Hand-rearing Deer (Wildlife Casualty Management)
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Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B. This information should be read in association with Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Capreolus capreolus - Western roe deer, Cervus elaphus - Red deer, Cervus nippon - Sika deer, Dama dama - Fallow deer, Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer, Muntiacus reevesi - Chinese muntjac.

These species are from the family Cervidae.

  • Deer fawns/calves are commonly left unattended for long periods of time, particularly in the first weeks of life.
  • If a fawn which has been found and inappropriately "rescued" is returned to its original location as soon as possible (less than 24 hours) there is a good chance the mother will return for it. It should be observed discreetly from a distance to avoid scaring the mother and interfering with her returning and taken for rearing only if its mother fails to return or if it shows signs of ill health or injury.
  • When a lactating female has been killed at a time of year such that the fawn is likely still to be dependant, it may be worth searching the area for the fawn.
  • (P19.3.w2)

Initial Care: 

General mammal information: 

  • On arrival any young mammal should be weighed, warmed, stimulated to urinate/defecate and given supplementary fluids by an appropriate route to counteract dehydration.
  • The age should be determined if possible. (See individual species information pages, sections "Appearance - Neonate" and "Life Stages - Reproductive stages").
  • The first feed given should be an oral rehydration (electrolyte) solution (e.g. Lectade, Pfizer Limited), with a gradual changeover to a milk substitute over several feeds.
  • See: Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife for further general information.

Deer specific information:

  • Give immunoglobulins if colostrum intake is suspected to have been inadequate: e.g. Grovax (Hoechst Roussel Vet Ltd.), 10ml subcutaneous over the rib cage (P19.1.w8); or commercial calf or lamb colostrum replacers given by mouth (V.w26).
  • Age determination of deer fawns/calves:
    • New-born: coat very soft, umbilicus moist, hoof tips soft and pale;
    • Less than one week: unsteady gait, "all legs" with "hollow"-looking body, umbilical cord dry;
    • More than one week old: more "filled out", better balance and movement.
    • (P19.1.w8, B195)

General Care (including warmth and hygiene):

General mammal information

  • Keep out of draughts but ensure ventilation is adequate.(B194, V.w5)

Deer specific information:

  • House in draught-free building.
  • A young fawn may be housed in a suitably-sized sturdy wooden box initially.
  • Within a room or pen, provide a corner within which the fawn can shelter out of sight.
  • Preferably should be an adjacent enclosed yard or run.
  • For the older fawn/calf, a fenced area with a wind-proof shelter should be provided.
  • Provide some warmth for the first one to two weeks.
  • A dry, clean floor is required with hay or hay-over-straw on the floor.
  • Ensure the substrate provides a secure footing: e.g. carpeting for a young fawn in a box.
  • Change bedding regularly, before it becomes noticeably fouled.
  • Keep feeding bottles etc. clean - store in a sterilising solution such as Milton (Proctor & Gamble).
  • Wipe milk off face with warm damp sponge after each feed, particularly if feeding from a bucket, to avoid hair loss due to "milk scald".
  • (B158.1.3.3.w2, P19.1.w8, V.w5, V.w18)

Milk replacer:

  • Deer milks contain 19-26% dry matter, 6-11% fat, 6-10% protein, 3-5% sugar and 1.1-2% ash.(B173.w1)
    • Cervus elaphus - Red deer milk: Solids 19.6%, energy 1.26 kcal/ml, fat 39% of dry matter, protein 36% of dry matter, carbohydrate 19% of dry matter, ash 6% of dry matter.(P19.1.w5)
    • Dama dama - Fallow deer milk: Solids 19.6%, energy 1.30 kcal/ml, fat 43% of dry matter, protein 35% of dry matter, carbohydrate 17% of dry matter, ash 5% of dry matter.(P19.1.w5)
    • Capreolus capreolus - Western roe deer: Solids 24.0%, energy 1.56 kcal/ml, fat 50% of dry matter, protein 29% of dry matter, carbohydrate 15% of dry matter, ash 6% of dry matter.(P19.1.w5)
    • Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer: single milk sample reported as solids 18.4%, fat 6.1%, protein 8.1%.(J23.27.w1)
  • Suggested milk replacers include:
    • Colostrum for feeding during the first day e.g. fresh or frozen goat's, cow's or ewe's colostrum (or artificial colostrum formula if nothing else is available).
    • Ewe milk replacer with 20% solids (e.g. Lamlac, Volac Feeds) appears suitable.(B151, B158.1.3.1.w1, B156.12.w12)
    • Ewe milk replacer plus one beaten egg, 5ml cod-liver oil, one tablespoon glucose, per litre of milk.(P19.1.w8)
    • Goat's colostrum/goat's milk for roe deer.(V.w18, D24)
    • In Australia, undiluted evaporated cow's milk has been used.(B158.1.3.1.w1)
    • In New Zealand, fresh full-cream cow's milk with the addition (per litre) of one egg, 5ml cod liver oil and 20g glucose has been used.(B158.1.3.1.w1)
  • Additives:
    • A sod of earth should be provided for the fawn/calf to nibble from an early age to allow it to obtain minerals, particularly iron; alternatively or additionally iron dextran injections may be given. (B158.1.3.3.w2, B173.w1, V.w5 V.w18)


  • Lamb bottle with lamb teat, or human bottle, for larger species.(B151, B158.1.3.1.w1)
  • Cut 1cm slit across teat hole to ensure ready flow of milk when teat is squeezed. (P19.1.w8)
  • Different teat types should be available as individuals may differ in the type of teat preferred (e.g. rubber or silicone).(V.w18)
  • Different sizes and types of hole in the teat may be required to adjust milk intake. (V.w18)
  • Esbilac puppy bottle for smaller species.(B151)
  • Dish, bucket or multiple-suckling unit later.(B158.1.3.1.w1, J23.27.w1)
  • Bucket (may be used from 6-7 days old).(P19.1.w8)
  • Stomach tube may be used for an individual which persistently refuses to feed. (J23.27.w1)

Feeding Frequency:

General mammal information: 

  • Varies depending on species.
  • In general, every 2-3 hours during the day and longer intervals at night.(P3.1987.w5)

Deer specific information:

  • Suggested feeding frequencies include:
    • Feed little and often.(B158.1.3.1.w1)
    • Four to five times a day.(B151)
    • Every two to three hours for Capreolus capreolus - Western roe deer kids for the first one to two weeks.(B158.1.3.3.w2)
    • Gradually decrease number of feeds per day, with simultaneous increase in volume per feed.
    • New-borns, feed five times daily, 0800-2400, reducing to once daily before weaning at 100 days. (J34.9.w1)
    • Twelve feeds per day for up to one week old, eight feeds per day for 1-5 weeks, six feeds per day for 5-8 weeks, four feeds per day to 12 weeks. (B195)
    • Five to six feeds per day, with no night feeds, initially, reducing to four feeds per day by two weeks old and three feeds per day by one month old for Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer. (J23.27.w1)
  • N.B. establish routine, with feeds at same time each day.(P19.1.w8)

Feeding Technique: 

General mammal information:

  • Encouraging feeding:
    • Larger animals - insert teat in mouth, directed towards roof of mouth, and massage throat gently to encourage swallowing.
    • (P3.1987.w5)

Deer specific information:

  • Make up powdered milk with freshly boiled, cooled water.
  • Feed milk warm (37C) (B158.1.3.1.w1); 30-40C (P19.1.w8).
  • Nurse with the calf/fawn in a standing position.
  • Hold bottle at 45 degrees, gently holding calf's muzzle around the teat with the other hand.
  • Lean over calf to simulate doe's body if it pulls away.
  • Simultaneous massage of rump and anal area may be important.
  • Restraint should be avoided if possible, but may be required for some individuals.
  • For sucking from bucket: let calf suckle index and middle finger, lower hand into milk until calf is sucking milk through fingers. Gradually withdraw fingers. Expect to take two or three feeds to suck milk effectively.
  • (B158.1.3.1.w1, B195, P19.1.w8, V.w18)


