Four Yearling Mothers

After Ruthie deer delivered two female fawns, Ellie and Jojo, on June 27th, Forrest and I did our best to keep an eye on Ruthie’s habits and ability to care for her twins. Ruthie herself had suffered a snake bite to her mouth and jaw prior to birthing, which left her unable to eat well and get much nourishment the last three to four weeks of her pregnancy. Seeing the tiny size of the fawns at birth made us wonder if Ruthie had delivered prematurely. And hours after birthing them, Ellie was up on her legs, getting around well, while Jojo’s legs were underdeveloped, not allowing her to stand or move about freely. Considering Ruthie’s emaciated state and Jojo needing special care, Forrest and I made the decision to take Jojo into the house and start rehabilitation. In the wild, Jojo would likely have perished in a day or two not being able to nurse or get around properly.

We wondered when Scout, Gracie and Penelope would have their fawns. For more than a week after delivering her twins, Ruthie had managed to run Penelope off the property, but she allowed Gracie and Scout to stay. Ruthie had originally set up her nursery area in the old deer pen she’d been raised in, but later moved baby Ellie to the cover of a large Oak and Sycamore tree in the back yard of the rock house, alternating with a yarrow patch near my garden, not far from the Sycamore tree.

Once we could see Ruthie was not as interested in hiding Ellie in the deer pen anymore, we moved little Jojo to the barn and deer pen. Jojo has been coming along well, and seems to like her safe place in the barn. When she is around and JoJo is out and about, Ruthie is encouraged to come into the pen with her, and she is very receptive to bonding with Jojo. But after thirteen days of being bottle-fed, Jojo will not latch to Ruthie’s nipples, or even look for her udder. We will continue to encourage this bonding relationship, hoping that after the weaning process, Jojo will be able to keep up with her Ruthie and Ellie, join the little herd, and learn the ropes of being a deer from her real mother.

Ruthie has been a good mother to Ellie. Early on, Ruthie kept Ellie close to the deer pen and my garden. Since that time she has moved Ellie to the woods just behind our house.
Ruthie is invited to come in the deer pen where we keep Jojo. Ruthie readily accepts her and bonds with her, but Jojo does not seem interested to nurse, despite our attempts to help. Ruthie has been such a good sport to try.

As the next two weeks progressed, Scout looked as if she could produce twins, but we could not be sure about the other two. We checked udders daily and, finally on July 11th, Scout disappeared early in the morning, and did not come home that evening as she normally did. Her udder had increased in size, so we felt it was time for her to deliver.

The next day, I saw Penelope head into the willow grove in the orchard. I never got a look at her udder, but when she didn’t come home that night I wondered if she too had gone off to have her baby elsewhere. Sure enough, by July 13th we saw both Scout and Penelope for a brief few minutes, eating deer feed. Obviously no longer pregnant, they looked svelte and seemed calm. They both ate quickly, then took off for the woods.

I found Scout in the orchard the day after she gave birth. She seemed calm and cautious.
Penelope came up the slope from the woods below to eat some deer feed, but keeps a close watch in the direction of her baby.

After Scout and Penelope delivered their babies, Gracie continued to roam in our yard and pasture, often lying around in the shade, panting and looking miserable. Occasionally, she’d get up to eat, but she didn’t venture far from home. By the 13th, her udder increased greatly, and suddenly Gracie was territorial – running Ruthie and little Ellie out of the area. She also behaved strangely around Forrest, mooing at him, and aggressively stepping in front of him or blocking him from leaving. She could not seem to get comfortable. I thought that night she would deliver but the next morning it was more of this strange behavior.

The next day, July 14th, after watching Gracie lie for a short time in several different spots up top around our home, Forrest found Gracie bedded down in the woodlands not far from the slope behind our house. He was with her there when she gave birth to a nice-sized buck fawn. Within minutes the fawn was up on its legs. Soon it was nursing, and Gracie was busy cleaning him and also cleaning the birth area. Just like we had observed with Ruthie, Gracie finally passed the placenta and ate it. Her little buck was already up and walking around. A couple of hours later, Forrest went down to check on her, but she had already moved from the birthing site and relocated the baby to a safer place.

