Forrest and I were up early the morning after Ruthie gave birth to her twins. Already, Ruthie was walking around the deer pen, grazing on grasses, and nibbling leaves from elm branches I had cut the day before. I got busy putting fresh water in buckets while Forrest tied back two of the gates to the deer pen, allowing Ruthie to come and go as she pleased. We hoped now that she had healed sufficiently from the snake bite, she could get a better diversity of nutrition in the wild and be healthy enough to support feeding two fawns. It was a lot to hope for, considering she was still in a somewhat emaciated condition.
After a bit of grazing in the pen, Ruthie moved to stand at the barn door, where I heard her moan the slight “mama buzz” call to her babies. I was always amazed at how secretive and quiet motherhood presented itself in the wild. Drawing attention at feeding time, or while being on the move, could mean certain attack from a predator and death for both the mother and young. Ruthie looked in the barn, made the little buzzing noise again and walked away. Up popped little Ellie and, with definite purpose, made her way to the barn door where she stood for a bit and considered how she was going to get to mama. Then, with determination and decisiveness, she quickly stepped over the threshold of the fawn room, and promptly tumbled to the ground outside.
If it were an Olympic competition, Ellie would have scored very low for her landing, but Forrest and I were elated to see her get right back up and pump those little legs over to her mama. Ruthie took her further into the pen and attempted to feed her. Just like the day before, with Ellie being so tiny and Ruthie being so tall, getting to the udder to suckle was a challenge. Finally, it appeared that Ellie had managed to get on high enough ground to reach the udder. Ruthie stimulated the bathroom business and cleaned her baby while Ellie continued to stand and suckle. Ruthie carried on with grooming and bonding with her baby, and eventually led Ellie to the far end of the deer pen (a favorite resting spot of Ruthie’s) to bed down for the morning.
Taking her time in meandering back towards the barn, Ruthie nonchalantly nibbled and grazed, drawing no attention to herself. To anyone watching, there would have been no clue she was busy caring for fawns. After about ten minutes, Ruthie once again looked in the barn, made a couple of slight buzzing calls, and waited for Jojo to emerge. Jojo struggled to stand on her legs, and it was apparent she was also struggling to make it through the deep straw on the floor, so Forrest went in to get her and place her outside in the grass. Ruthie waited patiently, but Jojo struggled to stay on her feet, or to get up and stay up after falling. Ruthie walked a short distance in the direction she had led Ellie, and Jojo tried again and again to follow her mama, but flopped down exhausted after each attempt. Finally, after several tries to go just a few yards at a time, Ruthie managed to lead Jojo to the back of the deer pen, about thirty feet from Ellie. She tried to nurse Jojo, but I had to assist. Jojo couldn’t support herself at all during the nursing process. I was not even sure she got sufficient nutrition, as she went from nipple to nipple, not seeming to get much. Ruthie cleaned Jojo and saw that she was bedded down, but did not spend much more time in the pen.
All day long, we kept an eye out for Ruthie to come back to feed her fawns. At 2:30 in the afternoon, Ruthie approached the front yard, ate for a while at the feed bucket and, after having a big drink of water, slowly made her way to the back of the deer pen, nibbling a bit at grasses along the way. Forrest and I watched as Ruthie summoned Jojo up with the buzz call. Jojo got up in answer to the call, and slowly hobbled towards her mother. Again, as Jojo attempted to reach the udder, she could not stand steady enough to reach the teats and suck while Ruthie stimulated her bathroom business at the same time. As I had done during the previous feeding, I stepped in to assist with steadying and holding Jojo upright, while Ruthie went about cleaning and grooming her.
Once I felt Jojo had gotten enough nourishment, I released my hold on her and she promptly plopped on the ground. Ruthie nosed at her while adding a few finishing licks to her grooming, but Jojo did not get up to follow Ruthie to a better bedding area, and Ruthie did not spend much time urging her to get up. Instead, Ruthie walked towards Ellie without looking back. Ellie was up in an instant to answer Ruthie’s mama call, and fed like a champ, standing firm and managing to suckle while being licked by her mama. After spending plenty of time giving Ellie attention with a proper grooming, Ruthie led Ellie outside of the deer pen where she bedded herself down in a large patch of wild yarrow. This was yarrow that I had not mowed, but left to grow and go to seed over the last few years. I was pleased that Ellie had chosen my yarrow patch as a bedding spot.
Forrest and I both understood the enormity of the situation after observing the first two feedings of Jojo’s second day of life. Jojo could not stand on her own for an appropriate length of time to be properly nursed. She was not going to be able to move around and follow her mama much either. Something was wrong with her legs. With this condition n the wild, she would be predator bait. And in the wild, if she could not get the nutrition she needed, or keep up with her mother, she would be abandoned. We have seen it happen in nature many times – only the strong survive.
So, acting on our observations and knowledge, Forrest and I made the decision later that afternoon to take Jojo in the house and begin her rehabilitation. My worry was mostly that Ruthie might suffer and long for her lost baby when she discovered it was missing. But at the evening feeding, Ruthie did not look long for Jojo, if at all. Instead, she moved on to where Ellie was bedded down. I thought maybe after Ruthie got Ellie fed and bedded down again, she would look harder for Jojo in the deer pen, or move about outside of the deer pen to sniff around for her, but she did not. Instead, she joined her sisters in the yard and plopped down for an evening rest, before heading out to the woods later that night… while JoJo rested her little legs in the comfort and safety of our home.
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