General mammal information:

  • Energy intake (kilocalories per day) = 200-250 x weight (kg) 0.83. (P19.1.w5, P3.1987.w3)

General artiodactylids information:

  • May be fed 10% of body weight per day and about 20ml/kg/feed for 4 to 6 feeds daily.(J34.9.w1)

Deer specific information:

  • Gradually increase volume fed per feed.
  • Avoid overfeeding: N.B. fawns/kids will not necessarily self-limit their milk volume intake to the correct amount and may overfeed if given the opportunity to do so.
  • Maximum 3-4% of body weight at any one feed: frequent small feeds are preferable. (B173.w1)


General mammal information:

  • Most infant mammals require gentle stimulation of the ano-genital area (using e.g. a damp cotton bud, damp cotton wool or damp soft paper towel) in order to urinate and defecate. This should be done when the animal is first presented and at every feed until voluntary elimination is observed.

Deer specific information:

  • Massage anal area during each feed to stimulate defecation, until regular voluntary defecation is observed .
  • May be important to stimulate nursing.
  • Burping (winding) may also be needed.
  • Meconium (first faeces): dark, putty-like and passed at one to two days old.
  • Up to two to three weeks: yellow, soft, sticky faeces, not formed.
  • Two to three weeks onwards: firm dark pellets.
  • (B151, B158.1.3.3.w2, B173.w1, P19.1.w8)


General mammal information:

  • Weigh daily. 

Deer specific information:

  • Weighing should be carried out sufficiently often to allow progress to be monitored but allowances must be made for minimising stress caused by repeated capture.
  • Cervus elaphus - Red deer: Aim for weight gain of 330-350g/day, minimum 2kg per week.(B158.1.3.1.w1)
  • Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer growth rates:
    • Average about 50g/day weight gain to 28 days (reaching mean 1.7kg body weight), later about 65g/day, to average 7.9kg body weight by about 130 days.
    • Mother-reared for comparison: from average 887g birth weight (range 625-1050g) to average 1.7kg body weight (range 1100-2150g) by 10 days old; mean weight gain 70g/day. Reduced to about 40g/day after weaning at 50-70 days.
  • (J23.27.w1)


  • Solid food in the form of grass, hay, and small quantities of concentrates should be available from an early age, even a few days old.
  • Water and soil (e.g. a sod of earth, or time outside where soil is available) should be made available from a few days old so that the fawn/kid can have access to minerals in the soil e.g.iron.
  • Initial foods offered may include grass, hay, dandelions, chickweed, chopped fruit and vegetables.
  • Browse should be available for browsing species from about 1-2 weeks old.
  • Concentrates offered may be such feeds as a coarse goat mix or a rolled cereal mix.
  • Expect appreciable intake of solid food by six weeks old (for Cervus elaphus - Red deer). (B158.1.3.1.w1)
  • Suggested times for full weaning vary:
    • "As early as possible".(B151)
    • Weaning may be possible at 8 weeks, although providing milk to 12 weeks is preferable (for Cervus elaphus - Red deer). (B158.1.3.1.w1)
    • Weaned at 100 days.(J34.9.w1)
    • Weaned at 6-10 weeks, Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer. (J23.27.w1)

Examples of suggested species-specific rearing regimes:

Notes on rearing Cervus elaphus - Red deer calves:

