Raising Fawns

In 1998, the Ministik Wildlife Research Station was granted a permit to accept up to 30 whitetail and mule deer fawns orphaned in the province of Alberta. The Station located about an hour east of Edmonton, Alberta Canada is affiliated with the University of Alberta.

At the recent Alberta Whitetail and Mule Deer conference, Barry Irving, Manager of the Station, spoke about their experiences in raising these orphan fawns.

Mr. Irving indicated that the brand of milk-replacer did not seem to matter even though others users occasionally experienced problems with certain brands, e.g., broken bones, etc. They attribute their success to providing free-choice supplements for the fawns to nibble on right from the beginning.

At Ministik, the fawns were “fed to consumption” i.e., until they were full. For the first three weeks, the fawns were fed 4 times a day (not at night). This was reduced to 3 feedings a day after that. The fawns were weaned at 90 days. Feedings were done using a plastic pail with 10 nipples. This worked well except for a few problem fawns that had to be fed by hand. (I have heard from other deer farmers who have used this method with success as well. It is a viable alternative to the fixed-time, fixed-amount feeding schedule described on our website).

Mr. Irving made the following observations based on his experiences with bottle feeding at Ministik. Fawns seem to prefer women care-takers compared to men. Don’t panic if a fawn misses an occasional feeding. They can go up to four days without feed and still do fine. Learn to be patient. Every fawn is different and individual. Take time to learn about each one. Keep good records – about every feeding, weight and any health problems.

Ministik lost 12 fawns (about half of their orphan fawns) in 1999 due to a cryptosporidium outbreak. It is now believed that the cryptosporidium was introduced into the deer pen by an infected fawn. Cryptosporidium is a protozoa that is spread via feces resulting in uncontrollable diarrhea. It is highly contagious and usually fatal. There currently is no known treatment for it. Use of commercial dried cow colostrum seemed to help in a few cases.