Little Legs

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.

It was evident just a few hours after giving birth, that one of Ruthie’s babies was having more difficulty than the other to get up and move around.
It was good to see that in the first three hours after giving birth, both fawns had managed to nurse and get the very important colostrum from Ruthie. This would ensure a healthy start to life.

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.

With little hesitation after hearing her mama’s buzz call, Ellie quickly made her exit from the barn…
…only to tumble to the ground in somersault fashion. She promptly got back up and pumped those little legs to follow her mother!
Ellie manages to get her milk while Ruthie stimulates the bathroom action and ingests the urine and feces. This serves to keep the baby as scent-free as possible, and also tells the mother instinctively what nutrients the baby is lacking or might need in its diet of mother’s milk. We have also noted Ruthie eating a lot more dirt than usual. Generally, this is to help with digestion and in keeping healthy gut flora.

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.

Once Forrest helped Jojo from the barn, she was able to slowly follow him, flopping and dropping all along the way to where Ruthie waited.
Ruthie did not mind a bit that I assisted in helping Jojo get a little nutrition.

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.

Always being very careful not to attract attention to her fawn, Ruthie stands by grazing after settling her little one down to hide and rest. To anyone else, Ruthie just appears to be nibbling greens and moseying around as deer do. Ellie is tucked down in the grasses for five to six hours until the next feeding.
It was rather clever for Ellie to choose the yarrow as her bedding spot. Yarrow has a distinct smell to it. I’ve learned over the years to plant stinky plants all around the house to keep the insect population down. I often find Gracie deer and Penelope deer lying near catnip and daisies which also have a stinky odor.
After making the decision to intervene and bring Jojo into our home for rehabilitation, and for her safety, it was evident that all of her leg joints and tendons were underdeveloped, but mostly we noticed the front legs would turn both inward and outward at the “knee” joint. Her hoof area was also flat to the floor, where she should have been standing upright on the hooves. Because of their small size, we wondered now if both Ellie and Jojo might have been born prematurely, and also if perhaps Jojo suffered in other ways because of the emaciated condition Ruthie was in for so long.
Oscar and Lollipop watched from under the door as Forrest gave Jojo her first feeding in the house. They are used to these strange critters in the house becoming temporary siblings. They were just puppies when Tukker deer came along back in 2019.
After feeding and pottying, mutual grooming and bonding helps baby fawns to adapt to their new environment and settle down. Generally, by the time a fawn is moved from the house to the barn, they become independent enough that they let go of the need for as much nurturing. It does help to have two fawns to raise at the same time, as they depend on each other more for company and mutual grooming. But for now, Forrest enjoys filling that spot as the mama-daddy!
Forrest helps Jojo learn to eat dirt. Dirt is a very important digestive help to all mammals.

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.

© 2021 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way


28 thoughts on “Little Legs

  1. What a full-time endeavor for the two of you! You may well be onto something about Ruthie’s emaciated condition influencing her offspring. Might the snake venom also have had an effect?

    This human mammal begs to differ with one thing: “Dirt is a very important digestive help to all mammals.” Count me out, if you don’t mind.

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    1. Ha ha! That’s funny about dirt. I have read from several Paleo information sources that dirt should be left on vegetables pulled from the garden, and used as part of the food preparation process. I have not done that, and to me, doesn’t sound too appealing. But I’ve seen many deer (and other mammals – but not humans!) eat dirt. For deer I’d say its a daily habit.

      “Full-time endeavor” is correct. Forrest and I flop into bed early most nights (well, after Jojo’s final feeding at 9:30) and, we awaken sleepy-eyed and lethargic. The feeding schedule and trying to keep an eye out to make sure Ruthie’s feeding little Ellie, and trying to keep track of where she’s hiding is a lot of work.

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        1. Finding time to write is a challenge, but if I put it off I forget what happened when. I am so thankful for the date and time on photos to help me remember the sequence of things. And it’s kind of like humans taking photos of their first born. I have thousands of photos of Daisy deer and her young, but as the years have rolled by and more deer came along, I’ve been more negligent about taking photos.

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      1. When I lived in Liberia, I occasionally came across the practice of eating dirt. Usually, it was a pregnant woman: a variation on the ice cream and pickles cravings that are the basis of so many jokes. There’s an interesting scientific article about it here. I went to grade school with a boy who would eat a spoonful of dirt for a nickel, but his motivation was different. Five cents — or a dime, or a quarter — would buy a good bit of penny candy those days, and that’s what he usually spent his profits on.

