With Mother’s Day right around the corner, I’d like to take some time to celebrate all the four-legged moms out there.
Large animal vets spend a lot of time with four-legged mothers — first trying to get them pregnant, then keeping them healthy during pregnancy, then helping them deliver, then trying to get them pregnant again. This is quite a dichotomy from the small animal world, where the goal is usually not to let your dog or cat become a mother. But then again, many of my patients are part of the food chain.
I am always delighted by the way a vast majority of domesticated animals still retain excellent maternal instincts. To me, the first time a heifer has a calf and she actually knows what to do with it is amazing! I’m always in awe of Mother Nature and her gift of innate instinct. Seeing a new mother take care of her newborn never gets old (but has often made me late for my next appointment).
So, here are some specifics on why all those large, four-legged moms out there need to be celebrated:
- Horses: A female horse is called a mare. A baby horse of either gender is a foal, but if you want to get more specific, a male foal is a colt and a female foal is a filly. When foals are born they remind me of spiders, as their legs are so disproportionally long in relation to the rest of their body. They can take almost an hour to actually stand for the first time, and during the first few days, those legs often get tied in knots as they bump around, fall into their mother, and generally act like a mobile collision course. But mares take this all in stride, rarely getting impatient, never leaving their foals in search of greener pasture, and being remarkably careful around these delicate beings. So, let’s hear it for the mares!
- Sheep: Let’s face it; sheep are not the brightest crayons in the box. But I love sheep dearly, and the way an ewe (female sheep) nickers to her lambs is just one of the nicest, most innocent, and kindly sounds you will ever hear. Sheep are also a most delectable prey animal, as they have hardly any means of defending themselves, but this doesn’t stop the ewe. These creatures have such an endearing way of saying, "Oh, no you didn’t!" by stamping their feet. If an ewe is cornered and feeling threatened, she will take a front foot and stamp it as hard as she can. I can just see her putting her hands on her hips and shaking her finger at me, saying, "Don’t you come any closer! Don’t make me stamp this foot!" When really pressed, some ewes will actually resort to force and butt you. But at that point, you probably deserve it.
- Cows: Cows (called heifers before they have their first calf) can be wonderful mothers and can be very protective of their calves. Many a time I’ve been warned by vet school professors and farmers alike to never get between a cow and her calf, and believe me — I won’t! I promise! Cows are also extremely stoic. I’ve been privy to numerous calvings that weren’t exactly the easiest births by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve been amazed at the number of cows that remain standing at the end of a difficult birth, exhausted and breathing hard, but that still go straight to their calves once it’s all over and get straight into Good Mom Mode, cleaning and getting their little ones up to nurse.
So, here’s to all the mommas out there, both two-legged, four-legged, and what the heck — winged and non-legged too. We love you!
Dr. Anna O’Brien