It’s a common misperception that mother animals lose interest in their young after a certain age. Animals form close bonds with their kin just like we do, and experience anxiety when they’re separated from their loved ones. While some grow independent and blaze their own trails, many of our residents stay close to their moms into adulthood. Time and again, we’ve witnessed right here at the sanctuary just how strong maternal bonds can be.
When Farm Sanctuary responded to a case of extreme neglect in Butler County, PA in 2004, Celeste and her newborn daughter came to live at our New York Shelter. Each time her mother received healthcare, Juliet would worry and immediately dive underneath Celeste to nurse. Though she’s older now, Juliet hasn’t outgrown this urge, and still seeks comfort from her mother after any emotional event occurs. And Celeste looks after her daughter too. Once, when Juliet underwent basic healthcare, Celeste completely dismantled a gate just to get to her. Nothing can keep these two apart.
Bertha, another cow from the same rescue, gave birth shortly after arriving at the sanctuary. Sadly, she was unable to nurse the baby because she had a very painful case of mastitis. Due to Bertha’s condition, we had to bottle-feed her daughter Robin and separate the two to give the new mom a chance to undergo vital treatments. Once Bertha’s health improved, the two were reacquainted. The new mother, now free of pain, greeted Robin with love and, to our surprise, started to nurse her right away! From that day on, the two stuck together through thick and thin. In fact, when Bertha was diagnosed with cancer years later and transported to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals for treatment, she refused to eat and bellowed incessantly until she and Robin were reunited. During the rest of Bertha’s days, Robin kept her from giving up, and always stayed by her side.
In 2008, we welcomed another large group of mothers to the shelter when we rescued 14 sheep in late term pregnancy from Red Barn Farm in Canaan, NY, where dozens of animals had been locked in a dark, manure-packed barn and left to starve. When one of the sheep, Alex, was given her first health check, we discovered that she had no teeth. No one suspected that this elderly ewe was about to become a mom! When we discovered that Alex had lung abscesses, we were concerned that her growing baby wouldn't be able to get enough oxygen, and put her under special care at Cornell until her baby was born. Due to her age and physical condition, Alex could not produce milk. Though caregivers bottle-fed her daughter Dinah, the little lamb still went through the motions of nursing for comfort and formed a close bond with her mother nonetheless. To this day, they can still be seen lying together in the barn.
And large animals aren’t the only ones who love their babies. In 2007, we gave refuge to a family of wild jungle fowl rescued from a cock fighting ring in New York City. Whoever coined the phrase “mother hen” must have had June, the mama chicken, in mind. When they were little, June’s chicks would ride on her back, and when anyone approached, they'd run for cover, with only their heads poking out from beneath her feathers. All grown up now, Flutter, one of June's kids, is the spitting image of her mom. Though she and her sister Velvet are laying eggs of their own, the whole family still piles into one nest box at night, with June roosting on top. One of June’s sons also still lets his mom clean him, and is never far from her side.
These loving families are lucky; separated early on, most farm animals never get to experience a life-long bond with their mothers. This Mother’s Day, honor mothers like June, Alex, Bertha, and Celeste by sponsoring a farm animal in need.
Top photo: Bertha and Robin