Posted on Jul 12, 2023
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
Knowing how to support teenagers is hard. When they were young and dependent on us, it was a bit easier to manage, but once they turn into teenagers, they often reject our advice and our company in an effort to individuate. It can be very painful to feel that separation after being so close and bonded for so many years. Why do we do it? Why do we love someone so much that we would die for them, give them anything they desire, just to have them separate and ultimately move away? Because loving them is an expression of who we are, not a reflection of what we may or may not get back. That love is truly unconditional, will last forever, and no matter what they say or do, we will always love them. That is what being a parent is all about.
Like us, there are animals who go through painful separations once their children mature. Roosters and tom turkeys must leave the flock and forge families of their own. Male horses, donkeys, and pigs must leave to find their own mates. Cows, sheep, and goats, however, do not seem to go through that separation. When allowed to, ruminants will stay with their children forever. Throughout their lives, mothers and babies do not seem to individuate and can be found eating side by side, sleeping together, playing by bonking heads, and moving around in tandem. Cows groom their babies with their tongues and maintain that ritual even when their babies are seniors and taller than themselves. Watching these mothers in our barnyards dote over their babies, and then later, watching the babies care for their moms when they are old, is a beautiful, uplifting sight that warms our hearts.
My cow, John Lewis Thunderheart, is now a teenager. His once soft, open, and baby- like face is now becoming more mature. When he was little and I would give him his bottle, we would stay huddled together for hours after he had gulped his last sip. I would scratch his neck, shoulders, and back, clean his ears, wipe his eyes, brush out the long ringlets of his tail, and sing him many happy morning songs. At almost three years old, Lewis still gets a bottle each morning. If he had a cow mom with us, he would nurse for four or five years. When we rescued him at a week old, my promise to him was that he would get a bottle as long as he wanted one. When John Lewis hears me walking down the path from my house, alongside the small animal barnyard, wishing everyone there good morning, he comes galloping over to the fence, and as soon as he can see me, moos at me to walk faster, and can’t wait to get the warm bottle of Sun Chlorella Algae SuperFood and water. As soon as he is finished, he sticks out his long sandpaper tongue and asks for the cookies hidden in my pocket. After I dole out his cookies, Lewis strolls over to his feed bin to munch on hay, dismissing me with a swish of his tail.
Hugging and spending time together is now on his terms, just like any teenager. I am grateful to be his mom, and thankful for his attention no matter how long it may be. While John Lewis gains more confidence and wisdom with his lanky, agile body and bright mind, with me as his mom for the rest of his life, all of us at The Gentle Barn are working diligently every day to create a world where all animals who want to, can stay with their families. Thank you for supporting The Gentle Barn so we can save animals like Lewis. All babies deserve family, and all animals deserve life, respect, and love.