Mother ˈmʌðə/ noun: A woman or female animal in relation to her child or offspring. Verb: To bring up (a child or offspring) with care and affection.
Family bonds are not exclusive to humans. The animal kingdom has shown species with important family relationships, mainly a mother towards her offspring. It’s important to remember humans aren’t the only ones who take extraordinary steps to protect, nurture and raise their young. The animal kingdom is full of mothers who protect their babies, teach them to find food, and demonstrate behavior connected to mourning and stress when their babies are lost or taken away from them.
We are probably more familiar with seeing cats and dogs bonding with their offspring, or other animals in the wild such as orangutans, lions and bears being fiercely protective over their young. But farm animals also form strong bonds with their offspring, though are not always able to act out their natural instinctive behaviour due to how they are kept, raised and slaughtered for human consumption.
There are many farm animals who deserve the title of 'Mother of the Year', but here we explore three of them who are usually not given the appreciation they deserve.
Cows instantly form strong bonds with their calves. Directly after birth, the mother will lick and nuzzle her calf clean, making a unique sound which encourages the calf to get up and nurse. In the dairy industry calves are taken away from their mothers either hours or a couple of days after birth in order to keep milk profit as high as possible. Not only is this stressful and upsetting for both the cow and her calf, mother cows have been found searching fields for their calves for miles around, and if confined within a small space, tend to make loud distressed noises for weeks on end. It is known that Calves which are taken away try to suckle factory worker’s fingers to help ease their separation and suffering from not being able to suckle their mother's udder.
Human mothers and mother hens have something very important in common – the welfare of their children. But at factory farms, the hens have no opportunity at all to raise their young. Eggs are bred in huge breeding factories. Mother hens never see their offspring, they are not allowed to breed by themselves and see their young hatching. When in their natural habitat, mother hens empathize with their chicks, keep them warm, are constantly on the lookout for threats, and enjoy dust baths together. New chicks tend to climb all over her, sitting on her back, picking on their siblings to establish a pecking order and climbing underneath her to take a nap. But mother hens take this all in their stride. They have earned their title of being protective loving mothers to their chicks since the age of time, commonly mentioned in books, movies and texts as a great example of a caring mother in the animal kingdom.
A female pig is called a gilt but if she has piglets then she is known as a sow. Sows have a strong bond with their piglets but in factory farms mother pigs are caged in farrowing crates the size of a fridge, where they are unable to turn around to nuzzle or even see their babies, and are prevented from forming meaningful and mutually beneficial interactions with their young. They experience intense stress and depression which is no life for a pig who would in their natural environment enjoy running, exploring and keeping close their offspring and other pigs. There is enough scientific research to confirm the intelligence of pigs, which is commonly compared to being higher than toddlers so to be kept in factory farms where they don’t get to feel grass, look up to the sky, wallow in the mud or grunt to their little ones, is heartbreaking.