|| Under normal conditions, very
little needs to be done to healthy, newborn deer. In fact, nothing should
be done to a fawn/calf that is still wet with uterine fluids. Excessive
disturbance before the newborn is completely dry may cause its mother to
Newborns are generally left alone by the dam when
she goes off to feed. During the first few days of life a newborn will
freeze when an intruder approaches. During this stage it is very easy to
approach and catch.
Once a fawn/calf is completely dry, it can be
caught and several procedures conducted. Every attempt should be made to
minimize the number of times a young deer is disturbed. It is important to
be prepared so that all necessary procedures can be carried out at one
time. Pick up the young deer with gloved (latex) hands or a clean sheet,
towel or blanket. This minimizes bacterial exposure and the transfer of
human scent if the newborn is to be returned to the mother after tagging,
etc. Farmed whitetail does will generally re-accept fawns, even after
human contact, if placed approximately where they were originally picked
At some point every deer farmer will be required
to hand-rear a fawn/calf. This need will arise either from the death of a
dam soon after birth, refection of the young by the dam or from
mismothering. Each case will vary depending on the weather conditions, how
quickly after birth the fawn/calf is discovered, whether the newborn
received enough colostrum and its general health status.
REARING ORPHAN AND REJECTED NEWBORNS
The level of care required to save an
orphaned or rejected newborn will depend on the viability of the offspring
and the ability of the producer to correctly assess it. The following
points may be helpful in assessing the immediate status of the newborn.
Rejection almost always follows a C-Section or
assisted birthing in fallow and red deer. Therefore, in these situations,
assume the offspring will be rejected and remove it at birth. Difficult
birthings (dystocias) which are not assisted may also lead to rejection.
Offspring which have lived through unassisted
dystocias should be monitored closely, but not removed until rejection has
clearly occurred. Excessive disturbance in and around the birthing
paddock, or handling newborns before they are dry, will increase the
likelihood of abandonment. First-time dams have a higher incidence of
deserting offspring, while it is rare in subsequent births. In whitetail
deer, mothers of triplets will often ignore the smallest of the group,
making it a candidate for hand - rearing.
Determining whether or not a particular newborn
is an orphan is not always easy. If the dam dies during an assisted birth,
the situation will be obvious. However, if the mother dies one or more
days after giving birth, it may be difficult to determine which newborn is
hers, unless all offspring are ear-tagged and parentage is known.
Many fawns/calves of the same age may be hidden
in the paddock at any one time, making differentiation difficult. To
insure that the correct fawn/calf is removed, astute observation is
necessary. If a given newborn is not seen nursing successfully within
three to five hours, it may be assumed to be abandoned or orphaned.
Remember: in a farming environment, it is not uncommon for lactating dams
to allow orphans to nurse.
Weak, depressed, young deer require assistance,
whether or not they are orphans. After four days it should not be possible
to catch a fawn/calf. Any that can be caught may be undernourished and
When hand-rearing newborns patience is
essential. Assess the status of the animal. Many newborn deer benefit from
a brisk rubbing of the chest with a dry towel. This does two things:
stimulates breathing and helps to dry the animal.
The first obstacle in hand-rearing newborns is hypothermia.
This is a life - threatening drop in body temperature, closely associated
with being born in cold,
wet conditions and is a significant cause of perinatal mortality. A wet
animal loses body heat rapidly. Newborns of all species have little
ability to generate their own heat and very little insulation to prevent
its loss. As a result, a deer born outside in cool, wet weather, will
quickly go into shock if it is not dried immediately after birth. Orphans
are often chilled (hypothermic) and wet. Since the dam normally dries her
newborn within an hour of birth, abandoned or orphaned newborns should
immediately be dried and provided with supplemental heat. To do this,
place the deer in a warm room and rub briskly with a dry towel. Direct,
radiant heat, such as a heat lamp, is an excellent method of providing
supplemental heat to a hypothermic newborn.
To be of benefit, a heat lamp must be placed the
correct distance from the newborn. This distance will depend on the
wattage of the heat lamp. If it is set too close to an immobile newborn,
severe burns can result. If too far away, then the animal does not receive
adequate warmth. To determine the proper distance, rest your hand on the
deer directly under the center of the lamp for 4 to 5 minutes. There
should be no discomfort. Continue testing the heat until the deer becomes
It is best to focus the heat over the chest. A
dry towel can be placed over the newborn to help retain body heat, but
towels and blankets may also stress the newborn. Towels can retain
the moisture and act as heat sinks, so they actually impede recovery if
not checked and replaced regularly. Constantly replacing shifted towels
can cause the newborn unneeded anxiety.
