Jilly D.

Fawn tames the wildness in us

In Off-The-Grid Memoir, Pictures and memories, Time and seasons on May 17, 2014 at 12:50 pm

205619-R1-12-13The end of May always marks the beginning of a new season in the wild. The baby ducks appear on the pond. So do the tiny new painted turtles. Nests of baby mice come to life in the hay fields. Skunks, raccoon, chipmunks, groundhogs and other mammals bear their young in the spring. Birds lay eggs and they crack open about now.

Cows, goats, sheep and pigs, too, have babies in the spring. This is the natural order of things in a habitat with four seasons. May is also when does deliver their fawns. We watched enough of them in the field tend to their young through the windows of the cabin.

One morning as we drank coffee we watched a couple dozen baby turkeys with three hens parade across the pond dike, not 10 feet away. We’ve watched our resident heron catch fish for breakfast. The antics of a mink, the slow crawl of a large painted turtle, the dance of morning songbirds in our pear tree, the prowl of a coyote, the scurry of a red fox, and the wild Whitetail deer who come daily for a morning drink from the pond provide us with daily entertainment at dawn.205619-R1-23-24

Most of the time the wild life stayed outside the windows. Sometimes the wildness was within. Other times it tamed the wildness in us.

Sam walked in the door and said, “Get a towel. Find the baby bottle. Where are the nipples? Make up some milk replacer. Boil water!”

In his arms Sam carried a newborn fawn. He gently set her down on the quilt on our bed. Slowly she stretched out her front legs in front of us. She bowed her head and then rose up onto all four wobbly legs. Plomp. She laid right back down. She curled up and put her head down; forming a tight circle.

Sammy Girl, the black Labrador, jumped onto the bed beside her. Sammy sat down and started to clean her up; licking her from head to tail. And that little tail wiggled with glee.sammy girl and sweet pea

I got the water on to boil while Sam supervised. Found a towel to wrap around her keeping her natural body heat tight to her. Retrieved the bottle and sterilized the nipples.

The recipe for milk replacer was easier to remember than how to get it just the right temperature. Every good feed store offers a variety of brands of powdered milk replacers for different kinds of baby animals. Raw Guernsey milk is one of the best milk replacers for cows, goats and sheep if you can’t milk the mother. You can’t legally sell raw cow’s milk anymore in New York State; although for many years our neighbors would let us slip in the barn and help ourselves. There was a money jar on the shelf and it was all based on a simple honor system which worked.

Goat’s milk is a suitable replace for most mammalian’s milk. None of our nanny goats had milk right then. If you want to have goat’s milk you’ve got to continue milking after the kids are weaned. We had lets our dry up that year.

Today Purina and Blue Seal are two of the leading producers of milk replacers; it’s just like powdered milk. If you can’t get raw Guernsey milk and you don’t have a milking goat you are stuck with the formula. Raw cow’s milk or goat’s milk can substitute or replace the mother’s milk for orphaned deer, rabbits, kittens, puppies or other small mammals.

One quart of boiling water to one cup of a powder.

Testing one, two, three on the inside of my wrist. Too hot, too warm. Perfect.

The fawn had lain in the middle of our driveway since dawn yesterday. Sam discovered her much earlier but kept the dogs away in hopes the mother doe would return. Memorial Day weekend we had planned a family reunion and picnic at the pond. Sam worried someone would hit the fawn driving down to the gathering.

766018-R1-00-1ADoes usually drop their fawns in tall grass fields. Born with spots, the fawns are naturally hidden as they resemble nothing more than sun dappling. At birth fawns have no scent. This natural defense protects them against predators: coyotes and dogs. But this natural defense is poor protection from the dangers of a farmer’s first cutting of hay.

The first four days after birth the fawn is relatively immobile. Fawns can rise to find their mother’s teat; however, they can’t stand long and can’t run. The fawn stays put while the mother doe forages away from her baby to keep it protected. She returns to the fawn discretely only to milk several times during the day. By the fourth day of life the fawn can jump and run faster than a jack rabbit.

100_1030When Sam brought this baby fawn into the cabin, he’d made a tough decision. If orphaned, the fawn wouldn’t live much longer without milk. If left in the driveway there was a greater risk she would die. If he brought her in and she wouldn’t take a bottle, she’d die too. He waited as long as he could before he moved her into the cabin.

Once I had the baby bottle ready with a clean nipple and filled with milk replacer, Sam coaxed the fawn nuzzling her nose with the sweet milk spilled wet upon the warm nipple.

“Come on, Sweet Pea,” I heard Sam say. Less than three tries at opening her lips and teeth and she was sucking hard.

Food in. Check off the number one concern. Getting the mother doe’s colostrum from the very first nursing is perhaps the most important indicator of a fawn’s success in life. Sweet Pea had clearly been fed at least once, but only once. Dehydrated and very hungry she took that bottle without any struggle.

Besides milk, the mother doe also performs diaper duty. Sammy Girl, our lab, became a surrogate mother to Sweet Pea in this respect. She couldn’t nurse the fawn, but she treated it like it was one of her own puppies.

The next step for Sweet Pea was to stand and urinate on her own. That’s really what the towel was for and thank goodness it was handy. It wasn’t long after she drank half a bottle full of milk replacer that she had to go. Sammy Girl made sure she defecated and the feces specimen strongly indicated the fawn had milked from the mother’s colostrum. The consistency and color of Cheese Whiz, her first bowel passed inspection and promised a good prognosis.

The Memorial Day family reunion picnic began. I headed over to the BBQ area at the pavilion at the other end of our pond.  Sam stayed a few minutes behind to keep an eye on Sweet Pea. When he left to check on our guests, he told Sammy Girl to watch over this precious baby. Sammy understood.

Less than two hours later our Sweet Pea was willing to taste a little more milk replacer. Every four to six hours after that Sweet Pea got bottle fed by Sam and Sammy Girl performed her maternal duties in the diaper department. At first I was amazed, disgusted and fascinated by this bizarre relationship between a dog and a deer and my dear.

Sammy Girl was Sam’s favorite dog. He spoiled her rotten. The first two years she was in his boot camp. As a female adult she was exceptionally friendly, loving and gentle. Every critter Sam brought in the cabin was treated with kindness and kisses by Sammy Girl. If Sam loved it, Sammy Girl did too. And so it was with Sweet Pea.

  1. Lovely story, Jill. I wonder what happened to Sweet Pea, or maybe I’d rather not know and just be with the story as it is. Sam with the bottle, Sweet Pea sucking, and Sammy Girl cleaning up after them.

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