By the first week of August, Gracie deer was making it clear she was ready to move little JoJo out of the confines of the deer pen and into the real world. Both Forrest and I struggled to know when the timing for such a big move would be right, since we were not yet sure we could trust JoJo to mind Gracie. But Gracie’s urgency increased, and we knew, regardless of the outcome, it was the right thing to do for both JoJo and Gracie. We would just have to trust both of them to follow instinct.
The first time we opened the gates to the pen with the intent to let JoJo go with Gracie, things were looking good until the neighbor’s large dogs began to bark. Gracie immediately alerted JoJo to potential danger and deftly led her away in the opposite direction of the barking. Quickly leaving the openness of the yard and pasture near the deer pen and our home, they wound their way down into the woods and on into the orchard. Keeping good distance so as not to distract JoJo, Forrest followed along to make sure Jojo continued to stick with Gracie and not go wandering on her own.
Once Forrest reached the pecan orchard area, he found them near the slough, where Ruthie and Scout were present. However, when Forrest turned to head back home, JoJo spotted him and came running. Gracie came running too, mooing all of the way, but JoJo was insistent in following Forrest, actually leading most of the way back home. With this unfortunate end to the first trial run of JoJo being free, Forrest shut JoJo back in the pen for the evening with intentions to try again the next day. Still, that little adventure at least let us know that JoJo knew her way back home.
After the midday nursing the next day, we made a second attempt at letting JoJo go with Gracie, and this also went well at the start. JoJo followed Gracie down the slope keeping close to her. But then Gracie jumped the fence to the neighbor’s bottom land, and JoJo didn’t stay long at the fence when she couldn’t jump or get through it. Instead, she high-tailed it back up the slope and followed Forrest into the pen. However, just after Forrest closed the pen back up and considered the morning another failed exercise, Gracie returned for JoJo.
With Gracie back at the pen so quickly, Forrest opened the gate back up for Gracie to enter and see that JoJo was there and all was well. As she often did, Gracie urinated just inside the pen, and then turned back through the gate and squatted briefly to urinate again just outside of the pen. We had wondered if this was to leave a scent trail for JoJo to follow in case they were separated. In any event, JoJo followed Gracie out of the pen and across the yard. This time, we opted to stay home, watching them take off to the slope and head down towards the willows area and on towards the slough. It bothered both of us not knowing for sure how things went after that, but we did see Gracie out and about later that afternoon and evening, doing her usual patrol, and squatting to pee quite often. As darkness set in, we hoped all went well for JoJo that night. I fell asleep asking Universe to protect everyone.
The next morning, Forrest and I decided we would go out on the front porch as we had been doing, just to see if Gracie showed up. Scout arrived first, then Ruthie. Both had a nibble of feed before setting off for the morning. Then Gracie arrived, mooing. We tried to be confident the mooing didn’t mean she was looking for JoJo and that all was well. After all, Gracie’s udder looked normal, it was the usual feeding time, and Gracie had always mooed when she arrived to feed JoJo in the pen.
So to satisfy our curiosity and Gracie’s insistence, Forrest and I donned our Muck boots and followed Gracie, who led us a ways down the buggy path, and then turned to walk through the orchard. There, knee-high and six-foot tall weeds surrounded us, and stick tights from hedge parsley clung to our clothing and boots. I had a difficult time focusing on looking for JoJo, as all I could think about was the amount of the chigger bites I would end up with. Thankfully, at least the mosquitoes had not been as bad lately.
While Forrest stayed with Gracie, I decided to take off towards the slough and comb the orchard from a different angle. I continued to call JoJo’s name while trudging through the mass of grasses and young, thorny trees, trying to stay clear of the larger areas of hedge parsley, and remembering to lift my feet in order not to fall over unseen limbs and branches that lay hidden under the matt of downed grasses and weeds. Miserable at this point, I continued to walk the orchard, while looking and calling for JoJo. And then my cell dinged with a message.
After making four passes through the entire orchard, Gracie finally led Forrest right to JoJo, who had been bedded down near a thicket under a pecan tree. On hearing her mama Gracie’s buzz call, JoJo jumped up from her bed and came running for her morning milk. A short time later, we all met near the slough, where Ruthie and JoJo’s sister Ellie where nibbling greens, and Scout was wading in the water. I stayed for a bit to watch, and then headed home, meeting Penelope and her baby on the way back – they looked to be heading to the slough as well.
It has been a week since that day, and Gracie still comes to the front of our house to have a few nibbles of feed, and to moo her invitation at Forrest until he follows her for feeding time. Forrest usually walks with her each day for the early morning and afternoon feedings. But the evening feeding often comes as darkness is beginning to fall and is just too miserable with insects.
Gracie never takes a direct route to JoJo at feeding time – instead it is a long meander through the orchard, often with Forrest in tow, to ensure there are no predators around and everything is safe. Along the way, she defecates frequently and stops often to release short streams of urine. Gracie is a cautious and protective mother and, even though JoJo will still come up to Forrest or me and give a quick lick or get a little pet, it’s clear she knows her real mama is Gracie.
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