Gracie resting with her little buck fawn while she waits to deliver the placenta.
Gracie’s little buck fawn has a “snow nose” just like his mama!

Early yesterday morning, July 15th, when Forrest and I got up to let the dogs out and get Jojo’s bottle ready for the first feeding of the day, we found Gracie with her nose to the ground, walking slowly, sniffing and mooing forlornly as she moved along. This went on all day. I had observed this behavior with our first orphaned deer, Daisy, each time she lost a fawn. The first two weeks of a fawn’s life are the most dangerous for it. Helpless to run far, their only means of survival is to be still and hope any predator passes on by.

Yesterday afternoon I was busy mowing our pasture, trying to beat a rainstorm headed our way, when I spotted something odd ahead of me in the tall grass. About five feet apart, lay both forelegs of a fawn. My heart dropped. It was now for certain that Gracie’s fawn had not just “gone missing” but was the victim of some predator. Though I could not find any other body parts, I knew these legs belonged to the little buck. It was impossible to know what killed the fawn – the legs were severed at the joints, but there were no signs to indicate that a carnivore had done the killing. Before burying them yesterday, Forrest showed the legs to Gracie, who sniffed and licked them before eventually moseying along, still mooing and continuing to look for her baby.

And then last night, after Forrest and I fed Jojo her last bottle of the day and headed back to the house, I shone my flashlight around the yard and spotted something strange in the distance. Forrest went out to the pasture to investigate, finding a large, adult barred owl perched on a tree cage just a few feet from where I had found the fawn legs. Forrest attempted to shoo it away, but it landed only a short distance from the site, and would not fly away until Forrest yelled aggressively and banged sticks.

Back at the house, I read up on barred owls and learned that they are indeed very capable of killing small mammals like fawns, rabbits, cats, chickens and small dogs. With smaller prey like squirrels or birds, barred owls gulp the prey down at the site of the killing, but with larger mammals, they are often dismantled in larger portions and flown to a favorite perch in a tree where they can take time to eat and be safe from ground predators. All of these years I thought the predators we were dealing with were coyotes, bobcats, wild hogs, and foxes. Who knew there were eyes in the dark of the night sky as well?

This morning’s gentle rain might wash away the last scent of Gracie’s little buck, but she will continue her vigil until she decides to let go and move on. In our observations of doe mothers, they may go on looking for a lost fawn for days, and sometimes it will be a couple of weeks. For me, I have a new awareness of a predator I did not think could be a threat. This will change how we protect the orphaned fawns we care for. For that knowledge, I am thankful. For Gracie’s little buck and for Gracie herself, however, we are deeply saddened.

© 2021 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way


29 thoughts on “Four Yearling Mothers

    1. Thank you, Ardys. We just keep moving, doing our best. This experience has taught us a lot about yearlings and their first pregnancies. The statistics for fawn survival the first two weeks are very bleak when we look at state studies (US states with a whitetail deer population). I just didn’t believe the losses could be so great, but I now understand more about that now – what with first-time mothers and underdevelopment and deformity issues, and now adding a predator we didn’t realize could be a problem. There is much to glean from the experience. One has to be fairly stoic to be so immersed in this life. It is difficult.

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  1. I was feeling happy at the news that there were more fawns born, and then read that the little buck was born on my birthday. Then to read that he didn’t survive… so sad. We have three does that visit our yard, One of them has had her fawn and brings it by for visits, but we haven’t seen evidence of the other two. This week there’s been a “dead” smell coming from beyond our west side, and I wonder…. Poor Gracie. You feel so sorry for her.

