Mothers Day is celebrated in countries all over the world on various days of the year. In the United States it is this Sunday, May 13th. What fun to discover that the second Sunday in May is also observed as Mothers Day by Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Japan, and Turkey.
So as people in all parts of the world anticipate Mothers Day on Sunday, I’d like to encourage all of us to honor not only our human moms, but also the world’s largest population of mothers, namely, those in the animal world. And what great mamas they are too!
Maimonides, the 12th-century Jewish philosopher, wrote that the love between a mother animal and her young is not different from that of a human mother to her child. Many other great thinkers over the ages have discerned this. Charles Darwin, for example, wrote, “There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness and misery.”
Take mother hens, for example, as we think about Mothers Day. They speak to their chicks even before they are hatched. The mother clucks softly and the chicks peep back from inside their shell, even using different toned peeps to let their mamas know if they’re cold or comfortable. An expectant chicken plucks a bald spot on her belly so she can warm the eggs and then the chicks once they’ve hatched. As their little ones grow, mothers protect them from harm under their wings at night. In fact, chickens are such devoted mamas, they often adopt orphaned chicks or babies of other species like kittens, puppies and bunnies.
Turkey hens are also devoted mothers who are fiercely protective of their young and will risk their lives to save them. Duck and goose mamas lay their eggs in elaborate feathered nests. They, too, are very protective of their hatchlings and will chase away larger waterfowl or anyone else who tries to come near them.
Pigs in the wild live in groups of two to six sows and their young. If the other mothers are also nursing, mother pigs may share caretaking and even nurse each others’ babies so that foraging sows have more time to find food. Mother pigs living in a sanctuary setting continue their maternal care even when their offspring are adults, protecting them from danger and respecting and loving their babies as they age.
Cows naturally nurse their babies for up to three years, and the strong bond between mothers and their offspring lasts a lifetime. In a sanctuary setting, mother cows are known to groom their young for hours; and as the calves become adults, they spend hours grooming each other. Cows love affection and grieve the loss of their loved ones. Both mothers and their newborn calves may cry pitifully when separated; the heart-rending cries have been known to last five days.
Sheep mothers have a language they use only with their young, a deep guttural call telling them to come back quickly or beware of intruders. A lamb can tell the voice or his or her mother. And likewise, the lamb has a distinctive call that the mother sheep responds to. Sheep are family-oriented flock animals and stay together in families for a lifetime when allowed to. Sheep mamas are also known to share nursing and caretaking with one another.
Given the freedom to do so, goat moms have a lifelong relationship with their kids. They may sleep in groups, side by side, at times wrapping their necks around their full-grown offspring. Goats recognize their family members even after having been separated for a time. Female goats are patient, highly nurturing mothers and therefore are often used to foster orphaned or rejected lambs, calves, horses and mules.
These are just a few examples of what great moms animals are. I could go on to discuss the motherhood behaviors of animals in the wild as well. But I’ll stop with farmed animals for a simple reason. It’s because each one of us has the opportunity to honor these precious creatures on Mothers Day by dining compassionately and leaving all animal products—meat, dairy and eggs—off our dinner tables. Please allow mother animals—and fathers and babies too!—to live the rich and loving lives they were born to live and which they profoundly yearn for.
Let’s celebrate Mothers Day—and every day!—by joining together “to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for … all living beings”.
Best greetings to all,
Cynthia Sampson (Asheville, North Carolina, USA)
Resources on Animals As Mothers