Posted on Mar 29, 2018
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
The most amazing thing has happened at The Gentle Barn this week, and many of you have witnessed it with me on my live feeds and posts: Ferdinand is nursing from Lucy! The first time Lucy saw Ferdinand her face softened, her heart opened, and she loved him right away. She introduced herself and went straight to work grooming him and staying by his side. It was love at first sight for both of them and we were all deeply grateful to Lucy for being willing to care for him. After a few weeks, their love deepened when we heard Lucy use that low, deep, soft moo that mommy cows only use to communicate with their own babies. We made sure to give Lucy bedtime cookies and plenty of thanks for bonding with Ferdinand so beautifully. Recently we saw them doing something that we would have never expected; Lucy’s body produced milk for Ferdinand and he is nursing!
How can this be? Is this even possible? This was by far the most miraculous thing we have ever seen! When I first saw Ferdinand nursing I thought he was just playing around down there. When I got a closer look, I saw that Ferdinand’s eyes were closed and he was definitely swallowing. When he came up for air, he had a milk mustache. But then I wondered what Lucy’s thoughts about all of this were. When I walked around to see Lucy’s expression I was so surprised! Her eyes were also closed in a state of pure bliss, holding still and allowing him to do it. I thought that I must be imagining things, but I watched as Ferdinand nursed for an entire fifteen minutes while Lucy patiently held still and quiet for him, every now and then letting out one of her soft moos meant just for him. This is not just a cow caring for a baby or loving him, Lucy has officially become his mom in every sense of the word!
Over the years I have heard of dogs adopting kittens and making milk, or cats adopting mice and nursing them, but I guess I didn’t really believe it, nor had I ever witnessed it before. I had also heard of women lactating for adopted babies. So I did a little research and found that this actually happens with people all the time. Lactation consultant, Chrisie Rosenthal of The Land of Milk and Mommy reached out to us and said, “I’ve worked with many adoptive moms and induced lactation. If the woman has had a baby before she’ll usually lactate easier and produce more milk. I obviously don’t work with cows, but I have to assume as mammals we’re all pretty similar. In fact, back when we all lived in “the village” together, grandmas, aunts and friends would re-lactate to feed each other’s babies. That “glow” that you saw on Ferdinand and Lucy’s face was the effect of oxytocin (“the love hormone”). The hormone that both mom and baby receive during nursing; which cements their bond even more. The act of breastfeeding involves an exchange of DNA, so Lucy and Fernando are bonded on a cellular level now.”
I am deeply honored to be able to witness this love between Ferdinand and Lucy. And I realize that the reason this is not public knowledge is because cows in the meat and dairy industry are not allowed to keep their own babies, let alone adopt each other’s babies. During the last nineteen years of The Gentle Barn we have always tried to rescue more than one orphaned calf at a time, so they can keep each other company as well as be cared for by our staff and volunteers. This is the very first time we have saved only one calf and paired him with another cow for company. Little did I know that when I asked Lucy to care for Ferdinand and she said yes, she really meant it in every single way! Lucy and Ferdinand will be together for the rest of their lives and we all will have a front row seat while Ferdinand grows, and Lucy’s love unfolds. How long will she allow him to nurse? We’ll have to watch and see.