The most memorable observations I have of Mother’s Day in the animal world is the dedication that mothers have for their offspring. This has been reiterated to me over and over again in family stories and experiences over the years.
My maternal grandfather became intimately acquainted with the depth of maternal protectiveness during a trip to Yellowstone National Park. In the 1950’s he and one of his brothers’ rented a school bus to transport their families through the park. My grandfather found a couple of bear cubs of which he was excitedly taking photos. Everyone was loaded up and encouraging my Grandfather anxiously to leave the cubs alone and return to the bus. He didn’t listen until he heard a deep growl from the trees and found that the mother bear had found him with the cubs. Fortunately my Grandfather was able to out run her. He sprinted onto the bus, to the frantic yells of “run faster” from the family. Just as my uncle closed the door the mother bear crashed into the bus. It was a lesson learned about a mother’s protective instincts.
I grew up on my paternal grandfather’s farm, part of which was dedicated to raising beef cattle. Our cows were mainly Hereford-Shorthorn cross cows. My Grandfather always said that the Shorthorn gave them great mothering ability. Most of the cows were gentle and tolerant of us while still protecting their calves. Occasionally however we had a cow or two that crossed the line between being protective vs. dangerous. One cow was of particular concern for my brother and I, who were in grade school. We called her “Spook”, because she was spooky, very protective of her calves and we were afraid of her. We had an old horse barn on the property where we kept cows and calves if the calves were weak and needed extra shelter. One spring when we had her and her calf in the barn, my brother and I somehow got trapped in the stall alone with her and her calf. As she charged towards us, we ran for the manger so we could climb out the window above it. We were both frantic and in the mad dash to get out I, quite on accident, pushed my little brother back into the manger. Fortunately we were both able to get out unharmed.
In my professional life I have found that mares are very particular about their foals. Our clinic suggests an exam on the pair within 18-48 hours after foaling. We always have an assistant in the stall with us making sure that the foal is within site of the mare. Many mares will be beside themselves if they can’t see their foal. One mare so aggressively protected her foal that even after sedation I had to move very quickly to examine the foal and get out of the stall unharmed.
These experiences have taught me great respect for animal mothers and the bond that they have with their offspring. No matter what the species animal mothers love and will protect their babies.