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  2. When you first described JoJo’s attempts at walking I wondered if she wouldn’t need some extra care. I sure hope it works. You were so smart to let that Yarrow grow and self seed! What a perfect area for a fawn nap. I can’t believe how tiny they are. My thoughts are with you xx

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    1. Ellie is the tiniest, but she’s a lot like her mother – tough and resilient! Jojo is improving some, and I’ll have more to write about that soon.

      For several years I have allowed yarrow and other native plants to go to seed before mowing them. It’s extra work for Forrest to mow around when he pulls the brush hog with the tractor, but we feel it has made a healthier landscape all around. The bees mostly, enjoy the blossoms. And it was clever for Ellie to bed down in the stinky blossoms. What predator would get in the middle of a stinky plant that attracts bees? Oddly, the bees do not bother Ellie, and insects don’t seem to care for herby-type plants. Smart girl!!

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  3. How sad that Ruthie seems to not expect Jojo to survive. I get it, but it is sad anyway.
    Several of us needed to install a dam on the creek where there is now a pond for boating. A wood duck and her herd of duckling was also there, but one of the ducklings was always lagging behind. Eventually, it was left behind while the rest wandered upstream. They eventually returned, but just passed by the slow duckling as they wandered downstream, past the dam that we were installing, and off into the distance. I would have left the duckling for a bobcat or fox or whoever happened to find it first, and hoped that the process would have been quick, but the crew collectively felt badly for it. We named it Moses, because its Momma left it in the reeds. One of the guys took Moses to an wild animal rescue in Santa Cruz. We have no idea of what happened to Moses after that.

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    1. I think it’s fairly common in nature to find abandoned and discarded young that have problems. There is no telling what happened to that little duckling. Depending on the landscape the duckling was moved to, it may or may not have had good chances of survival.

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  4. Considering what Ruthie had been through, it is a minor miracle that the fawns are in as good a shape as they are. Ruthie may instinctively know Jo Jo needs more protection and help that she is able to give, …and having those near she knows are capable..she has relinquished the little one.
    We worried about the weakness and predators so near so are a little relived Jo Jo is moved into the house for a bit. Those poor little legs. The bottom picture of legs already looks a bit stronger. Healing energy sent (for the tired humans, too!)

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    1. I am not sure if Ruthie knows we took Jojo or not. We moved her to the house while Ruthie was on patrol and feeding. But, we also watched for her reaction because we did not wish to cause her further stress either. She never went around looking – but instead took care of Ellie and has continued to do so. The main reason we didn’t just supplement feedings in the pen, still allowing Ruthie to be a mother to her, was the predator threat. There was no way Jojo could get away from any predator. And had she gotten in trouble some way, her cries would have alerted predators, making for danger to both her and Ellie. Ellie is not as vocal as Jojo, and seems capable of running a short distance, away from danger. It’s just amazing how these little ones must be mobile so quickly, and already on the alert. Jojo probably has it a lot easier in the house, but I always worry the adjustment outdoors can be difficult at first. We’re a way from having Jojo in the barn and deep pen just yet.

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      1. Best to give nature a shot before stepping in. Was thrilled to see Ruthie had an open gate to wander normally. It’s been such a difficult time – what a champ she is.
        (We loved the picture of Ellie in the white flowers – so smart to hide in plain sight/smells. Nature is so wise. )

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  5. All ‘tears in my heart/love. of this, Ruthie’s survival from snakebite, early born twins, etc., I confess that I realized, after reading, the FIRST thing I wanted to ask ya/share with ya! was my re-assessment of Wild Mustard Plants – the water sucking hog I’ve worked hard to erradicate from my place – because they kill everything in an area given their greediness for storing water, bring pests into the land that only a healthy, good homestead flock of chickens/poultry could hope to eradicate…are ‘the local Airbnb’ for mosquitoes in moisture years – – ” and yet….they were only known to me for DECADES as ‘stink weed” – Thus, I will have to leave one small control patch next spring, watch it like a hawk and observe more closely, to see, if, in fact, THEY do have a beneficiial purpose – because so many years later? I still hadn’t found one, by any stretch of the imagination, until I read your post and thought, “hmm…maybe I ought to reassess Stink Weeds place in my local ecosystem….” 😀

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    1. Ha ha!! Isn’t that just how it is? The deer here have taught me a lot about what I thought I needed to eradicate, and then to discover it was a beneficial plant to them! It is the same with weed seeds in fall and winter. The more I walked around observing the deer over the years, the more I observed numerous birds enjoying the wild weeds found all along the Washita river bottom. It made me rethink everything on this place. I don’t let things get out of hand like the stick-tight or burr plants, but many other native plants can be found growing, left to go to seed, and then later mowed down. It’s all about wildlife here!