  • a) (B158.1.3.1.w1)
  • Day 1: 4-5 feeds, 50-100ml per feed, feed colostrum
  • Day 2: 5 feeds, 80-120ml/feed
  • Day 3: five feeds, 150ml/feed
  • Day 4: four feeds, 200-250ml/feed
  • Day 6 four feeds, 250-300ml/feed
  • Day 7: 4 feeds, 300ml/feed
  • Day 8: 3 feeds, 400ml/feed
  • Day 9: 3 feeds, 400-500ml/feed
  • Day 10-14: 3 feeds, 500ml/feed, by 14 days 2 feeds, 750ml/feed
  • Two to three weeks: two feeds, 800-900 ml/feed
  • Three weeks and older: two feeds, 1,000ml/feed
  • b) P19.1.w8
  • Day 1: 4-5 feeds, 30-80ml/feed
  • Day 2: 5 feeds, 50-100ml/feed
  • Day 3: 5 feeds, 80-120ml/feed
  • Day 4: 5 feeds, 150ml/feed
  • Day 5: 4 feeds, 200ml/feed
  • Day6: 4 feed, 250ml/feed
  • Day 7 4 feeds, 300ml/feed
  • Day 8: 4 feeds, 400ml/feed
  • Days 9 to11: 3 feeds, 600ml/feed
  • Days 12 to14: 3 feeds, 700ml/feed
  • Weeks 3 to5: 3 feeds, 750ml/feed
  • Week 6: 3 feeds, 750-1000ml/feed
  • Weeks 7 to 8: 3 feeds, 100ml/feed
  • Week 9: 2 feed, 1000-1200 ml/feed
  • Week 10: 2 feeds, 1200ml/feed
  • Week 11: 1 feed, 1200-1400ml/feed
  • Week 12: 1 feed, 1400ml/feed

Notes of rearing Dama dama - Fallow deer:

  • As for Cervus elaphus - Red deer, but halve all quantities while keeping the feeding frequency unchanged. (P19.1.w8, B158.1.3.1.w1)

Notes on rearing Capreolus capreolus - Western roe deer: (V.w18, D24)

  • Very shy and not easy to hand-rear.
  • May feed properly from only one person: will not accept an unfamiliar person.
  • Considerable time investment may be required to gain the fawn's confidence and persuade it to suckle.
  • Provide access to earth/sods from an early age.
  • Provide access to fresh browse from about three weeks old.
  • (V.w18)
  • A quarter of the quantities indicated for Cervus elaphus - Red deer while keeping the feeding frequency unchanged. (P19.1.w8, B158.1.3.1.w1)

Notes on rearing Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer: (J23.27.w1)

  • Colostrum (100ml per fawn over first 24 hours) for first day and then decreasing proportion over next 1-3 days.
  • Lamlac (Volac Limited) has been used successfully for several fawns, at 20g/100ml (as for lambs) or at 30g/100ml water.
  • A milk replacer made by mixing Universal milk in the ration of 50:20:5 (high fat: high protein: high carbohydrate) has been used successfully for several fawns. This replacer gave crude fat 40.3%, crude protein 32.3%, sugar 16.4%, ash 4.6%, metabolisable energy 5.8 kcal/g, as stored. This was made up as 18g per 100ml of water, giving an "as fed" metabolisable energy of 0.9 kcal/ml.
  • Estimated daily requirement 250kcal/kg0.75/day.
  • Schedule 1:
    • Initial (approximately two days old) bottle feeding with a Catac kitten bottle and teat.
    • Change to feeding from a dish at 2-3 weeks old.
    • 10ml per feed initially, five feeds per day from 0700hrs to 2000hrs (no overnight feeds).
    • Volume increase to 25ml/feed by fifth day, 30ml/feed at seventh day, 40ml at 9th day.
    • At 14 days, volume of 60ml/feed, but reduced to four feeds per day.
    • From the outset, soil, mineral licks, fresh grass, water and small quantities of concentrates should be available.
    • Intake of solid food noted before ten days old.
    • From 1-2 weeks browse such as oak Quercus spp. and beech Fagus silvaticus should be available.
    • Weaned completely by about six weeks old.
  • Schedule 2:
    • Initially 5-6 feeds per day, 0700-2300, reaching a total daily intake of at least 200ml within 3-4 days.
    • Feeding reduced to three times daily by one month.
    • Volume provided reduced to less than 100ml/day by about seven weeks.
    • Weaned completely by about 10 weeks.
  • Growth rates:
    • Average weight gain about 50g/day to 28 days (reaching mean body weight 1.7kg), later about 65g/day, to average 7.9kg body weight by about 130 days.
    • Mother-reared for comparison: from average 887g birth weight (range 625-1050g) to average 1.7kg body weight (range1100-2150g) by 10 days old; mean weight gain 70g/day. Reduced to about 40g/day after weaning at 50-70 days.
  • (J23.27.w1)


