Hackberries are smackdillyishious!!

Tukker is doing very well and has been easy to raise. I attribute much of our success to the expansion of the deer pen, which opened a larger area with more plant cover. At the age of four months, he is quite independent and content in his environment. I feel good about the job we have done in raising him. It might seem like an uphill struggle to do as the deer do and forage for food during these winter months, but I would not have it any other way. I understand that those uphill struggles are often the most rewarding, where we are challenged and often surprise ourselves at how resilient and persevering we can be. Tukker will have a healthy start and be well-prepared for life in the wild come mid-January when we release him. Perhaps he will allow me to tag along with him as our other deer have, so that I can learn more about foraging in the wild.

The dormant Bermuda grass makes for a soft carpet to lay down in, and sometimes tasty greens can be found buried down in the grasses!

© 2019 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


40 thoughts on “Winter Foraging For Tukker

  1. Tukker’s pen looks great — he’s lucky to have you taking care of him, of course. My favorite line from this post is “Hackberries are smackdillyishious!!” I’m going to be looking for an opportunity to use that word asap. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kim! Every year we have tried to improve on things here and fortunately we were able to afford adding quite a bit of fence. And not having anyone else living on the place anymore, we were able to utilize space that is nicely wooded and wild to provide cover right next to the old quarters. It’s worked out very well location-wise. That word “smackdillyishious” just popped into my head. Ha ha! I think “dillyishious” came from an old advertisement for Dairy Queen’s Dilly Bars.

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  2. So nice to read another Tukker story! When I work in our garden, a few deer always show up at the fence to watch, hoping for a tasty snack to be thrown their way. As for the acorns, every year I gather up a bunch from the oak trees inside our fenced yard and throw them over the fence for the deer. But they don’t seem to care much for them… the acorns are still there for the next week or more. Eventually they disappear, so something is eating them, either deer or some of the other critters around here.

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    1. Hello, Ellen! I wonder if your particular acorns come from a red oak tree which have a lot of tannins, making them less palatable to wildlife. I’ve read that deer will feed on white oak acorns first, since they’re sweeter. The good thing about the red oak acorns is that they preserve well and months after white oak acorns might spoil on the ground, they are available for wildlife to consume. They’re just a bit more bitter due to the tannins. What a wonderful observation to make, Ellen. Keep throwing those acorns over the fence! They’ll benefit some wild critter at some point.

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      1. Thanks for telling me that about the acorns; I thought an acorn is an acorn. The ones I pick up are from a Monterrey Oak (also called Mexican White Oak). Last year the tree produced SO many acorns. This year I’m not seeing very many, maybe due to our weird weather this year.

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  3. This certainly raises memories. Many a fall I spent days foraging for acorns for my squirrel. Perhaps because of our warmer climate, they had to be gathered quickly after falling; otherwise, they’d become wormy in only a day or two. A rehabber here tipped me off to freezing them. I wondered if it would affect their nutritive value, but he said not, so that’s what I did, and the squirrel seemed to like them just fine.

    It was interesting to see your coyote. Don’t they usually run in packs? Odd that it’s solitary. I’ve had two encounters with feral hogs recently: three boars crossing a highway, and a mama and her baby at one of our wildlife refuges. I was able to get a photo of the sow and her young’un before they disappeared into the brush, but I was just as happy to see them disappear. Signs of them are everywhere, but these were the first I’ve seen during the day. They’re usually caught on game cameras at night.

    Will you add corn to his diet later on? People who put out game feeders here or who are doing supplemental feeding are catching on to the fact that corn alone isn’t enough. There’s an interesting article here that you might enjoy. I’m sure you know much that ‘s included, but there were some interesting tidbits — including the fac that deer love sweet potato vines!

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    1. So many interesting thoughts to consider here. I’ve managed to collect Bur oak acorns lately and will probably spread them out to dry, since I have room in our metal building. I haven’t researched freezing them, but I may do that with a few if I can find the room in one of our freezers.

