Nutrition of Fawns: Birth to Weaning

Deer : Nutrition

Michael Schlegel, Ph.D., PAS, Dipl. ACAS-Nutrition

Sr. Nutritionist, Wildlife & Small Ruminant Technical Solutions

A newborn fawn represents the start of a new generation, genetic improvement, and the future.  Since there has been an investment in the doe and the buck, it is important to get fawns off to a positive start to see that return.  Three items to a successful fawn program include colostrum consumption, getting fawns started on feed, and promoting growth.
One of the most critical management practices is to ensure that fawns consume colostrum within first 24-36 hours after birth to provide passive immunity (the transfer of antibodies from the doe to the fawn).  Fawns will typically nurse 36 minutes after birth4 (Townsend and Bailey, 1975).  If the doe rejects the fawn, colostrum replacers can be used to provide antibodies, but nothing is better than the doe’s colostrum.  Fawns with greater immunoglobulins (antibodies) at 24 hours after birth had greater survivability than those that did not survive2 (Evers et al., 2017).  Lack of colostrum consumption and failure of passive immunity in deer and livestock can increase the susceptibility to septicemia, diarrhea, other disease, and increase risk of mortality3 (Sams et al., 1996). Additionally, if the doe produces inadequate amounts of milk or rejects the fawn, an appropriate milk replacer should be used to feed the fawn.  In a breeding facility, this is also a good time to consult the herd veterinarian to ensure appropriate vaccines and other health procedures are completed.
Fawns begin nibbling on dry feed starting at two weeks of age4 (Short, 1964).  In deer breeding facilities, this is a good time to provide a fawn diet in a creep area that only the fawns have access.  The fawn diet should be palatable to attract the fawns to the creep area and be kept fresh.  It is also ideal for the fawn diet to be similar to the adult diet to allow an easy transition at weaning time.  The goal is to provide supplemental energy and nutrients to the fawn in excess to what the doe can provide through the milk. The creep area should be an area out of the weather with clean dry bedding and, fresh-clean water.  The fawn diet should be fed through weaning and slowly replaced with the adult diet during the weaning process.
The extra energy consumed by the fawns through the fawn diet is potentially beneficial for winter survival and reproduction.  Verme and Ozonga (1980) demonstrated that fawns receiving additionally energy had greater fat deposits and therefore hypothesized greater winter survival5.  Likewise, buck fawns that had greater body weights in mid-Fall were more likely to survive through mid-Winter (unpublished data).  Abler et al., (1976) also demonstrated that doe fawns that consumed diets higher in energy had a greater concentration of a circulating reproduction hormone suggesting these does reached puberty earlier1.

By ensuring fawns have successful beginnings, they will be provided optimal nutrition to support their body condition and are more likely to express their genetic potential for antler growth, reproduction and have productive futures.

1Abler, W.A., D.E. Buckland, R.L. Kirkpatrick and P.F. Scanlon. 1976. Plasma progestins and puberty in fawns as influenced by energy and protein. Journal of Wildlife Management. 40:442-446.
 2Evers, E.E., K.J. Stutts, J.L leatherwood, C.R. Stewart, C.J. Hammer, and M.J. Anderson. 2017. Evaluation of passive transfer immunity and predicting survivability in newborn white-tailed deer fawns. Journal of Animal Science. 95(Suppl. S4): 43-44.
 3Sams, M.G, R.L. Lochmiller, C.W. Qualls, Jr., D.M Leslie, Jr., and M.E. Payton. 1996. Physiological correlates of neonatal mortality in an overpopulated herd of white-tailed deer. Journal of Mammalogy. 77:179-190.
 4Short, H.L. 1964. Postnatal stomach development of white-tailed deer. Journal of Wildlife Management. 28:445-458.
Townsend, T.W. and E.D Bailey. 1975. Parturitional, early maternal, and neonatal behavior in penned white-tailed deer.  Journal of Mammalogy. 56:347-362.
 5Verme, L.J. and J.J Ozoga. 1980. Influence of protein-energy intake on deer fawns in Autumn. Journal of Wildlife Management. 44:305-314.