Appropriate Use (?)
  • Wild animals should not be taken for hand-rearing unless they are definitely orphaned, abandoned or injured, or in immediate danger.
  • Hand-rearing is suitable for fawns/calves which are actually orphaned - e.g. due to a road traffic accident killing the mother, or are themselves injured. (B158.1.3.3.w2, B195 P19.1.w8)
  • Fawns/calves wrongly taken from the wild but which cannot be returned to their site of origin due to a prolonged time since the infant was picked up or insufficient data on its site of origin will also require hand-rearing.
  • Wrongly "rescued" deer fawns/calves returned to their original location within 6 hours may be accepted by their mother (B158.1.3.3.w2); fawns/calves returned within 24 hours may be accepted.(P19.3.w2)
  • Check for injuries, e.g. from barbed wire, agricultural machinery.(P19.1.w8)
  • A single carer should be responsible for each fawn/calf.
  • Fawns/calves may take two or three feeds to suck from the bottle properly and may not take proper quantities of milk for one or two days.(P19.1.w8)
  • Some individual roe deer may take a prolonged time to come to the bottle.(V.w18)
  • Individuals may vary in the type of teat (e.g. rubber or silicone) which they will accept. (V.w18)
  • The size of hole in the teat may need to be varied (between individuals and over time) to ensure appropriate milk flow without either excess sucking or too-rapid intake. (V.w18)
  • If change in milk formulation is necessary, change gradually or it may be refused. (B158.1.3.1.w1, P19.1.w8)
  • Access to a sod of earth, or alternatively injections of iron dextran, are important when milks from domestic ruminants (i.e. low in iron) are used. A sod of earth should be provided for the fawn/calf to nibble from an early age.(B158.1.3.3.w2, B173.w1, V.w5, V.w18)
  • Colostrum (stored frozen, thawed before use) should be given to any calf/fawn under one day old. (B173.w1)
  • Transfer of immunoglobulins is maximal in the first 12 hours of life and has virtually ceased by 24 hours. Injection of serum from an adult may be required if insufficient immunoglobulin absorption is suspected. (B173.w1)
  • Vaccinations which may be considered include E. coli / Salmonella vaccine (e.g. Grovax or Ecosan, Hoechst Animal Health), and polyvalent clostridial vaccine (e.g. Heptavac, Hoechst Animal Health.) (J23.27.w1)
  • Weaning may be quite rapid once solid food is being eaten in significant amounts; the amount of milk provided can be reduced more rapidly to encourage increased solid food consumption.(B173.w1)
  • Very young fawns/calves are usually not afraid of humans and are easier to rear. (P19.1.w8)
  • Older individuals, particularly injured animals, may be very stressed from contact with humans.(P19.1.w8)
  • Ensure fawns/calves get sufficient exercise from an early age, including running until panting, to build up fitness. (V.w18)
  • Exercise is very important from about two weeks old.(P19.1.w8)
  • Routine records should be maintained of daily weight, times of each feed, quantities of milk consumed, urine/faeces production and general condition/demeanour. Such records provide an objective means of assessing progress and provide useful data for improving rearing methods.(V.w5)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Artificial teat may not be accepted for first 36-48 hours.(B158.1.3.3.w2)
  • Stomach tubing may be required initially if the bottle is refused.(B158.1.3.3.w2, P19.1.w8)
  • Abruptly changed milk formulation (e.g. change in brand) may be refused. (B158.1.3.1.w1, P19.1.w8)
  • Feeding colostrum to neonates is very important.
  • If milk is given by stomach tube there is a risk of the stomach tube entering the trachea instead of the oesophagus therefore tube placement must be checked before milk is given by tube.
  • Deer calves/fawns are unable to correctly control milk intake when hand-reared and will consume far too much milk if this is provided.(B173.w1)
  • Diarrhoea will result if milk is provided ad libitum or in excess.
  • Capreolus capreolus - Western roe deer are shy and difficult to rear.(V.w18, D24)
