Fawn Care Guidelines

By Dr. Cliff Shipley

These are general guidelines for raising whitetail and mule deer fawns. There are diseases and conditions that may be specific to certain areas or where these guidelines don't work! As always, if it ain't broke, don't fix it! Always consult your local veterinarian for area specific conditions and to see if certain antibiotics or other medicaments may work better in your area or at different dosages.

Colostrum is the most important thing in the fawn's life. It contains antibodies to the diseases that the does have been exposed to or vaccinated for. It also contains vitamins, protein, energy and laxative to get their intestinal tract working. We also believe that it contains factors that help prime the immune system to work properly. If they do not get colostrum, they are more likely to get scours, pneumonia, necrotic stomatatis, become chronic poor doers, succumb to other diseases and die. Colostrum can be obtained from milking out does that have lost their fawns (trust me, it's tedious but worth it) or from someone that has cows, goats, sheep. You just need to be aware of the disease status of the place you get the colostrum from as you may lose your TB status or infect your fawns with Johne's or other diseases. A tip that may be useful is to go to the drug store and get a breast pump to help you obtain colostrum from a doe. Heat treating or pasteurizing this non-farm colostrum may be your best bet to make sure you don't spread disease. The following are suggestions for things that you can do to help make your fawning season more successful and hopefully raise healthy fawns. If you have vaccinated your does pre-fawning for some of these diseases, you may not want to or have to give some of these things to the fawns.

Birth/Day 1:

  • Allow fawn(s) and doe to bond/nurse
  • If cold, multiple births, or doe fails to claim fawn(s) or they don't nurse:
       A. Tube with colostrum (cow/doe; goat/ewe) or give First Catch Fawn or allow fawn to nurse colostrum from bottle
       B. Pull fawn and bottle raise (make sure it gets colostrum either via tubing or nursing from bottle)
       C. Graft to another doe

8 to 18 Hours (8-12 works best for me)

  1. Tag (each state may have different requirements, try to get a herd tag and a “state” tag in so they can be identified properly. Microchipping and tattooing may also be options for some producers.
  2. Give First Catch Fawn or E. colizer + C (2-5 ml orally) or E. colizer (2 -5 cc orally) plus C&D antitoxin orally/SQ (use lamb label dose). I do this to ensure that the fawns get colostrum and protection against E. coli and Clostridium Type C&D. If the does have been vaccinated and you're sure the fawns got plenty of colostrum, you can skip this, but for the most part it's pretty cheap insurance on those expensive fawns.
  3. Antibiotics are optional, but in high risk fawns (cold, small, no colostrum) you may want to give prophylactic antibiotics or if certain diseases are common on your farm/ranch. I recommend SQ (under the skin) because I don't want to hurt any muscles on that delicate fawn and most medications are absorbed as well SQ as they are intramuscularly (IM). The FDA has recently outlawed all extralabel use of Excede so depending on how you or your veterinarian interpret the rules, you may not wish to use. I haven't decided yet myself!
       a. Excede 0.15 ml SQ or
       b. Draxxin 0.1 ml SQ or
       c. Nuflor 0.6 ml SQ
  4. Vitamin E/Se (if in deficient area: make sure you consult with your local veterinarian) 1cc BoSE SQ
  5. ProbiosR or similar product: lamb dose or 1/10th to _ calf or foal dose. There are many probiotic preparations on the market. Many also have some vitamins and minerals as well. There are some deer specific ones that you may want to use that may be easier to titrate the dose on.
  6. Vitamin AD 0.05-0.1 ml SQ optional. If does have had poor nutrition or under lots of stress probably need to do. If fawns are weak or slow probably need to give.
  7. pull hair sample for DNA. Put in a paper envelop and label appropriately
  8. may want to consider giving plasma/transfuse fawns if unsure of colostrum intake, weak, sick, extremely valuable. Also can test for failure of passive transfer by your veterinarian doing a total protein test. Transfuse all that fail.

24-72 Hours
Pull fawns that you are going to bottle rear. Everyone pulls fawns for bottle rearing at different times. Do what has worked best for you in the past. Once fawns are 24 hours old or so, their gut ‘closes’ so that they probably won't absorb any more antibodies from the doe, so that is a good time to pull them. Some people like to wait longer, but the longer you wait, the more difficult it is to start the fawn on the bottle. I personally like to wait till they are 24 to 48 hours old and pull them late afternoon/early evening and then try to feed them once before I go to bed. If they eat, fabulous, if not, they are hungry in the morning and usually take right off on the bottle.

For those of you who don’t want to bottle raise, some people are trying to ‘imprint’ their fawns to make them semi-tame. This is a technique that horse people have been using for years. Simply catch, hold, play, rub, pet the fawn early and as often as you can to imprint on it that humans are not all that bad, while letting mom do the feeding. Early reports are that the fawns are not as tame as bottle babies, but tame enough that they are happy with the results.

Bottle Feeding
First week or so: 2 to 4 ounces five times a day. I feed at 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10pm to 11 pm. You can feed more often and smaller amounts, but you should try to feed 10% to 20% of the fawn’s body weight per day in milk. So if your fawn weighs 6 lbs (96 oz), then 10% is about 10 oz., 20% is 20 oz., etc. This allows the fawns to grow at the rate you want.

If using a formula designed for fawns or goat milk replacer, the fawns should not scour using these guidelines. Fawns do not scour generally from feeding (with the right formula), they scour from disease (E. coli, Salmonella, rota or corona virus, Clostridium, coccidiosis, etc). If properly cared for and clean equipment used, you should not have scour problems. If you do, then something is wrong and you need to adjust accordingly.

