The Maternal Instinct

Veterinarian Holly Cheever reflects on a case when a cow hid one of her twin calves from farm owners who had demonstrated a pattern of taking them away after birth:

Think for a moment of the complex reasoning this mama exhibited: first, she had  memory — memory of her four previous losses, in which bringing GT_COW_120417her new calf to the barn resulted in her never seeing him/her again (heartbreaking for any mammalian mother). Second, she could formulate and then execute a plan: if bringing a calf to the farmer meant that she would inevitably lose him/her, then she would keep her calf hidden, as deer do, by keeping her baby in the woods lying still till she returned. Third — and I do not know what to make of this myself — instead of hiding both, which would have aroused the farmer’s suspicion (pregnant cow leaves the barn in the evening, unpregnant cow comes back the next morning without offspring), she gave him one and kept one herself. I cannot tell you how she knew to do this—it would seem more likely that a desperate mother would hide both.

(Photo: A cow and its calf are pictured during the 25th 'Space', the international livestock trade fair (SPACE) on September 13, 2011, in the French western city of Rennes. By Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images.)