Last Sunday, June 27th, I woke up to Oscar and Lollipop gently scratching the door to our bedroom. It was just after 7:00 a.m. and I could not imagine why the dogs let me sleep an hour later than usual. But, just that one extra hour of sleep had me refreshed and ready for the day! I let the dogs out to do their morning business, and noticed we had gotten more rain in the night. For the past week, rain poured down daily – enough to flood most of the pecan orchard acres and bring the Washita river up near the top of its banks. The temperatures had been consistently hot and muggy, creating more afternoon storms.
I came back inside the house with the dogs and got them set up for the day. I made a cup of coffee and around 8:00 set out to do my morning chores. I stopped at the deer pen to check on Ruthie deer. I was very excited because Sunday marked day four of Ruthie’s last antibiotic dose, and we could release her later that morning. It had been difficult watching her pace the pen the last days after her surgery. She felt so much better and longed to be with her sisters who had kept vigil just outside of the fence during Ruthie’s recovery. I also knew being able to graze on vegetation outside of the deer pen would provide her best chance to possibly put on weight before having her babies. She was still horribly emaciated. That morning, I found her calmly resting by her food and water. I noticed she had eaten most of her deer pellets that had been treated not only with the oral antibiotic, but also with a liquid supplement to increase her caloric intake. We were thankful she seemed to like the taste of the supplement, and had been feeding on it regularly, mostly during the night.
As I set out to open the front gate and get my morning chicken chores going, I decided to call my mom. She had been sweet to call and check on Ruthie often since the snake bite occurred. This was something I loved about my mom – she had always treated our animals as if they were family, inquiring about them and being encouraging. As I opened the chicken barn to let the chickens get to their pecking around for the day, I told mom how excited I was for Ruthie to soon be free again. I hoped that she would have some time to put a little weight on and find an appropriate nursery area to birth and raise her babies. I also knew that Ruthie had missed being with her sisters.
After completing my chicken chores, I headed back to the fawn room of the barn, where Ruthie was resting, to do my usual chores of putting fresh water in her water bucket and assuring she had plenty of feed. I was still on the phone with mom, telling her how I wished Forrest would get up and around soon because I wanted Ruthie to have the whole day to enjoy being out of the deer pen.
When I stepped inside the little barn door, I noticed Ruthie was still lying down, but was nosing at something in the straw in front of her. At first, I thought it was some kind of varmint like a big rat but, on closer inspection, I was flabbergasted to see a tiny fawn! I excitedly shared what I was seeing with my mom, who immediately opted to get off of the phone so I could roust FD out to see the new life in the barn. I ran to the house, yelled inside the front door at Forrest that Ruthie had just had a baby, then quickly ran back out to the deer barn. By this time, Ruthie had cleaned the baby and was beginning to clean up a bit of the afterbirth. For more than thirty minutes after Forrest came to the barn, Ruthie continued to have contractions while lying in her little nest in the barn straw, licking and bonding with her new baby and occasionally getting up to reposition herself. Finally, Ruthie birthed a second fawn, equally as tiny as the first. Forrest and I had never seen fawns so small.
For the next two hours, Ruthie continued to clean her babies while lying in the same area where she had birthed them, and allowed them to suckle her to receive the all-important colostrum present in a doe’s first milk. It took some time and more contractions for Ruthie to deliver the placentas (one from each fawn), which she promptly ate. After consuming the placenta’s Ruthie continued to clean up the area in the barn where she birthed the fawns, and then moved to a drier spot. In the wild, a mother deer will consume blood and amniotic fluid-soaked materials to clean up the birthing site and get rid of any odor that predators might sense. At this point, Forrest and I decided to leave her alone with her new babies in the barn, and to wait one more day to open the deer pen gates. We also decided not to give Ruthie her last dose of antibiotic, just in case it had an ill effect on the babies through her milk.
We observed Ruthie all throughout the day. At first she was content to lie in the straw and let the fawns feed from her while she rested. Later, as Ruthie recovered from giving birth, she instinctively transitioned to feeding her babies from a standing position, as they attempted to stand on wobbly legs and reach their momma’s udder. One fawn seemed tinier than the other – little Ellie (short for Ellen – my mother’s name) was so tiny she couldn’t reach tall Ruthie’s udder, but she was strong and her legs stabilized her well while she continued to try and reach Ruthie’s teats. Jojo, the second fawn born, was tiny too, but more robust than Ellie. However, her legs would not allow her to stay upright for very long. Her front legs would buckle, and she would fall about as soon as she got up. Attempting to follow Ruthie around was a challenge, with little JoJo crashing into the straw just seconds after attempting to get up. She was not stable long enough to make much of an attempt to suckle. Other than their initial feeding with Ruthie still lying down, neither fawn managed to get a good position under Ruthie’s udder to get milk during those first hours. We were not so concerned about this since generally baby mammals are fine without milk the first couple of days after birth, and able to get by on just the initial colostrum.
By evening, Ruthie had exited the barn, grazing on weeds and leaves from tree branches we had cut in the pecan orchard and around the property. The fawns were sleeping in the barn, JoJo in a back corner and Ellie closer to the barn door. At dark, Ruthie moved to the rear of the deer pen, away from her babies, but close enough to keep an eye out. This is normal for doe mothers in the wild. The babies are kept in separate locations, and the mother watches from a distance. Ruthie was following instinct. After Ruthie bedded down at the far end of the pen, Forrest and I quietly entered the barn well after dark to clean the birthing “nest” of straw out, cleanse the floor as best we could, and put new hay in the area. Forrest hauled off the damp mess of straw to the discard pile far from the barn where I dump old hay and droppings after cleaning the chicken roost and coop.
At last, Forrest and I could sleep, knowing Ruthie deer was doing her best as a new mother, and we had done our part to help keep Ruthie, Ellie, and little JoJo safe and sound for the night.
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