I often encourage using milk replacer. Use one that is formulated for fawns and mix according to the directions. If you have problems, you should analyze your water as it may have bacteria or mineral content that is causing the problem. If you do feed goat milk, make sure your source doesn't have Johne's Disease, Caseous Lymphadenitis or other diseases and has your same TB status. I know people that have successfully raised fawns on lamb milk replacer, whole cow's milk and other formulas. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, but if you look at all the data, fawns should and usually do better on species specific milk due to the fat and protein and sugar content being most similar to the doe.

Fawns will need to be stimulated to defecate and urinate for the first few weeks. I generally recommend you use rubber gloves and baby wipes and stimulate while feeding. This is what the doe does and usually you can perfect the technique so you can catch and do not have much ‘wiping’. You may want to change gloves between fawns so that you don't spread any potential diseases from fawn to fawn.

I usually recommend decreasing the number of feedings every 10 days or so by one. So at 10 days, drop to four feedings per day (6 am, 12 pm, 6 pm and 10-11 pm) and all they can eat. I know this is heresy and most people calculate things out to the ounce, but about 20 percent of body weight is all they can consume, and I have not had any problems. Once again, if you are doing something that works, don't change. I'm lazy and want my fawns to grow as fast as they can.

Generally with this schedule, feed three times per day around 20 days (6-7 am, 2-3 pm and 10-11 pm), twice a day at 30 days of age (6-7 am and 6-7 pm), and once a day at 40-50 days. You can wean them as soon as you think they are consuming enough dry feed and greens or you get tired of feeding them. I have several producers that feed three times a day from the start and don't have any problems. I'm probably going to try that this year due to my ‘free’ help starting to disappear. I may even be so bold as to go to twice a day after the first 3-5 days due to the fact that while doing some research, I found a couple of articles on normal (non-captive) deer feeding behavior and it indicated nursing activity of 2-3 times per day. I will let you know how that turns out

Offer fresh, clean water everyday in a small bowl. Also offer small amounts of “creep” feed or your regular deer ration. Keep it fresh and clean by cleaning the bowls daily and offering new feed. I generally recommend a 18% ration for fawns, but if you are successfully feeding 20%, that's fine. I also hand feed select ‘greens’ — hand-picked alfalfa, clover, dandelions, etc. — to the fawns every day for them to nibble on. You can also use very good quality alfalfa or other legume hay, but I think that they eat the fresh stuff better. Some people offer ‘clean’ dirt in a bowl from birth on. The theory is they get some nutrients from the dirt to help them and their intestinal tract function better. I know many people who do and don’t do this and they all get along fine.

I keep fawns in separate pens and isolated from other fawns for several reasons. They will ‘bond’ better to humans (may want to get them used to multiple people) if kept separate and it greatly decreases the chance of spreading disease between the fawns. Think like a dairy farmer raising calves in calf hutches. I generally mix the fawns in small groups depending on numbers and fawn growth and conditions at 3 to 6 weeks (or more). If they start to nurse/suck on each other (ears/tail/navel) then I either take them apart or spray vinegar or Chew Guard or Bitter Apple or Bitter Orange on the fawn part they are sucking on. The latter two products can be obtained from your veterinarian or catalog source.

Fawns could be weaned as early as 60 days or so following these guidelines, but it is usually best to base weaning on feed consumption and body condition. Bottle feeding is time consuming and milk replacer costs lots of money. You will have to use your best judgment and do what fits your situation best. Many people like to feed longer to keep the babies tame and used to humans. Some just like to feed the babies (so do I, but it does get old after a while!).

Pens should be on dirt (if possible) or the new raised decks may work well (I haven't tried them). The dirt should be covered with two to four inches or so of crushed limestone and then have shavings (or straw) on top. I think shavings work better and I am fond of cedar chips as I think they tend to keep flies away a little better plus I like their smell. Pine shavings or chips are fine but try to get kiln dried (cleaner with fewer bacteria in them) and try to stay away from sawdust on the really small fawns (gets in their eyes). I usually sprinkle some barn lime in every once in a while or when changing the shavings/straw as this changes the pH and tends to keep the bacteria down and the area ‘sweet. Especially as the fawns grow and start urinating enough to keep it wet. Make sure that you have good ventilation so the there is air circulating, but no drafts. This will also help keep the area dry.

Helpful Products
Some products that are commonly used that you may want to obtain prior to fawning are:

  • First Catch Fawn and First Fawn milk supplement from Labelle Inc.
  • Milk Replacer: Fawn specific such as Superior, Zoologic, Fox Valley, etc.
  • Goat milk replacer: Several companies provide this, but if it is inexpensive, it's probably not any good. Some cheap milk replacers are made from non-milk products and are less digestible. You generally get what you pay, so don’t buy the cheap stuff. Purina, Land-O-Lakes, ADM etc. are usually good sources. There may be others, but read the label. If in doubt, check with your veterinarian or nutritionist. If you are using a product that has a lamb/kid label, mix at the kid rates usually.
  • Pritchard nipples: Fawns generally take off on these better than others. They are available from a variety of sources. If in doubt, check Nasco.
  • Ear tags: Some states require a special ID. I also like to use the sheep/goat tags so they are double ID’ed.
  • Needles, syringes, medications.
  • Disinfectant for bottles, navel cord
  • Fawn cradle
  • Fawn masks
  • Put everything that you need in a “tote” or tool box for easy use
  • Record book: the shortest pencil is better than the longest memory!

I hope some of these suggestions help you have a successful and fun fawning season. By the way, I'm not endorsing any of these products, just using names that I am familiar with and have worked for me. If you are using other products or there are other products out there that work for you, by all means, use them. I’m not getting a kickback from anyone!