      As for the worms, if it’s like the pecan weevil, the adult female acorn weevil uses her long snout to make a small hole in a developing acorn on the tree. She lays several eggs within the hole. Her eggs hatch and the creamy white, grub-like larva feeds on the developing acorn inside the nut until fall. The larvae within the acorn on the tree fall to the ground in the nut in the late summer or fall. At that time the fully grown acorn weevil larva chews a perfectly round 1/8 inch hole in the side of the nut and emerges. The larvae tunnel into the soil to complete development. They remain in the soil for one to two years before emerging as a new adult weevil to repeat the process.

      Coyotes are generally solitary in this area, but we have seen them in packs too. Mostly, every year we see a family of them in the river area along our leased property. As the young grow up, the parents place them further out, teaching them to hunt. It’s been interesting watching that process over the years, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever enjoy the coyotes. They’re a predator that is overrun here and we rarely see other small mammals here anymore. They’re the reason the fawn population suffers in our area each spring. I always hope they’ll move on elsewhere, and eventually they do. We have feral hogs here too. I see evidence mostly down at the river, but this year the game cameras show them on our pecan property. They’ve rooted up soil and made huge wallowing sections. Again, we always hope they’ll move on. We never see them during the day, so eradicating them is difficult.

      We used to put out some corn, but we don’t anymore. It’s not very nutritious and more like candy to the deer. It costs a lot more but we offer Purina’s Antlermax in our feeders down in the canyon. It benefits antler growth for the bucks and it offers nourishment to lactating does in spring and summer. Sweet potatoes and the vine?? You bet! I learned that when I let Daisy deer finish my garden up the year we raised her. She even hoofed up the taters and roots for eating. Deer are very resilient about plants and browse. Daisy taught me a lot about edibles for deer… even poison ivy is a tasty treat!

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  4. Little Tukker really has the best of everything but oh my you will really must scrounge around a lot to find the right deer food. He looks incredibly fit and healthy which is the result of your dedicated and impeccable care of that little fella. I hope you find plenty of what ever you need when winter sets in and the days are gray and blustery.

    It is too bad that you could not utilize a rake to gather the acorns but I suppose the grass is too thick and too high. I wish that I could have given you acorns from my live oaks trees. This year was a bumper crop. So many acorns lying on the ground with only a few squirrels to enjoy them. Next year the crop will be an off year with fewer acorns.

    Love the photos, Lori. As always you have marvelous photos to illustrate your words. That really does make a post complete when the blogger works so hard to be informative and educational. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you, Yvonne! While FD and I were out on a friend’s property picking acorns last weekend, we learned that our city park has many Bur oak trees that produced the large white acorns which deer love. So we’ve picked enough to get us through the next two months with Tukker. The park is just a few blocks away so I can always get more, and I hope to plant a few here on the place. We have a couple of Bur oaks planted that are doing well, but they sure are slow growing compared to the red oak trees we also have here.

      I’ve been a bit upset with photography lately. I use my iPhone a lot, and since the last update I am not able to upload to my desktop computer where I do my writing. So I have hundreds of photos on my iPhone I cannot get to! I had to find a few I’ve taken with my old DSLR for this post. I don’t carry that camera around much for close range photos – I keep the zoom lens on that for use when I’m out in the orchard or hiking to the river.

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  5. I still, after all these years, struggle to reconcile the beauty I see in what you do, with orphan deer, and my upbringing of ‘don’t name them – don’t feed them – they survive or don’t, just like we do’ admonitions – sigh – but, while I don’t have a deer story, I will share the benefits of me being a lazy gardener – the wild roses I planted as bare roots in 2014 really took off this past year – and I had blossoms and a wealth of rose hips this fall – not small ones as in past years, like every bush! and I, being the ‘back to nature, lazy gardener’ harvested some of the berries to dry and experiment with and left the rest, thinking of the possibilities for more self-seeding rose stands about the place, instead of buying/planting more bare root offerings (though I get them pretty affordably from local Conservation District annual seedling sales). But after the first bitter cold, more than a skiff snow, wouldn’t you know? As I worked in my kitchen, my peripheral vision caught a movement in window and I went to look – tiny, tiny birds, foraging on the rosehips – and weeds I left to clear after winter winds passed and spring wet snows/rains finished the mash down to ground, cycle of natural composting – sigh – yup, I know my own sins – LOL – – and…to tell the truth – – I was happy to see something of the wild was fed by me being lazy in the garden – – I was glad that I hadn’t harvested every single rose hip for tea and hooch making recipe experiments – -I was glad I didn’t harvest all to try to make a few micro-pints of jelly – I do so love rose hip and prickly pear jelly and so very long since I’ve eaten! 🙂 so, um, yes, I get it and I don’t – because, doesn’t saving them now just mean more fodder for hunting season? more starvation and hard times ahead because they thrived in human care before being pushed out to deal with the wider human world? but, alas, I answer me own questions while writing to you – for, I raised my children knowing the very same things – just as my parents raised me – the wider world and the human world aren’t what any of us wish for any child, eh? But it keeps trucking along, generation after generation – – sigh – – love your deer stories, even when I struggle with all they ‘mean’ to me – – 🙂