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    1. Aw, Happy Birthday to you Ellen. We were shocked too, about Gracie’s little buck. As you know, this business of being so connected with wildlife can be heart-wrenching sometimes. Do you go investigating when you smell something dead? We generally do. Sometimes we learn from such a discovery – how something was killed or perhaps it solves a mystery about something that went missing. I find it all very interesting, and as you say it can be very sad too. I can’t tell you how elated we were early in the day to witness Gracie give birth to such a strong fella, and then the next day to discover the legs while mowing. It’s very difficult to hear a mama doe mooing forlornly.

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      1. No, we generally do not go investigating, unless it is to drive down the road and then we may see something. The property beyond us is private, so we just let nature be. I’ve never heard the mooing. Honestly, I hope I never do.

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        1. Ellen, I hope you never hear the mooing either. This is day five (Monday following the birth) and Gracie is still looking and calling out for her baby. The mooing is less, but still just as forelorn. We aren’t always able to investigate, but many times while hiking out into the woods in better conditions (cool weather, weeds laying down, and not so many insects) we find evidence of death and sometimes an explanation for something that happened weeks or months before.

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    1. We had no idea about barred owls being capable of that either. It will take time but we probably need to extend one leg of the deer pen into the area behind the rock house so that the fawns will have better cover. We learn so much from these experiences.

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  2. So sorry to hear this new news Lori. Owls are powerful birds but you would not automatically think of one taking a fawn. We have wedge tail eagles who are known to take small animals including pets and lambs. Life is such a struggle for survival for our animal friends. Take care.

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    1. Thank you, Lynn. We learn something new every year in this journey with the deer. These four yearlings have been interesting to follow. There is still a lot to consider that I’ll be documenting here when I find time to write. Though it’s been tragic to experience the loss, I’m thankful to learn how we can do better.

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    1. That is the point – we learn something and now know how to better protect the orphaned fawns we raise. I had hoped Gracie was looking for her fawn that had maybe run off to bed down elsewhere because that does happen (especially with little bucks!), so it was sad to find the legs. On the other hand, solving the mystery brings a sort of closure.

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  3. Wow, that is very interesting about the barred owl. We heard a mother doe in distress the other morning, huffing and huffing for what seemed like an hour or more, darting around a small stand of trees and then into the forest and back out. We haven’t seen her fawn now in several days. I, too, would never guess an owl, but I know they are around, along with the wolves and mountain lions.

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    1. I would never have suspected an owl capable of killing a fawn, but apparently the adult barred owls are sizable and quite able. It was mysterious how I found only the legs and nothing else. After reading up on barred owls and how they hunt I had good understanding. Now we will find a way to at least better protect our orphaned fawns in the pen – by possibly extending the pen into an area where there is better cover.

      Living where we both do, it’s interesting to watch nature’s drama. Sometimes it’s too horrifying for me to witness. I’m thankful we don’t have wolves here (yet) and there are only scant sightings of mountain lions. Generally, wild hogs, coyotes, bobcats and foxes roam this area.

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  4. How sad a fate for the buck fawn. Interestly I only just recently read that our resident Powerful Owl was similarly capable of preying on much larger animals than the mice we assumed it was helping control. Diesel-dog has been wary of it… perhaps with good reason. Owls are often portrayed as wise & benign… perhaps not so much the latter if one is down the food chain. Glad to see and hear happier news of the others ♡

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    1. Diesel seems to be a very wise and alert companion. Even our little house dogs, Oscar and Lollipop, have shown wariness and are alert when something doesn’t seem right on the property. They’ve also been keen to discover something amiss that I might not have noticed had they not stopped to “sniff” and investigate. I know we are all capable of greater sensory skills… I try to tap into that wild instinct when I’m solving a mystery.

