The day after fawns Ellie and Jojo were born, we realized that Jojo had problems with her legs and that likely, in the wild, would have left her as predator bait. A fawn should be able to stand and nurse within about 30 minutes of birth, and be able to walk and follow it’s mother a short distance within a few hours. Unable to walk well or stand for more than a few seconds, Jojo hobbled around, exhausting herself with the effort required to take just a few steps. She could not stand on her own long enough to suckle milk from her mother’s udder, so I helped to hold her up and steady her. It was clear we would need to assist in her care. Ellie, on the other hand, was small, but mighty. She was strong and resourceful, and found higher ground in order to reach her mother’s teats and get enough nourishment to sustain her.
For Forrest and me, taking Jojo into the house where we could better monitor the condition of her legs and assure good nutrition, meant getting used to feeding schedules again. This is the difficult part of rehabilitation. One would think that feeding every four hours is no big deal. But that one feeding can take quite a while, considering the time it takes to mix and properly warm the formula, feed that to the fawn, stimulate the bathroom business, and then offer time to socialize and exercise. Sometimes it takes fifteen minutes. Other times, an hour is required until the fawn settles down to sleep until the next feeding. And many times, our usual routine does not agree with the fawn. We discovered early on with Jojo, that she preferred a five hour period before the next feeding. And that was fine by us.
After a couple of days in our care (JoJo’s fourth day of life) Forrest decided to take Jojo to visit WildCare and have the staff veterinarian have a look at her legs. Dr. Abbot had been kind to communicate with us via texting and phone calls during Ruthie deer’s snake bite rehabilitation. He was well aware of Ruthie’s emaciated condition, and was concerned about her health in being able to care for two fawns. In fact, he had admitted later that he was surprised at Ruthie’s determination to heal, and that she managed to deliver two, live babies. And now seeing Jojo’s legs, he lined out the graveness of the situation. A fawn should weigh six to twelve pounds at birth, and Jojo was just five pounds. Likely, Ruthie’s fawns were premature. And with no way of knowing why Jojo’s legs were underdeveloped or how to fix them, the situation looked bleak. In the wild, JoJo could not survive with legs that could not support her to stand and nurse, follow her mama, or run from a predator.
Forrest relayed to Dr. Abbot what he had heard from a friend who was familiar with lambs in a similar condition, about a practice called “noodle casting”, where a Styrofoam pool noodle could be fashioned as a cast to help stabilize the legs in order to strengthen the tendons. The vet, however, was not certain it would work, and wondered how time-consuming it might be to care for Jojo with such an apparatus. He did encourage Forrest to try it if we were willing to invest that kind of time and energy. But he admitted if someone had brought a fawn with Jojo’s condition into Wildcare, they did not have the staff or resources to provide the time and effort necessary to handle those special needs. With not much hope of being released to the wild, a fawn like Jojo would likely be euthanized.
But Forrest did not give up hope. Knowing our local veterinarian (who had recently been out to lance an abscess stemming from mama Ruthie’s snake bite) treated many farm animals, including sheep, Forrest decided to stop by on his way home from WildCare and see what Dr. Henderson had to offer. However, the vet was busy with several loads of cattle and would have to give Forrest a call later that day. When he did call, the vet said he was familiar with the leg condition Forrest was describing, and would gladly help with the noodle casting. So Forrest made an appointment to bring JoJo in the next morning.
While examining Jojo, Dr. Henderson explained that he would not recommend casting JoJo at this point. Instead, he gave the good news that Jojo’s specific condition, though a form of Angular Limb Deformity/Deviation, was one she would likely grow out of. Casting would have been the appropriate treatment had JoJo’s tendons been tight and drawn up, thereby pulling the lower leg into a knock-kneed position. But Jojo’s condition was one of loose tendons and possibly underdeveloped “knee” joints that, in his opinion, simply needed time to strengthen and heal. Dr. Henderson suggested we give it a week, and prescribed plenty of rest along with a little exercise, which is how fawns of JoJo’s age normally operate anyway. We were elated with this prognosis!
After a week and a half in the indoor infirmary with her new “parents”, Jojo has improved greatly! Her appetite is good and she can now stand on her own through an entire feeding and the sometimes lengthy ordeal of her bathroom business. She walks without her legs buckling, and can even “sprint” short distances. She’s standing up on her hooves properly, and we only see a leg joint bend slightly in or out when she gets tired.
We now approach another situation that we have never dealt with before – entertaining the idea that it may be possible to rejoin Jojo with Ruthie. We have begun exercising Jojo outdoors a bit, and she may soon be ready to be housed in the barn, as we do with all fawns once they’re old enough. There are many considerations surrounding a decision to rejoin them. Will Ruthie remember JoJo and take Jojo back on as her own? Also, Ruthie is still skin and bones, though her coat is glossy and her snake bite wounds are healing well. Can her body support feeding a second fawn and how will this affect Ruthie’s own health? Will JoJo remember Ruthie and will she instinctively look for her udder and latch on to a teat instead of a bottle?
To find the answers to these questions, timing and continual observation will be necessary. We do monitor most feedings Ruthie has with Ellie in order to make sure baby is getting enough nourishment and that Ruthie is being attentive. However, a potential reunion of Ruthie and JoJo, along with ensuring a proper transition from the bottle back to mama’s teats, will require a greater level of observation from Forrest and me.
The time we have invested in this endeavor to help Ruthie deer and her fawns has been monumental. Forrest and I both drop into bed exhausted after JoJo’s 9:30 pm feeding, and the 6:00 wake up alarm comes way too early. But each day, it is bliss to watch Jojo make steady tracks to Forrest for her bottle, and stand firmly in place for the feeding duration. And I marvel when I see skinny Ruthie out there in the heat, doing her best to feed Ellie. Her days are much more taxing than ours – what with trying to eat enough to feed a fawn, doing constant patrol on the property to check for predators, and still finding time to rest. It is a lot for a new mama.
© 2021 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way