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    1. Thank you for sharing so many of your thoughts and observations! So much of life is connected and cyclical that I have a difficult time putting to words just what I think it could mean or the messages we’re supposed to glean from what we see and maybe understand and learn. Like you, I have questioned my need to do some things and if they were the right thing at all… but I think we all do the best we can. Certainly, just being observant and cognizant of the choices we make, help us to do better the next time.

      Watching birds and the bees (no pun intended) has taught me a lot about eradicating plants that I once considered weeds. We have a patch of poor soil on the north side of the house, where all that seemed to grow there were weeds. One year I just let the weeds take over, and I noticed over the winter months that the flower heads and seeds fed birds on the coldest days. It’s one reason we’ve let the orchard go wild. I see more birds flourishing there all year long… and of course “Momanem” (mama doe and her triplets) managed to survive there all of last year thanks to the tall weeds and swamp grasses near the slough. Everything has a purpose… and there is always plenty for all of us to share!

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  6. Hi Lori, I enjoyed your story and the photographs. So much that some of the words stayed in my imagination and eventually returned as a sort of poem.

    FORAGING BEFORE WINTER

    Knowing Lori as we do,
    It’s not hard to picture her

    crawling around on the ground
    looking for fallen acorns,
    a most fair way of harvesting–
    competing with the wild animals
    for a share. . . for Tukker deer.

    Though not having the keen
    olfactory system of a deer
    to locate acorns, she could see them
    as the sun cast a shine on the shells,
    and she could feel their hardness
    beneath her hands and knees,
    returning with a small bagful gathered
    To get Tukker through the next cold snap.

    When she saw the Hackberry trees
    with a few scraggly, yellowed leaves
    hanging on small limbs,
    she sawed them down for Tukker
    Who immediately started nibbling
    the tiny red berries, pulling at them
    gently with his capable lips.

    Nature seemed to bring her and him
    All that was needed for the year.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. He did look like he was enjoying it. We had uncharacteristic cold and 8.8 inches of snow here in SE Michigan last week. I feed the squirrels at the Park and worried about them as the big snowfall and ice everywhere kept me from getting there like I usually do on my daily walk. We had a mild day today and I was relieved to get down there and count noses. 🙂

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        1. You remind me of a sister in Nebraska who collects acorns for the squirrels in her backyard. She goes around asking neighbors if she can pick up their acorns. I’m sure there are a lot of folks out there like us who enjoy nature and contribute to their well-being!

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          1. I do love catering to the critters and worry about their well being when weather doesn’t permit me to get there. I wish we had more oaks around my neighborhood as I’d be like your sister – we have nothing but maples!

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  7. He looks wonderful Lori. You are the best deer Mom. I have moved back to Tennessee. Lots of issues back in Pennsylvania. My wonderful Soul dog Mickey crossed the bridge on Halloween. Love to you and Forrest. Pet all the babies for me.Mamie

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad

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    1. Hello Mamie! I’m so sorry to hear about Mickey. It’s so hard to part with our little companions… especially when they are connected to us in soul. You’ll have to update me on your move – send me an email when you can and let me know your new snail mail address.

