During the ten months of filming, 32 trained animals were used, including five fawns. The fawns needed to be replaced as they aged in order to conform to the description of the title animal. The fawn found by Jody, as he pulls back the foliage, was three days old and had bee&n rescued from a forest fire. Other animals used in filming included 126 deer, 9 black bears, 37 dogs, 53 wild birds, 17 buzzards, 1 owl, 83 chickens, 36 pigs, 8 rattlesnakes, 18 squirrels, 4 horses & 17 raccoons. The quantity of "critters" total is 441.
MGM had actually begun filming "The Yearling" in 1941 with Spencer Tracy, Anne Revere, and Atlanta native Gene Eckman (who never appeared in another film) in the starring roles, Roddy McDowall as Fodderwing, and Victor Fleming directing, but the production ran into numerous problems, including Eckman growing too quickly during filming, his thick local accent (which conflicted with Tracy's vocal quality), swarms of mosquitoes, and conflicts between Fleming and producer Sidney Franklin. After King Vidor agreed to take over directing but then dropped out, the project was canceled - at a loss of $500,000 - when the United States entered World War II, in December of 1941.
Claude Jarman Jr. was chosen from over 19,000 boys to play Jody. The factor which won him the role was his long hair. Jarman had been busy with school work and hadn't had a haircut in several months, which made producer Sidney Franklin think that he looked the part of a Florida farm boy.
Most of the "atmosphere" and outdoors animal scenes were shot five years previously, by a second-unit crew sent to Florida in 1941, when the project was first begun. The film was shut down soon after the footage was shot, but when it was restarted again in 1946, the 1941 footage was used.
In the scene about 70 minutes in, when Jody is running through the woods with the fawn and is joined by other deer, the music played is the Scherzo from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream, meant to represent playful fairies of the forest.
This film was first telecast in Philadelphia Thursday 6 March 1958 on WFIL (Channel 6), followed by Los Angeles Friday 7 March 1958 on KTTV (Channel 11), by San Francisco 11 May 1958 on KGO (Channel 7), and by New York City 13 October 1958 on WCBS (Channel 2). At this time, color broadcasting was in its infancy, limited to only a small number of high rated programs, primarily on NBC and NBC affiliated stations, so these film showings were all still in B&W. Viewers were not offered the opportunity to see these films in their original Technicolor until several years later.