The wildlife in America are being forced closer and closer into residential areas by the destruction of their natural habitat, and human development of what was once open range lands and forest. For every acre of land being developed, it’s estimated that as many as 6 different species of wildlife are adversely effected by the loss, and this doesn’t even include the insects. When native wildlife becomes displaced by development, they are quite often unable to sustain themselves in their new habitat. Coons have invaded city trash cans, opossums have been known to come inside through pet doors and eat pet food. Mountain Lions in California have attempted to make prey out of joggers. Bears have wandered into backyards. The wildlife haven’t gone crazy – they are simply going hungry. As the forest lands and rangelands disappear, the wildlife has little choice but to enter civilization in search of food.
Because a grazing white tail deer crossed a fence and came onto my property, my own dogs gave chase. This was far from the first time that native wildlife has came into the yard. Not long ago we were having trouble with skunks sneaking into the yard – so I assumed the dogs had likely encountered a skunk. My husband yelled for the dogs to return, trying to get them back before they got sprayed, but they continued their chase. Skunks are notorious for breaking into chicken pens, killing adult chickens, and eating eggs. So my husband began to walk around and inspect the fencing around the barn yard. He’d only taken a few steps when he saw the fresh deer tracks. He noticed there were two sets, an adult and a tiny fawn’s tracks. He told me there was a very good chance a baby white tail deer was laying in our yard somewhere, hiding.
Wildlife have amazing survival instincts, so we knew the direction in which the Mother deer had led the dogs was likely in the opposite direction of where the fawn was hiding. At a glance, the fawn’s natural markings gave her near perfect camouflage. I’d looked in the general area where the fawn was laying several times and not even noticed her until I’d gotten considerably closer. My husband explained that under normal circumstances – the fawn will drop to the ground like this and hide and wait in complete silence – then the Mother deer will track back for the baby once the danger had passed. However, it was almost dark, there was no way of knowing how far the dogs had ran the Mother deer, and if we left the fawn laying there – she would likely be the meal of our other frequent nuisance wildlife – the coyote. There’s rarely a night that we don’t hear a pack of them howling at the tree line around our property. They have also entered the barn yard and killed chickens, cats, ducks, and puppies.
We made the only decision we felt we could under the circumstances and took the tiny white tail deer fawn into captivity. Taking native wildlife into captivity is never an easy decision. Once you accept this responsibility, you are committed to the care of that animal for the length of it’s life, because it has little hope of ever being able to return to the wild. Laws regarding captive wildlife vary tremendously from state to state. Some states completely forbid keeping wildlife in captivity and there is a hefty fine for violators. In our case, in the state of Arkansas, we were allowed to keep the fawn in captivity because we hadn’t illegally captured it and we expressed our desire to raise the creature. This state allows wildlife to live in captivity, under certain circumstances, and as long as the caregivers abide by the rules and regulations set forth by the Game and Fish Commission. However, some states do not – so before you ever attempt a wildlife rescue such as this – you should call your local Game and Fish Commission or Department of Natural Resources. They will advise you on your state’s laws and regulations, and can perform the rescue themselves if needed.
The care of a white tail deer fawn is surprisingly easy! These little creatures respond well to human touch and bond amazingly fast. Our white tail deer fawn was less than a week old when we found her, so we chose to bring her inside the house. Eventually she will require an outside enclosure, and a “deer run”. The enclosure should be constructed of galvanized page wire, at least 8 feet tall, and should measure a minimum of 20 feet by 20 feet – however, the larger the better! The “deer run” can be made by running a steel cable between two sturdy points, such as two buried rail road ties. You should purchase a sturdy leather collar large enough to fit your deer’s neck and leave room for two of your fingers – or approximately one inch. Next you will need a plastic coated metal dog leash that has a strong metal swivel clip at each end. One end is clipped to your deer’s collar, the other is clipped to the cable. The leash should be just long enough for your deer’s nose to reach the ground comfortably. Not long enough for them to become tangled in, or to be able to get wrapped around a leg. The “deer run” should be a minimum of 50 feet long, again – the longer the better!
