Little Levi

Levi the baby deer and why I bottle fed him.

Little Levi

Little Levi, Christy Coleman's little fawn

More often than not, the questions that roll into my DMs are asking about Levi.

How did I get it? Is it my pet? Does it live in the house? Is Levi a girl or a boy? Will it have antlers? 

So, it seemed fitting that I share her story here in hopes it sheds some light on what it’s like to be gifted and raise a baby deer.

Levi in the Beginning

Little Levi, the tiniest fawn, one whom we all love, entered my life on May 31st of 2022.

One late afternoon while driving to my house, a friend was on a winding country road and witnessed the truck in front of him run over a doe (a mother deer) and swerved to miss what seemed to be a day-old fawn.

There it was, this spotted little creature, barely able to stand with a heart racing with fear. My friend lovingly placed the newly orphaned fawn on his passengers seat, and headed to my house, ensuring the little one’s safety and a life not promised.

When Levi arrived at my house, our best guess was that he was less than 24 hours old. I looked down at this tiny, helpless, frightened animal and immediately called my sister. She’s my country-life phone a friend, and plus she had raised an orphaned deer many years ago named Lil’Bit. She shared that it was going to be very time-consuming and I was looking at a minimum seven-month commitment of bottle feeding multiple times a day. 

The strong-willed, empathetic me looked down at the tiny doe-eyed fawn and thought, “I must and can do this, how difficult can it be?”

Bottle Baby

Off to Tractor Supply we went, purchasing an oversized dog crate tall enough for long legs to grow into, colostrum, powdered baby goat milk, bottles, dog pads, and a teddy bear with a heartbeat to emulate its mother’s. (Yes, that’s a thing.) 

In the wild, mother deer will hide their babies in tall grass, their spots perfectly mimicking the shadows cast by the waving grass above. Sometimes, the two need a little help finding each other, and the baby deer will make a cry-like sound called bleating. I first learned about this noise when we were driving home from Tractor Supply. Levi was bleating and bleating, and wouldn’t stop until I gave him his first bottle. The cries soon began to soften, and it was a cue that he felt safe. We were going to be more than fine together. 

Bottle feeding a fawn is not just a once-a-day activity, but a five-plus-times-a-day activity. For the next foreseeable future, I was housebound and bottle bound. My sister was right, it was going to be an almost one-year commitment I had volunteered for. After a week of bottle feeding, my reality set in. 

Every morning, upon awakening, it was bottle time.  Most days that involved an alarm clock, one I had previously ditched. 

Sitting on my back porch steps, I would hold little Levi in my lap and talk calmly and soothingly while he gulped the bottle down. As Levi got bigger, steadier, and better at bottle drinking, our bond became stronger; as his heart began to open, mine began to soften. 

After feeding I would make sure to leave Levi alone outside, hidden in the tall grasses, to help familiarize him with the natural environment as I was determined to reintroduce Levi back into the wild when the time was right. 

For now, this “rewilding” of Levi involved a fenced-in yard, a kitten collar with a bell, and me walking outside every five minutes with binoculars to ensure that nothing bad was happening. Eventually, I traded the kitten bell for a GPS cat tracker, and my constant fears were (slightly) relieved. 

I was vigilant in my care and the bond between us grew as I was the only mother he knew, and I was going to make sure I was a good one.

Prior to acquiring Levi, I had committed to a girls’ trip with my sister, her two daughters, and her grand-baby to celebrate my niece, Dakota, receiving her doctorate in physical therapy. Of course, there was no one to watch Levi, (I couldn’t find a deer nanny) so boarding at the vet was the only viable option. 

It was the only time I had been away since caring for Levi, so I bundled up Levi’s belongings and drove to the vet… the drop-off was all seemingly going as planned.

However, one day into my trip the vet tech called to inform me that Levi wouldn’t let anyone near, therefore they were unable to bottle-feed him. They sheltered Levi in a barn stall, and placed the formula in a pan, hoping for the best. Needless to say, I was quite stressed the entire trip, and Immediately upon arriving home, I sped to the clinic, parked, and walked straight toward the barn. 

When I entered the stall, Levi was running in circles and would not let me near. It wasn’t until I said “Levi, it’s Mom” while stretching out my hands so he could smell me that he immediately started jumping all over me. It was the kindest and one of the sweetest moments of my life, and to this day I still swell up with tears just thinking about it. 

Levi, the God-Wink

For me, buying my home in Texas was a way to heal both physically and emotionally. I was returning to my roots and somehow, Levi got involved in this saga. He felt like a physical representation of everything I was trying to achieve for myself and for my land: all three of us were vulnerable, alone, and in need of repair and love. 

Animals, I believe, have the power to heal. I learned this firsthand with my dog Rider. Levi was a God-wink, telling me that He was looking out for me, reminding me to soften, to connect, and that love abounds.

I  never wanted to raise Levi as a pet. As much as I would have loved to have him at my feet, I knew this was not fair. I wanted him to integrate into a herd, so every morning and evening we would walk the land for hours allowing him to forage and smell his surroundings. 

Levi loved to lay near the fence line, and it was early one morning when I first noticed a doe and her fawn curiously approaching Levi at the fence. For weeks this went on, and witnessing this budding friendship gave me hope that this mother doe would be little Levi’s savior. And indeed, that is exactly what happened. As Levi got older it was the three of them, traveling alongside each other, the mother doe taking over and accepting Levi as her own.

Levi: Little Buck or Little Doe?

In a cosmic joke, it wasn’t until I had spent every day with Levi for months, that I learned that HE was a SHE thanks to an overly eager young buck who showed more than the usual amount of attention to my sweet Levi. 

It took me several days (or was it more like weeks? Or, let’s be honest here, I STILL often refer to Levi as him) to wrap my head around this new information. I still walk around my property giggling and shaking my head at this mixup. Not only did I get a good excuse to laugh, but this was also great news for me, as it meant that I wouldn’t have to worry about how to navigate when “he” grew dangerous antlers.

Levi now is fully integrated into a herd of wild whitetail and although SHE  still comes for a visit and a head scratch more often than not, days can float by having not seen her. 

Letting go is never easy, but I remind myself of how important it was for me to raise her as a deer, returning her back into the wild. And, as heartbreaking as that is for me, I know as I look over these wild Texas grasses, that she is exactly where she is supposed to be.

**P.S. Side note but one that is very important to address: IF you ever see a baby deer lying alone it is important that you do not disturb it. Mother doe will hide their young away while they leave to forage. Baby fawns hidden in grass are safe from predators; believe it or not, they don’t have a smell and the mother finds her hidden fawn by searching for her own scent. Often, the mothers keep some distance between themselves and the fawns so that they’re not drawing attention to where the fawns hide.   


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