Celebrating Motherhood in Animals

Mother’s Day is around the corner. As we use this day to honor the human mothers who’ve made a difference in our lives, we also want to acknowledge non-human mothers. More often than not, motherhood is not respected in animals. In fact, it’s taken advantage of and exploited.


Many people don’t realize that the dairy industry is built off of stolen motherhood. Cows, goats and sheep produce milk for the same reason that any other mammal would: to nourish their young. Pregnancy has to come before lactation. Just like it does in humans. Calves are separated from their mothers the day they are born.

The milk that a mother cow’s body worked so hard to produce and nourish her baby will then be pumped and sold to humans. If her calf is male, he will be killed. If her calf is female, she will spend several months being raised in isolation before becoming a part of the dairy herd, following in her mother’s footsteps. Could anything be more degrading towards motherhood?


As a sanctuary, we strive to be the polar opposite of the dairy industry in our respect of motherhood. It’s extremely rare that a cow and her calf can stay together forever. But last year, we got the opportunity of a lifetime. 


Cows Honey and Babe came to us as seniors. Their herd’s caregiver had passed away. Both being over twenty years old, no one (including our veterinarian) expected them to be pregnant. But we were in for a surprise! Honey amazed our animal care staff when she delivered beautiful baby Elliot. A few weeks later, Babe shocked us again by giving birth to precious baby Edgar.

When Elliot was a tiny calf, Honey was an incredibly protective mother. She was wary about allowing Elliot to socialize with humans since his birth. Babe took a more relaxed parenting style. She trusted animal caregivers to spend time with Edgar from the beginning. Both mothers, despite their differences, have raised healthy and happy calves.


Both mothers were always gentle, patient and welcoming towards each other’s calves. Edgar and Elliot grew up with so much love. The calves recently had their first birthday. And their mothers’ love is still as strong as ever. The family still spends every waking moment together. The boys may not be small anymore, but they still rely on their mothers for affection and nurturing. They often nap in the sun together, and groom each other lovingly. This is how it will be for the rest of their lives.

It hurts our hearts to imagine that most mother cows will never know their calves. It’s beautiful to watch this family defy those odds.


Cows are not the only animals exploited for their motherhood. Mother pigs are often trapped in gestation crates too small to turn around or lie down comfortably. Their only “job” is to churn out piglets to be raised for slaughter. 


But we see mother pigs as so much more. Rita was one of the most dedicated mothers we ever knew. She saved her own life by jumping off of a moving slaughter-bound truck on a Sacramento highway. Was her leap of faith intentional? We’ll never know. But what we do know is that it wasn’t only her life saved that day.


Rita was rescued by Animal Control before being transferred to us. She gave birth to nine surviving piglets. Rita was never a fan of humans, but she adored her piglets. She poured her heart into raising them. Rita taught her piglets how to bathe in the mud, forage for tasty seeds, and root in the Earth. Despite her tough and cautious attitude towards humans, she had nothing but kindness for her babies.

Rita’s piglets grew to join the main sanctuary drift of pigs. But Rock always leaned on his mother. He remained by her side for the rest of her life. 


Three years ago, Rita passed away of natural causes. Rock was devastated. His grief for his mother was so obvious. He was mourning his mother who taught him everything he knew. 


Since then, Rock’s heart has healed. He’s found friends in pigs Bert, Aly, and most recently, Wilma. But Rock would not be the pig he is today without the love his mother gave him. She gave all of her life to him, and she lives on in him today. 


Could you imagine if all herd and flock animals got to raise their young? 

This Mother’s Day, we challenge you to expand who you view as “mothers”. We ask you to honor motherhood rather than support industries that exploit it. The meat, dairy and egg industries are built on taking advantage of motherhood. We believe that mothers deserve to be treated better. And we’ll never stop fighting until they are.


Written by Chelsea Pinkham

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