There have been many teachers in my life. Some of them have been part of my family while others have been strangers that I initially thought offered me nothing of value. Down the road; they did! As a mother, my greatest teachers have been my children; each of them in their very own unique way. Some days I feel that they teach me more than I could ever teach them; and secretly I wonder if that is the way life is supposed to be. As soon as we think we know it all; something comes a long to show us that we most certainly don’
Over the course of a few years I have realized that a very interesting yet powerful teacher of mine has been the herd of heifer cows that live out in the pasture. For most of my life I would have agreed that cows were not the brightest of creatures although their silent and powerful presence is a beautiful thing to watch from a porch swing! But as I watched many of these heifers become mothers for the first time I realized that cows no more about innate motherhood than most people combined. Just about everything I ever needed to know about motherhood; I learned from cows!
Understanding the Sacredness of Birth
Our cows are bred to deliver in the late Spring when the grass is fresh and the air is neither hot nor cold. Daylight is longer than which enables me more time to watch as they get ready to have their calves. Thus, the first lesson. Delivery and birth is a private affair. It is a moment in life that can never be relived and if done wrong the first time can lead to irreversible feelings of resent. Cows know when they are about to labor and will silently, quickly and secretly disappear into the thickest forest they can find. One minute they are sitting in the middle of an open pasture and the next they are delivering a 70 pound calf in the brush. When they disappear, it is always time to go find them. Usually when you do, they are licking and nudging a soft and cuddly figure of bones and fur until they are dry. There is a special tone to their moo that naturally becomes the calf’s name and together they take the first hours of life to bond. Mama cows are infinitely patient and responsive to their babies, never ignoring a noise or stunted breath as they cough up leftover mucus from their now breathing lungs. Even a first time mama cow will become aggressive and guarding of her calf after birth and they realize the importance of an intimate, private and natural birth! They want no other sounds, smells or confusion around their calf as they build the first foundation of family. People could learn a lot from watching this! Cows give birth the way birth is supposed to be; quiet, still and perfectly beautiful.
What the Meaning of Tough Love is all About
Soon after birth, within a few minutes a calf will try with tenacity to get up. It is similar to watching a toddler walk. Mama cows bellow with their special moo and nudge them toward the utter. Instinctively they latch on and nurse the sparse drops of colostrum they need to be healthy. Sometimes, the mothers lick them so hard trying to clean their fur that they knock them down. It almost seems cruel. But cows know that life is often about survival and security and they will always o what is right first beyond what is nice. They know if their calf is cleaned and dry that a pack of coyote’s wont smell the birth and that they are less likely to get sick from bacteria or fluctuating temperatures. They also know that by licking them they are taking in their smell, tasting them and quickly and easily asserting themselves as mother. When it comes to cows, mother is at the top of the pecking order.
Limits & Boundaries
Within a few days (by the toddler years in human life) mama cows begin disciplining their young. No, it is not harsh or mean but they use their massive heads to direct their young. Few mother cows allow their young to get out of line and when they do there is a certain tone and presence of their body that ALWAYS quickly gets the attention of their baby. Cows realize that discipline is about boundaries and setting limits and that it is vital to safety; especially in the midst of a herd. It is evident from the get go of life with cows and is probably why they so easily transition into herd life. When a calf becomes rambunctious, hopping around with curiosity and chasing silly dogs- Mama cows step in. No calf is left wondering what is tolerated and what is not….the mothers make it clear. As for consequences…they don’t have to use them because they are never questioned.