When you begin bottle feeding, expect your fawn to resist! It may back away from you, shake it’s head, kick it’s legs, and make a sound similar to a kazoo. This sound may alarm you at first, but it’s something you’ll get use to – you’ll hear it every time you do anything your fawn isn’t so sure about! Farm and Ranch supply stores sell special bottles for feeding farm animals and wildlife, but I’ve had great success with a baby bottle. White tail fawns drink goat’s milk, and you can purchase this in the baby isle of any grocery store – as it’s also used as an alternative milk for human infants. You want to dilute the goat’s milk half and half with water. I suggest you only fill the bottle with an ounce to begin with, because you’ll end up wearing most of this! Heat the milk to the same temperature you would for a human infant – warm – not hot. There are an unlimited amount of ways you could hold your fawn for feeding, but the picture demonstrates the manner I use. This allows the fawn to assume the natural position it would have if it were nursing from the Mother. However, if the fawn refuses the bottle, you may wish to hold it “football style”, under one arm.
Use your fingers to gently open the fawns mouth, and use your other hand to introduce the nipple once you have the mouth open. Keep in mind the fawn has no idea what you’re doing, and may try to escape at first. Once the nipple is in the deer’s mouth, the fawn will naturally bite down, which will expel a small taste of the milk. You should work the nipple in and out of the fawns mouth, but don’t remove it completely. Give the fawn the idea of what you’re trying to encourage it to do by replicating the push/pull motion it would be making if it were nursing. It may take as long as 24 hours to get the fawn to successfully nurse, but you need to repeat this process every 2 hours until it does. Eventually, you will introduce the nipple and the fawn will begin to nurse so greedily you’ll think it will pull the bottle out of your hand! At this point, you can now fill the bottle to a full 4 ounces. You should feed the fawn 4 ounces every 3 hours until it’s around 3 weeks old. You can increase this to 5 ounces every 4 hours once the fawn is 3 weeks old.
The bowels on a very young white tail fawn will require stimulation to function properly. In the wild, the Mother deer would do this by using her tongue to lick, stimulate, and clean, the fawn’s rectum area. You will need to simulate this by using a warm wet rag to gently stimulate the fawn’s rectum area. When the fawn begins to have a bowel movement, you can stop. When the fawn finishes the bowel movement, you will need to use the warm wet cloth to thoroughly cleanse the rectum area. The fawn will urinate on it’s own, this requires no assistance or follow up cleaning. The consistency of the fawn’s stool should be similar to that of a human infant. Not hard, or formed in any particular manner – but solid.
In the event the fawn develops diarrhea, you should cut back on the goat’s milk – either decrease the amount being fed, or increase the time in between feedings. If this doesn’t bring the bowels back into check within 24 hours, you can add ½ teaspoon of Kero Syrup into the next 4 ounce feeding of goat’s milk. You may have to do this several feedings, but the bowels should check within 24 hours. In the event the fawn continues to have diarrhea after 48 hours, and you’ve tried both of these procedures, you should consult a Veterinarian. It’s possible the fawn could have a bacterial or viral infection. You can discontinue stimulating the bowel movements once the fawn reaches around 2 weeks of age – or after you’ve witnessed a bowel movement without stimulation.
White tail deer fawns begin to forage for food within a couple days of their birth, and have sharp little bottom teeth. They should be weaned from the bottle at 6 weeks of age. Because a fawn’s ability to eat solid foods will vary deer to deer, you should begin to introduce as many food sources as possible after the first week of life. White tail deer in the wild will forage for woody twigs, bugs, fruits, mushrooms, and acorns, tree seedlings, watermelons, soybeans, peanuts, and flowers. By the time you begin the weaning process, you should introduce the fawn to grains. I suggest an all grain mix containing molasses – such as you would buy for horses. A white tail deer doe reaches maturity at 1 1/2 years of age, a buck reaches maturity a little sooner at around 1 year of age.