      I found ONE mustard plant in the pasture this year. I didn’t know they could become invasive! I hope I didn’t make a mistake letting it go to seed!

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      1. LOL – – I have life memories, of Sunday School and a marble necklace with a mustard seed in it, that was all the rage when I was in JH – In my late 20s I came across a paper… book? quote by another, atrributed? Too long ago, but it was regarding the Sermon on the Mount or some other highly regarded section of the New Testament – but the story shared, that I read, I really liked – even if it wasn’t ‘true’ – from a human spirit evolultion, ecology, anthropology, sociology veiw point – he merely said, (it was a he – too long ago but he was professor of something, at some Big 10 school in sports conferences – – LOL) “The lesson of the mustard seed was delivered to farmers – they knew how quickly wild plants with tiny seeds could take over a field and ruin a crop – the parable was delivered to common folks who tilled the land to feed others – who were suffering in their toils AND under the burdens placed upon them by empires and movements that did nothing to improve their life, only asked for more – in short – often? Jesus knew his audience, very, very well – not only what they struggled with just then, but how to deliver things in a way to keep their hope and faith in a better tomorrow going. The plant that could ruin a crop field, via it’s tiny seeds, also became the symbol of faith, hope, solidarity – because, well, any one with a ‘mustard seed of faith and hope’ could reach out, spread, and impact other areas of life – ” that’s my paraphrase of what I read/pondered from what I read and I just mangled it, surely! On the other hand – Jesus is known by various groups as a prophet, messiah, rebel, one among many at the time – but bottom line, to me? His land, his people, etc., were struggling and had been for years and no one was interested in anythig from them other than taxes, tithes and food – and yet, they were seen, as low of the lowest status in the community – so for me? When I look at all the various vulnerabilities in our ‘current system’ that were really highlighted, during the COVID year – transportation, food, workers to be there for delivery, ordering, growing, raising food? To me? Not much as changed – except, I don’t believe folks don’t ‘want to work’ cuz they are getting UI – yup, sure there are some, but for myself? I know plenty of workers who said, “okay – I quit today because I’m tired of working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, getting yelled at by customers because their delivery is late, or the meal didn’t arrive on time…I’m ramping up my side line and working for myself” – The system that depended upon ‘wages lower than can sustain cost of living expenses”? Um, yeah – that thingee cracked last year – broke – on the ‘mustard seed side’ for many who had fought mustard seed side for decades – While many with resources in savings, who worked from home, survived at home, just fine? post things about ‘paring down, living the simple life?” Many who were the ones, I believe Jesus would be walking among, preaching to if he is back, just now? They pared that down, all for the privilege of being a mustard seed, in form of, “I will do without, just so I’m not contributing to your nonsense, anymore” – but that’s just me – I hear a lot of political rantings, etc., by those who, really, I believe, have never, in their life, truly done without – or adjusted their ways for the sole purpose of the freedom to NOT be in want for basic things and ‘take work/vote for those who will ‘ensure they don’t do without’ etc – we shall see – but already? The memory fading – I was told just a few hours ago by one I thought once a friend, that I can’t blame Covid for anything anymore – not even, “yup, they are already documenting the weight gain during Covid year” – LOL – – Okey -dokey then – I came out this side of it? Lean, mean and reminded – YET again – of the Mustard seed parable – and sorry for long reply – on your BLOG – but, um, yup – I’m hoping I survive long enough to see how the never ending ripple effects of the past decades and especially the past 2 years, actually play out – 😀

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  6. It’s amazing how tiny both the fawns are.I think you did the right thing to bring Jojo into the house. As you say, the situation itself could have brought troubles of a different sort for Ellie — and Ruthie. I see hints in your comments that things might be improving a bit. I sure do hope so.

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    1. Things are improving. We were amazed at how in just a few days of assistance in getting Jojo to stand, that her legs were stronger and things kind of righted themselves. In the wild, we’re sure she would have perished. Ruthie is doing such a good job with Ellie, and has managed to keep her in the deer pen for the most part. Ellie is still tinier than Jojo, but she’s spry and spirited. Now if we could just get some weight on Ruthie.

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