Caring for your new baby
It is important to note that in most states, you must secure a permit to raise wildlife such as deer and elk on your property. If you do not have a permit, and you discover a fawn or elk calf that appears to be orphaned, do not touch the newborn. Immediately contact your local Department of Natural Resources or a permitted wildlife rehabilitation organization in your area. They will be able to determine whether the newborn is truly orphaned, and provide the critical care he needs.
For those who have gone through the permitting process and are committed to raising healthy, productive wildlife, proper care and nutrition for newborn fawns and elk calves will provide them the best start at life. A newborn’s feeding needs change quickly in the first weeks, so being prepared ahead of time for each phase will help get your new fawn or calf off to a strong nutritional start.
Feeding & nutrition in the first weeks
0-48 Hours: Fawns and calves will naturally begin nursing within two hours of birth, to take advantage of the immense immune benefits of the mother’s colostrum. However, if the doe or cow had a difficult birth requiring human intervention, she will often reject her newborn. If the newborn is unable or unwilling to nurse naturally, a colostrum replacer or supplement is critical to ensure that he is receiving adequate nutrition in his first hours of life. Start bottle feeding a colostrum supplement like Ultra Start® Multi Colostrum Supplement within 4 hours if at all possible, while the newborn’s body is best equipped to absorb the critical nutrients in the formula. Continue bottle feeding every three to four hours for the first one to two days. Handle the fawn or calf as little as possible, and wear latex gloves to minimize the transfer of human scent to the fawn or calf if he will still be living with the doe.
Days 1-2: After 24-48 hours, it is time to switch to milk replacer for fawns or calves who are not nursing naturally or adequately. Milk or milk replacer provides the primary source of nutrition until weaning. Always choose a milk replacer with at least 24% protein, such as Grade A® Ultra 24 Multi-Purpose Milk Replacer to provide the optimal blend of energy (carbohydrates and fat), protein, vitamins and minerals for healthy deer or elk development. As a general rule, it is best to feed them animal milk replacer by bottle 8x per day, because smaller, more frequent feedings will increase digestibility and minimize digestive upset.
Weeks 1-2: Continue feeding milk replacer 6-8x per day or allow your newborn to nurse. Then begin feeding a deer, goat kid or calf starter feed concentrate in a location that is not easily accessible to adult deer and elk. This is also a good time to introduce forage (hay) for the fawn or calf to nibble on. Deer and elk are ruminants, with a 4-part stomach built for digesting large quantities of forage, and this early feeding of forage and grain helps jump-start rumen development. High quality alfalfa hay, legume hay or other forbaceous plants are best at this age for optimal digestion.
Weeks 3-12: Continue feeding milk replacer 6x per day and gradually reduce the number of feedings to one at week 12 (see the packaging for specific feeding rates) as your fawn or calf is eating more starter or pelleted feed, forage and water. The fawn or calf’s exact age is not the most important factor; what matters most is that he is consuming ample nutrition from forage and feed before weaning begins.
Don’t forget the water! Water is one of the most important elements of the animal’s nutrition. Keeping the water clean and fresh will encourage the fawn or calf to drink adequately.
Special nutritional needs
Even the best-cared-for fawns and calves will occasionally fall ill, and your veterinarian will be the best source of information and advice for caring for sick animals. But when a fawn or calf develops scours (diarrhea), it is important to make sure he is consuming enough nutrients and is staying hydrated. The fawn or calf may benefit from additional calories to help fight off the infection or illness that is causing the scours. But most critically, you will need to help him reverse the fluid and electrolyte loss by feeding an electrolyte supplement such as Electrolytes Plus™. Electrolyte supplements do not contain all the nutrients of milk replacer, so be sure to offer the electrolytes in addition to the fawn or calf’s normal diet.
Fawns and calves over the age of 2 weeks have a risk of contracting coccidiosis, a serious illness caused by a parasite or protozoa called coccidia. If you see blood in your fawn or calf’s stool, especially if it is watery, contact your veterinarian, who can analyze a fecal sample to confirm a coccidiosis diagnosis and prescribe an anticoccidial to treat the disease.
Mixing & feeding tips
Follow the mixing instructions listed on the package. Measuring the powder by weight with a hanging scale is more accurate than measuring by volume with a scoop or cup. Always mix until the powder is dissolved. When mixing large batches for multiple fawns or calves, add the powder before you’ve added all the warm water (115-120ºF), then add enough water to bring to volume. This is an important detail to achieve the intended nutrient content.
Feeding the fawn or calf milk replacer that is at his body temperature (~102ºF) will encourage optimal consumption. However, always follow the mixing and water temperature instructions on the package for the colostrum or milk replacer product you are feeding, as the recommended mixing temperature will vary by product formulation.
Sanitation is another important aspect of feeding your fawn or calf and preventing illness, because bacteria grows very quickly on feeding equipment. Wash your bottles, nipples and buckets in soapy water and rinse well after every feeding, and never mix new colostrum or milk replacer with already-mixed product that has been sitting out, unrefrigerated. Moisture creates an optimal breeding ground for bacteria, so allow your equipment to dry thoroughly between feedings. Check the nipples often for damage, because cracked or worn nipple holes can lead to over consumption or faster-than-usual feedings that can cause digestive upset.
Newborn fawns and calves will stay bedded for most of their first four to five weeks of life, so a clean, comfortable bedding location is very important. Use clean straw as bedding, not sawdust, which can be easily inhaled by the newborn. A heat lamp can help keep the fawn or calf at a more comfortable temperature. Gradually raise the temperature in the stall to match the outdoor ambient temperature before releasing the fawn or calf outdoors with the rest of the herd, usually around 2-4 weeks of age. If the weather is warm enough to keep the newborn fawn or calf outdoor, provide small lean-tos or hutches that will give the newborns protection from aggressive bucks in the herd and other predators.
Ensuring adequate ventilation without direct drafts will make the fawn or calf more comfortable, as well as reduce the moisture, animal odors and gasses that can cause respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. If you can smell ammonia in the barn, or if you see condensation on the walls or ceiling, it may be a sign that the barn does not have adequate ventilation for your newborn. Windows, fans and inlets around the ceiling perimeter allow fresh, cold air from the outside to mix with warm air before coming into contact with the fawn or calf.
With a little advance preparation, sound nutrition and a healthy environment, your deer or elk will be off to a strong start at life!