Taking Time Out to Breath
Another lesson I learned from cows is that all mothers need a break. All mothers deserve a break and that no matter what; your baby will be okay for a brief lapse of time while you are out to graze greener pastures. Mothers trust their young to stay put, hidden in the stink weed and teach them right away that if they call, mama will come! There is no separation anxiety for either. In the first few days of life, the mother cows stay vigilant sacrificing their own nourishment to ensure that no one, not people, animals or even other cows mess with their child. But after that they trust, they let go! Cows are unequivocally adept at appointing another eager and loving mom to act as babysitter and normally she will stay with all the calves throughout the day. Even more interesting they take turns; ensuring that all of the moms get their fill of green grass and clover! And, once a mama – always a mama; as cows seem to discipline all calves. If one gets out of line they will always ever so gently point them in the right direction. It takes a village to raise a child and apparently a calf too!
Along the same lines, a mother cow will swallow down a tough of sweet feed and push their baby away from it. Just because they are mom doesn’t mean that the apples and salt blocks of life are to be given to her children. She still puts herself first! They will also use their back legs and a very clear signal moo to wean their young when the time is right. In the beginning they allow them to nurse all they want; but shortly they force them to act their age and begin nibbling grass. If they are not in the mood to nurse; they simply don’t! They will come back to it but they know how much their calf needs and although they can reel them in anytime they allow and expect them to have their freedom.
Being a Mom is no a Family Affair & Routines
Having generational cows in the pasture, it is clear who belongs to whom. Still, pecking order is important. Cows are matriarchal BUT you will never see a grandma or aunt cow trying to take over the raising. If mom won’t do it, is unable to do it or can’t do it – the calf will not get what it needs! There is usually one cow in a whole herd who will take on strays but by and large, mama cows know they have the utmost responsibility. They don’t get tired, they don’t get bored, they don’t forget that precious moment when they delivered and they don’t get to hand off or pass over their responsibility! They know that if they do, their calf will be the one to suffer!
Cows are also completely routine creatures. They make paths in the dirt from their constant walking. They know where to be at 1pm or 1am and they will always be in the same spot unless they are sick or having a calf! Cows know that routines make things work. They know that by eating in a pattern they won’t run out of grass in one area and they know that the afternoon sun is hot – so they make it a point to graze in the shade. This is their example in life and through this example they teach all there is to know about being a cow! They teach them what to fear and what to ignore; what to eat and what to pick around! They teach them where to drink and how to swim. Their routine is their life and although it may seem to get dull at times; cows know nothing of it. They are happy and content the way things are!
Letting Go & The Meaning of Love
Perhaps the most important thing I have learned from cows is that there comes a time in life when we have to let go. I have seen calves die in the fields and the mothers knew they were sick. Still they chase away the vultures. I have seen them have miscarriages or deliver still born young; yet still they love. They are immediately changed. Normally, it takes several days if not weeks for these heifers to get over their loss. Many search through ditches and thick pine straw for weeks on end, mooing in that certain way hoping to find their young. When calves are separated for cultivation purposes – there is an extremely deep sense of longing and remorse that takes over the farm. At night when most pastures are quiet the distant echoes of mother and baby can be heard for weeks. But then, they let go! When cows grow and no longer need their mother for everything, mama cows let go and watch from a distance as their young becomes a mother herself. They are far away but never out reach; as mother hood is supposed to be.
No matter how dumb a cow may seem; they can teach much about maternal love. Love is in the way they respond and clean their baby. Love is in the way they move alongside them and they way the just know things. They can be acres a part and a mother cow will raise her head from the grass with that look as she walks off to find her calf. Perhaps surrounded by a stray dog or maybe even hungry. In a field of all black calves, the mama cows know (even though they don’t see well) which one is theirs and this holds true for years to come. You can separate them for 4 months and they will still know!
Perhaps it seems strange that cows are such incredibly loving and dutiful mothers. The truth is that they do something few of us human mothers do anymore; believe in our instinct and judgment when it comes to being a mom. Cows believe that motherhood is a gift and as such they trust in their most innate place of intimacy to do and be a mother at all times. Inside every mother exists the embodiment of what motherhood is and should be and it quite simply is up to the creature to form gratitude and expression of spirit that clearly expressed the many different layers and facets of love and motherhood.