Once revived, young deer can be very active. They
can, and invariably do, knock over unsecured heat lamps and IV stands, so
it is necessary to make sure that all lamps and cords are secured safely.
It is important to permit the deer to move away from the heat lamp once it
regains its normal body temperature. At this stage, a young deer will
often determine its own comfort zone and will usually lay at the edge of
the heated area.
The next hurdle in the course of hand-raising
deer is feeding them. The composition of deer
milk varies considerably from other domestic species.
Orphaned offspring should receive all of the
colostrum they are willing to drink within the first 12 hours of life. It
is wise to freeze and save all excess deer colostrum for this purpose. If
colostrum is not available from a deer, then ewe or goat colostrum should
be provided. It is often impossible to obtain fresh colostrum when it is
needed, therefore, frozen ewe or goat colostrum should be collected well
in advance of the birthing season. If kept frozen, it will retain its full
beneficial effect for over 6 months. There are also man-made colostrum
replacers specifically designed for deer.
Several formulae have been reported. It is
important to recognize that regardless of which formula is selected, cow's
milk by itself is generally inappropriate for young deer. Goat's milk, on
the other hand, seems to be an excellent substitute for deer milk. It
should also be noted that while the overall balance of protein, fat,
lactose, and water is very important, the exact composition of the mixture
is less critical than the care and attention the newborn receives.
It is best if the newborn will drink on its own.
Use bottles specifically designed for pets or cross-cut nipples on baby
bottles. (Young deer tend to prefer the old fashioned rubber nipples as
opposed to the new silicone ones.)
If the young deer is unwilling or comatose, then
it may be necessary to carefully pass a stomach tube and give it 20 to 40
cc every hour until it has consumed about 150 ml. If new to this
procedure, call in the vet! It is most important not to inadvertently
place the tube in an airway, causing aspiration, pneumonia or drowning.
If the young deer appears lethargic and is
unwilling to drink, it may be suffering from dehydration, hypothermia, low
blood glucose, and/or a host of other maladies. At this stage, it is
useful to prepare oral electrolyte solutions, with additional glucose.
These solutions can be administered directly by stomach tube. Every 30 to
60 minutes, 50 to 70 ml should be administered until the newborn brightens
and begins to drink on its own. It is best not to mix these preparations
with milk. However, if a young deer has diarrhea, it may be useful to
alternate feeding milk one time and electrolytes the next. If using the
milk replacer, diluting the concentration may also solve the problem.
Hygiene is vital at
this stage. It is important to realize that milk or milk replacers are
excellent media for the growth of bacteria. For this reason, strict
cleaning procedures must be followed to prevent disease. Milk replacers
should be prepared as needed, not made in advance.
The rearing area must be kept strictly sanitized
while rearing the deer. Bedding that is wet or soiled with urine, feces
and spilled feed will become a breeding ground for disease-producing
organisms. The area where orphaned deer are reared should be
well-ventilated but warm and free of drafts. A light source mimicking
daylight hours, or direct sunlight is important to produce the essential
vitamin D. Also, the area should be secure from predators. Smooth and
solid walls will help prevent injury. The floors should be well-supplied
with clean, dry, dust-free straw. Never use sawdust, as inhalation is a
problem. Rearing areas should provide at least 1 square meter per housed
Hardening off is one
of the last steps in hand-raising young deer. This is accomplished by
equalizing the temperature of the rearing area with the ambient
temperature for about two weeks before releasing the deer. Before
releasing the hand-raised deer back into the herd, fecal samples should be
taken at 2-4 weeks of age to determine if there are any parasitic
Advantages & Disadvantages
Finally, there area both
advantages and disadvantages of hand-rearing deer. Some advantages
> Hand-rearing saves young deer that would otherwise die.
> The deer farmer gains experience that may allow the saving of a
valuable deer at some future date.
> If used properly, hand-reared deer can help move the rest of the herd
into areas where they may be reluctant to go. They can also act as a
calming influence on the herd.
> Hand-rearing is necessary for the farmer who is required to handle
deer on a regular basis, as for AI or urine collection.
Some disadvantages are:
> Hand-rearing deer involves a great deal of work.