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  5. That end was a surprise and not a happy one for sure after all the positive earlier story. But nature is not sentimental and all creatures must eat. It is too bad that one meal was Gracie’s fawn. I had no idea also that a Barred Owl would go after a larger mammal, albeit a small one, like that. On the brighter side it must feel good to know that your charges are now producing healthy young as they move along. And maybe you will have a short respite before the next fostering comes about.

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    1. Your first sentence reflects how we felt during that twenty-four hour period. There was such elation for us to witness the birth, but horror (for me) on discovering the legs. Over the years I’ve grown a bit callous to death in the wild, but this hit home harder because I always considered the pasture and area surrounding our home and the nearby rock house to be fairly safe from predators. While I am thankful to know about the threat of the owls now, it has changed for me, the ability to admire them as I once did.

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  6. How very sad about the fawn buck. I just recentky read about our local Powerful Owl, that they are capable of taking prey much larger than the simply mice we assumed they were helping control around here. Diesel-dog has never been a fan of theirs, and I can now understand why. Owls are portrayed as wise and benign… but not so much so if you are further down their food chain. Good to hear the other better news. Take care ♡

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    1. Diesel relies on instinct, which I am amazed at considering most domestic animals are probably not so keen and alert as their wild relatives. You live in a very rural area so perhaps Diesel retains his wild instinct and is highly alert and aware of the danger around him. I think I have been more aware of the ground predators here that I had not thought to consider hawks and owls. I should have since we sometimes lose a chicken to a hawk or owl.

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    1. Yes Rudi, we will wait and see how things turn out with the girls and their fawns. It could be a few weeks before the fawns are brought out, to see who survived the first month of life. We take the good with the bad here… there is always something to be thankful for.

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  7. Your little farm plays the entire large drama of nature.
    It must be heart wrenching as Grace searches. Finding the little legs is a bit of closure – and more knowledge. Who would have suspected owls. Adjusting the deer pen does seem like a good idea with all the fawns you are also watching over as “deer Godparents”
    We have a couple of very large eagles that live around the lake here – noticed one much closer than usual yesterday – and realized a neighbor’s teen age small cat has been locked out during the day as her “mom” has gone back to work. Molly and I stood by the fence where I knew kitty was snoozing on the other side. Will warn cat owner – her cat is pretty small – smaller than a dee fawn and there are eaglet mouths to feed now according to eagle cam.
    Thanks for relaying something to be wary of.
    Life. It is a miracle how many come through it without a clue?

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    1. I think this “owl” incident, maybe brings light to many of us who just didn’t consider their ability to nab a sizeable fawn. Of course there is no way to know if the owl spotted a twitching ear or head movement, or if the little buck got up to reposition (which they often do – especially one who was so mobile just after birth, as Forrest witnessed it walking around Gracie within a few minutes!). We have heard many stories here about coyotes nabbing domestic dogs and cats in the night, so I guess now we can add raptors to that list.

      I realize more and more what a real miracle life is in the wild.

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  8. What happy, hopeful, and shocking news!

    Such a surprise to find out about the large owl’s eating habits. I certainly would never have imagined this. I have seen hawks here attack and carry away my chickens and it is horrifying to be sure. Sad, to contemplate, but in all reality nature’s way. I try to remind myself that hawks and owls gotta eat too, but it doesn’t take away the horror of seeing it.

    I’m sorry.

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    1. Thank you, Lynda. You said it all in your comment – we see something like this happen, and we understand the capability of predators, and the nature of life, but that does not take from the sting of seeing it happen or taking in the aftermath of an attack. For me, the horror of finding the little legs in the pasture wasn’t about the fawn so much, but it triggered my sense of justice, or rather injustice of the situation. I thought of predation on the human level too, especially in our current administration. Even that is nature’s way – we’ve seen it happen historically. We can learn, and be more alert to danger when we consider what threats are out there.

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  9. Oh how sad for Gracie. Breaks my heart. I never knew an owl would kill a fawn. So sorry for Gracie’s loss, but it is good you learned of a new kind of predator. Hugs. Take care.

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