Parenting is one of those things we’ve done for millions of years, yet we still need manuals and classes on how to do it. People will give you unsolicited advice on how to raise your child, and also tell you how the way you are raising your child is wrong. There are think-pieces on how long you should breastfeed, whether attachment parenting is good or bad for the child, which toys children should play with, the list goes on and on and on. Everyone seems to have an opinion on parenting, yet everyone’s opinion is different. Since when did parenting become so complicated?
Maybe we should all calm down, take a step back and look at things a little more simply. Last year, Dr. Shimi Kang released a book about parenting. So, what makes her book different from all the other thousands out there? Dr. Kang suggests that we parent like dolphins. Her book, The Dolphin Way, takes a look at how dolphins parent and uses them as a model for how humans should parent.
There are actually a lot of ways we can look to animals for the examples they set for parenting children, especially farm animals. Although many of these animals tragically never get the chance to care for their offspring in the animal agriculture industry, farm animals are amazing parents. All too often, these animals are only considered “food,” but seeing how the ways that they care for their young mirrors the way we care for our own, they become so much more. Remember, we are all living, feeling sentient beings and while we might not share too much in common, a love for our babies is universal.
It’s a well-known fact that pigs are intelligent and social animals. Their intelligence rivals the dogs we share our everyday lives with. The mother-child bond is strong with these animals, too. Mother pigs will actually sing to their piglets while they are nursing, similar to the lullabies humans sing to their babies. Touch and bodily contact are especially important to pigs, so mothers can often be found snuggling up with their little ones. The relationship doesn’t go one way, either. The piglets actually know how to recognize their mother’s voice and run to it when she calls.
Mother pigs are very defensive of their piglets for several days after they are born, but once they are strong enough, she will encourage them to socialize with other pigs. They say it takes a village to raise a human child and the same can be said for piglets! These little animals are quite curious, so the adult pigs in a group will take turns looking over their young. Even an awesome pig mom knows when to ask for help!
In order for cows to produce the milk that humans drink, they need to give birth (sound familiar?). Because of this, a cow in the dairy industry can give birth to four or five babies in her lifetime. The bond between a cow and her calf is forged minutes after birth, but tragically, dairy cows never get to keep their children. After all, if calves drank their mother’s milk, what would humans drink?
Most calves are taken from their mothers only hours after birth, an extremely traumatic experience for both mother and child. Mothers cows are extremely devoted to their babies and have been known to break through fences, call frantically and walk for miles in search of their babies when they are removed from their side. Mother cows and calves have distinct moos for one another and mothers will continue to call for their babies long after they have been removed from sight.
Lucky cows who have been rescued from the animal agriculture industry and live on farm sanctuaries are really the only ones who get to experience the joys of motherhood. For these cows, the relationship between mother and child is truly special. Calves can always be found trotting behind their mothers and big sloppy kisses are quite common.
There have been many documented instances of mother horses going to great lengths to save her foal. In April 2014, a story emerged of a mother who stood in the way of a fire in order to protect her foal. She backed her baby into a corner away from the flames and stood between her child and the fire. Because of this brave action, both survived the fire and have recovered thanks to rescuers. In 2012, a dying mare led her foal to safety. The mother brought her five-month-old baby to a farm to be taken care of. A couple hours after arriving at the farm, the mother died, leaving her baby in good hands.
If you’ve ever heard the term “mother hen,” you know it means a mother who constantly looks after her young. Before chicks are even born, hens will talk or purr to their eggs. When the eggs hatch, mother hens are extremely affectionate and dote over their babies.
Like any good mother, hens are always thinking about their children’s safety too! When chickens stray from view, mother hens have specific calls to beckon her chicks back to her side. If the chicks take too long, or mama hen suspects something has happened to them, she will have a physical reaction, where their heart rates and temperatures both increase. How many times did you mother tell you that you almost gave her a heart attack when you were little? That’s pretty much the same way hens feel.
Oregon Dept of Ag/Flickr
Like many of the other farm animals listed, goats form very strong mother-child bond early on. In 2012, research found that mother goats can remember their babies’ voices for years after the two have been separated. Some studies even suggest that mother goats tend to favor the eldest child (all the younger siblings out there are sure to have suspected this of their own parents). When mother goats hear the calls of their kids, they tend to react more to the calls of the older kids before the younger ones – but of course, if you ask Mama Goat, she’ll swear she loves all her kids equally!
Lead image source: Edgar’s Mission Farm Animal Sanctuary