  • Capreolus capreolus - Western roe deer need a single consistent carer if they are to feed properly.(V.w18, D24)
  • If a fawn will not come to the bottle and must be restrained for feeding, the time during which it sucks may be quite short (e.g. 30 seconds).(V.w18)
  • Settling a fawn which has been "messed around" (e.g. with several other people) may take some considerable time (weeks rather than days).(V.w18)
  • Avoid draughts, particularly for young fawns.(V.w5, V.w18)
  • If a hand-reared male is unsuitable for release and the decision has been made to keep it in permanent care, e.g. for educational purposes, castration is vital for most species as entire hand-reared male deer which lack fear of humans can be very dangerous. Hand-reared Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer generally revert to being wary of humans.
  • If a roe deer buck is to be castrated this must be done at 5.5-6 months old, as soon as the testes have descended and before the antlers have begun to bud, to avoid the development of "perruque" antlers which are not only unsightly but may interfere with vision.(V.w18)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Goat's milk: available from many supermarkets and health food stores.
  • Colostrum (goat's if available, otherwise cow's): available from farms.
  • Ewe milk replacer: e.g. Lamlac (Volac Ltd., Orwell, Royston, Hertfordshire, UK).
  • Universal milk replacer (Special Diet Services Ltd., PO Box 705, Witham, Essex CM8 3AD, UK).
  • Ecosan (Hoechst Animal Health, Walton Manor, Walton, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire MK7 7AJ, UK).
  • Heptavac (Hoechst Animal Health, Walton Manor, Walton, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire MK7 7AJ, UK).
  • Grovax (Hoechst Roussel Vet Ltd.), 
  • Catac kitten bottles (Catac Products Ltd., Bedford, UK).
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Ease of hand-rearing varies with species, e.g. red deer and fallow deer are not too difficult, while roe deer are much more challenging. (V.w18, D24)
  • Considerable effort required, particularly in the first two weeks of hand-rearing. (B158.1.3.3.w2)
  • Considerable time commitment involved.
  • Requires empathy, observation skills and the ability to "read" the animal's body language.
  • Experience with hand-rearing is useful and likely to greatly increase the success rate.
Cost/ Availability
  • Products and equipment are all widely available, and not particularly expensive.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Hand-rearing should not be started unless the carer is prepared to give the time and effort required for rearing to release, or to ensure that appropriate care will be continued through to release.
  • Consider whether hand-rearing is the best option for the individual compared with leaving it in the wild.
  • Consider whether euthanasia is a more humane/kinder option for the individual than attempting hand-rearing.
  • Tame hand-reared male deer are dangerous and must not released.
  • Hand-reared deer of social species may never fully integrate into a group in the wild.
  • The release of both Cervus nippon - Sika deer and Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi - Chinese muntjac) without a licence is prohibited under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Section 14, as both are listed in Schedule 9 of the Act. (J35.147.w1, W5.Jan01)
  • An offence may be committed under the Abandonment of Animals Act, 1960 Section 1 if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival (i.e. a chance similar to its non-rehabilitated peers). It is an offence under this Act for a person having control or charge of an animal to abandon it permanently or otherwise in circumstances likely to cause unnecessary suffering. This may include release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, unfit, not having learned to hunt, at the wrong time of year etc. (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, W5.Jan01)
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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