> It can be costly, depending on the number of deer and the cost of
> Continual close contact with humans will impart a significant degree
of bonding. This loss of fear of humans translates into a loss of respect
as the deer grows up. With a loss of respect for humans, the bucks/stags
become extremely dangerous during rut. Once the rut begins, hand-reared
male offspring will change from being the most docile pet to the most
aggressive adversary on the farm. All hand-reared male deer should be
either castrated by 6-7 months of age or, if the genetic potential of the
deer is not of critical concern, slaughtered at 16 or 17 months. *
> If hand-reared deer are returned to the herd, they can be a nuisance
to handle because they do not move away from the handlers. Also, during
handling they may leas other members of the herd away from where they are
meant to go.
> Human contact exposes young deer to more kinds of bacteria, disease
and stressors than if they are raised by their dam, possibly increasing
* Please note: Castration is not a viable or humane
option after 6-7 months of age
for reasons outside the scope of this article
||Number of Drinking Periods
||Quantity of Milk (g per day)
||every 4-5 hours around the clock
||300-600 increasing amount daily
||massage intestine and rectum; watch out for
||grass, concentrates water, soil, ad libitum
||feces like adults (dark, hard, holds shape);
hardening off of fawns
||1,000 - 1,500 drinks may be given at room temp
||1,500 at room temp
|10th Week (at the latest 14th Week)
||wean; turn out with herd
MORE TIPS ON HAND-REARING BABY DEER
Feed by bottle. Bucket or multiple sucking unit are ill-advised as they
increase the passive transfer of bacterial infection.
Maintain strict hygiene of feeding apparatus. Keep all bottle-fed fawns
and their respective feeding apparatus separate for the first two weeks.
Fawns soon become accustomed to the feeding routine and imprint on the
feeder. It is convinced better to under feeding than to over feed. Do not
give into cries for additional feeding if not warranted.
Mimic maternal stimulation of defecation and urination by massaging the
rump and perineum with a damp sponge or tissue at least two times per day
until the young deer should develop control of these functions by two
three weeks of age.
Provide good quality pasture palatable grain concentrates from two weeks
of age; wean from six to eight weeks.
Ensure fresh clean water is available at all times.
Scours, arthritis and other bacterial diseases can be overcome by ensuring
strict hygiene, good management, vaccination and optimal treatment.
However, young deer can deteriorate and die quickly if weaning signs are
ignored or a vet is not consulted immediately.
Hand-raising newborn deer cannot be done successfully without the advice
of a vet with experience in deer (or, at the very least, sheep and goats).
Establish a relationship with your vet early.
NEVER BOTTLE FEED A BUCK without first understanding the risks! They
can become aggressive, especially toward those with whom they have
imprinted, since they have lost most of their natural instinct to fear
humans. No deer in hard antler can be trusted.
Antibiotics - A 1 ml injection of an antibiotic such as long-acting
penicillin or long - acting oxytetracycline may be useful to decrease the
incidence of peri-natal infections. An e-coli immunity booster is a
good idea and for whitetail in selenium deficient regions, a selenium
injection is a must.
Swabbing - Dipping the navel in a strong (7%) tincture of iodine (or
blue coat) is a good way to reduce the incidence of umbilical infections.
However, in most species it is necessary to dip the umbilical stump
immediately after birth. Usually dipping after even 2 or 3 hours is
of little benefit. If navel infections become a problem on a
particular farm, it may help to institute a program of navel dipping at
birth. It would also be helpful to ensure that the fawning paddock
is clean and dry as many bacteria proliferate in wet conditions. If
left untreated, navel ill becomes joint ill and is fatal in most cases.
(The farmer may also consider coating the bottom of the hooves which are
soft and vulnerable to abrasions, allowing bacteria to penetrate.)
Tagging - While it may be too soon to determine whose offspring is
whose, tagging the young deer and recording the weight, birth date, and
other information may be beneficial later when the mothering up process
takes place. Plan ahead here. Color coding or using left/right
ears to identify males from females is helpful later.
Weighing - It is important to know the birth weights.
Fawns/calves can be easily and safely weighed at this time by suspending
them in a clean cloth sack from a small hand scale.
Vaccinations - Young deer under 3 months are too young to benefit
from any vaccine, therefore, vaccinations should not be performed at this
(Source: The North American Deer Farmer
Winter 1998-1999 www.nadefa.org )