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    1. Thank you, Margaret! We’re doing the best we know how with this early winter weather. Tukker on the other hand, thrives on the cold! He enjoys a good romp in his pen each morning. I suppose the cold makes him frisky.

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  8. Oh, wow what a great feast this latest post from you Lori. I could feel like I was foraging with you. I realize how lacking my knowledge of acorns is. We have several oak trees on our property but I have never noticed any animals eating them.
    We had another wind storm through here this week and it was interesting watching the tiny native birds having a wonderful time darting in and about the broken branches on the ground. I was so disappointed when my new neighbour ripped out so many trees and native shrubs planted by previous owners to create a bare open space which looks more like suburbia. Birds love lots of bushes and ground cover to shelter in and find bugs.
    Loved the updated photos of Tukker – beautiful boy. I haven’t seen any more deer at our place although they can be seen on nearby roads late at night.

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    1. There are many times I’m disappointed by the actions of others that seem to be against nature. We have many problems here, being so close to town. People often do not realize the issues that arise from blunders and poor decisions made. I have learned my own lessons from when we first moved here. I discovered pretty quickly that you cannot tame Mother Nature or keep her groomed and looking “just so”. Ha ha! All decisions made now, are in perspective of creating a wildlife-friendly place. The more wild a place is, the more food and shelter for our wild critters. Observe and learn… and help others understand is all we can do!

      Oh, I didn’t know anything about acorns before raising deer. I just thought they were squirrel food, but they actually support many mammals and even birds. Deer need them for winter fuel, especially during the rut. They don’t last long either. Already the ones FD and I have picked up are beginning to sprout!

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      1. We are always learning about nature. This morning I was listening to a gardening segment and the subject of planting to attract bees came up. The gardening expert reminded us that bees are not the only pollinators but lots of other insects do the same but important task but without giving us an end product of honey. Our eco system is a finely tuned instrument of Mother Nature. Then before that I was listening to another radio session which was talking about protecting our birds and other wildlife during this hot weather. Although we have a dam, we find that the smaller birds love shallow trays of water and the bigger birds the bird bath preceded by a dust bath. Any way, we do what we can do in our little patch like yourself and FD.

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  9. The first wild hackberries I ever saw were in your neighborhood, as well as wild redbud and American elm. That is also where I saw blackjack oak for the first time. I know there were Siberian elm, but I did not see any where we were at.
    Tucker sure lost his spots suddenly.

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    1. You would enjoy the hackberries this year! In our area the trees are loaded with small red berries. The trees are heavy laden. In an area a few miles east of here I noticed the berries were more of a purple color and not so plentiful, but much larger than our berries – perhaps a different type of hackberry. It was in a more sandy area of the countryside with many canyons, competing with oaks and western cedar. Tukker seems to love all of them.

      Fawns lose their spots at around three months of age. He still has some slight dappling along his spine, which I’ve read is a sign of very good health.

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      1. Is the area to the East about where Newalla and Harrah are? The hackberries where we were at had rather purplish burgundy red berries. They were not very abundant on that particular year, but they were not large either. I really don’t now what they are supposed to look like though. I brought seed back, but have not sown them. I doubt they are viable after all these years.

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    1. They keep those spots for about three months. The winter coat is thick and beautiful, and Tukker is sporting a more “manly” look.

      The weather has been tolerable. I’m so cold-blooded by nature that even the mildly cool winters are hard on me! I do hope you have a great pair of Muck boots to get around in??!! Happy holidays to you, Henrie!! XOXO

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  10. I know you didn’t choose to foster this little fella, but I’m glad you did. He is so beautiful and healthy! You have provided him a really good start in life, and provided us with visuals to inspire hope for our little woodland friends. Thank you, Lori, for all you give back. It makes a difference. ❤

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    1. Hi, Lynda! Tukker has the best setup of any deer we’ve raised. The others all showed us where we needed to make improvements. Tukker has flourished as a result. In just a month he’ll be free. I hope he manages well.

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    1. Tukker has been the easiest little buck to raise. I’m getting excited to free him in about five weeks. He’s well-built and fit, thanks to a great diet and more room to exercise. I’m sure he’ll stick around the first year, just as the others have done. These critters are so beautiful and majestic.

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