The last rain we had was over a month ago and that was only one tenth of an inch. We are in a record-breaking drought. The grass is not only dead, it is disintegrating and the yard and pasture has spots of powdery dirt where native buffalo grass grew before.
(Photo - triplet fawns from several years ago)
(Photo - triplet fawns from several years ago)
Deer are not really grass eaters; they eat the little “herbs and forbs” that grow in with the grass. Those things we call “weeds”. They are non-existent right now. They will also eat the young soft leaves of the oak trees. Most of our live oaks do not have many leaves, if any, this year. They dropped the old leaves like they do in early Spring each year but there was no rain so they didn’t leaf out completely. They fight for their survival by doing this. They never bloomed so there will be no acorns this fall, the food the deer depend on most to survive the winter.
I have two tiny native mesquite trees in a planting bed in the yard. They have been between 1 – 2 feet tall for years because the deer eat them as soon as they get any new leaves. I should just let them die but when I water the plants in that bed I water them so that the deer will have a tiny bite of something green. One bite won’t keep anything alive, but I do it anyway because I can’t not do it.
We have been feeding our two longhorns for 11 months straight now as the grass died early last August and we have not had any since then. They only have what we feed them, although earlier when the little white oaks were leafing out they nibbled on them. All over the property you can see broken cedar branches where they have gone up under trees to get the last of the green grass that grows there.
We throw a bucket of corn out every day for the deer. It is only a treat as there is not enough nutrition in it to keep them alive and there are about 8 to 12 deer that come out to eat it.
We have more birds this year than ever and we feed them at 4 stations. We feed milo to the many Rio Grande turkeys we have. They come into the yard every day for water and to eat any birdseed on the ground. The turkeys have not had any babies this year and the hens have already regrouped together like they do when they are not nesting or raising their babies. Nature at work again keeping the eggs from hatching. A little moisture is needed to keep the eggs viable, and there has not been any, not even in the humidity, or lack of.
We have 3 water troughs and they draw the wildlife in. Years ago we noticed that an armadillo could not reach the water so we added a stone step so that the short animals could get to it. We have watched them climb up on it to get to the life-sustaining water.
(Photo - the tall grass from several years ago is gone now)
We put leftover lettuce and greens out for a little cottontail that lives somewhere close. A few times we turned the sprinkler on a little area of the yard hoping to green the grass up so the cottontail and the jackrabbits would have some green to eat. But we are on a well and it is a drought so we have to be careful with the water. When I am watering the garden and the couple of xeriscaped planting beds I have I spray some on the buffalo grass by the garden gate hoping to keep it alive until we get rain so that it doesn’t disappear entirely.
We have seen several pregnant does this year. Most have aborted the babies already. When conditions are so dry and inhospitable to life this is Nature’s way of keeping the mother alive for another year.
(Photo - Doe and fawn from a year when grass was high)
Last night I was looking out the front window and a mother with newborn twins came out of the wooded area by where we throw the corn out. The twins had just been born. They were so tiny and she was still licking them to clean them from the birth. They walked on wobbly legs and one even broke into a little run. They were beautiful. The mother looked weak and her legs seemed to wobble more than the fawns. She kept the babies by the protection of the trees.
I marveled at the wonder of birth and my heart soared to see that she had triumphed over Nature’s harsh practicality and had kept and delivered her babies. And at the same time I cried to think of the prospects she and her babies had. Odds are that she won’t have any milk and the babies will die before they even get a chance to live. Or she will starve to death as the babies drain every bit of nourishment she manages to take in. Then the babies will die of starvation. If they can make it to the weaning stage, which is months away, and she dies, another doe will usually allow them to hang around her and she will help protect them from predators.
This morning I looked out the kitchen window and the little doe that hangs around the yard a lot was browsing trying to find some plants to eat, even if they were dead. A tiny pine siskin bird was at her heels following every step and turn she made, hoping she stirred up a tiny bug or two. It looks like the little yard deer is pregnant still. Her hide is darker than most of the other does and last year she stayed in the yard a lot, not running off very far when we went outside. She knows to go behind the hay shed and see if there is any alfalfa on the ground from the bales we feed the longhorns and that is where she was headed.
And if there’s one thing that she don’t need, it’s another little hungry mouth to feed………..
I will be watching to see if we have another little fawn soon. This would be her first baby. The odds will be against this baby also. But sometimes, even against all odds, life survives. And the moms will fight against Nature and against every hardship that comes to their babies. And sometimes they will die so that their babies might live. They don’t do this as we might, by thinking about it. The gift or burden of reason is not theirs. They do it instinctively and never give it a thought.
I am cheering you on, moms and babies.
And I’ll throw out a little more corn and drop a little more alfalfa behind the hay shed.