Early this morning, as I sat at my desktop computer sipping coffee and attempting to catch up on paying bills and looking at email, I spotted motion outside the window in front of me. It was little fawn Ellie running in the lead, with mama Ruthie deer closely trotting behind, and followed by Gracie deer trying to catch up to the two of them. By the time I ran out to the front porch and put on my boots, the three had disappeared to the east, heading towards the rock house. Eventually, I spotted Ellie diving into the thicket of trees and vegetation near the garden area. Ruthie was nonchalantly grazing on greens in the old, overgrown iris beds just behind the rock house and, after a short time, Gracie appeared from around the front of the rock house. Somehow, Ruthie and Ellie had outsmarted Gracie. Ruthie, knowing Ellie had settled down for the morning in the thicket of trees, gingerly trotted off and jumped the fence to our neighbor Steve’s back yard. Gracie lingered, nibbling greens as she began her usual route of patrolling the area.
Ruthie’s other fawn, Jojo, is now housed in the fawn section of the barn, with access to the deer pen, where she typically indulges in a little exercise a couple of times each day. Rehabilitation efforts to nourish Jojo while the deformity in her legs corrects itself and she gains strength and stamina, have come along nicely. After moving JoJo from the house to the fawn room and deer pen, we noticed that Ruthie, who was hiding and nursing Ellie in the immediate area, would stop by the pen often, as if to check on Jojo. When we saw this, we decided to let her in the pen and see if we might be able to foster nursing. But, after several attempts, Jojo never could manage to latch on to Ruthie’s teats, and Ruthie’s patience with our efforts to help ran short.
Eventually, Ruthie moved Ellie to the woods behind our house and quit coming by the deer pen except to occasionally sniff at one of the gates while carrying out a patrolling route. She seemed to understand and accept that we were raising JoJo. As a result of having less responsibility and only one fawn to feed, Ruthie seems to be flourishing. She is still quite thin, but her coat is glossy and her udder looks good. We do not always know where Ellie is hidden, but by Ruthie’s demeanor and the condition of her udder, it is apparent she is still feeding a fawn. At least once each day, we observe Ruthie eating well, always on patrol and alert, and doing what a mother deer naturally does when raising her young. Meanwhile, we continue to bottle feed Jojo, and watch her make slow but miraculous progress.
Gracie, on the other hand, is a different story. The first couple of days after the barred owl killed her baby, Gracie mooed pitifully, nose to the ground, trying to pick up the scent of her missing fawn. We observed her searching all over the property and along the outskirts of the woods. Often, she returned to the spot near the yarrow and tree thicket near the garden, where we supposed she had last bedded her little buck. Many times, she stopped at the deer pen gates, looking in with great curiosity. I wondered if Gracie needed to investigate whether the fawn in the pen might be hers. So last Friday afternoon, when we noticed Gracie mooing and sniffing at JoJo, who was bedded near the fence behind a shade branch, we let Gracie in the pen to satisfy her curiosity. What happened next, was the physical experience of the answer to our prayers for both Gracie and JoJo.
After Forrest called JoJo out from her bedding area, Gracie approached her with caution. Carefully, she sniffed JoJo’s face and behind, and then began to lick her as she would her own fawn. Finding that Gracie seemed to be receptive to JoJo, we decided to see if she would allow JoJo to nurse, as we had attempted with Ruthie. Given that Gracie has always considered Forrest as her mother and, therefore, is comfortable with his touch and closeness, he positioned JoJo underneath Gracie and guided her nose to Gracie’s udder. Gracie stood patiently during this fumbling, trial run, while occasionally turning her head to lick Forrest or JoJo, as if to encourage them to not give up. Finally, after some misguided nosing around, JoJo discovered the pot at the end of the rainbow, latched on to a teat, and began to nurse. When JoJo seemed satisfied and the nursing was complete, the two of them settled in the back of the deer pen, lying only a couple of feet apart from each other. So, with a feeling of joy welling up from within, Forrest and I left Gracie and JoJo alone, to experience some important bonding time together.
Since that first nursing, Gracie has fed JoJo twice each day, but it requires constant monitoring to know when Gracie is present and to offer for her to nurse or spend time in the deer pen with Jojo. While we hope all feedings can eventually be accomplished with Gracie, it is still a hit-and-miss endeavor. We have JoJo on a four-times-daily feeding schedule, but Gracie has her own internal clock that is definitely not synchronized with ours. For Gracie to continue to produce enough milk, feedings need to continue on a frequent basis, as they would in the wild, but we have not come up with a good solution to allow Gracie to enter and leave the deer pen on her own schedule. Scout and Penelope have been quite territorial and not friendly to little Jojo, so it is imperative that we keep them from entering the pen. Also, JoJo has not yet developed the strength and stamina necessary for her to stay up with any mother and survive in the wild. But, regardless of the small hurdles of schedule and access, we are thrilled Gracie has taken an interest in nursing Jojo and that Jojo has been very receptive.
Amazing Gracie… how sweet the sound – of JoJo mewing and smacking as she nurses from her new mother.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed. ~ John Newton
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