Why Farmers May Take Baby Animals Away from Their Mothers

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Farmers some times have to take baby animals from their mothers and bottle raise them. Why is this done? Is it cruel, or does it save lives of abandoned livestock?

Recently we took a young lamb to the auction. He was a bottle baby. While there my daughter was walking him around on a leash. At one point a woman (clearly not a rural person but somebody who was curious as to what went on at this type of Odd and Unusual Livestock Auction) asked my daughter how old the little fella was. My daughter replied “He as born 3 weeks ago but his mother rejected him.” The woman proceeded to tell my daughter how mean she was for taking the baby away from his mom.

People who keep livestock do not remove the young animals for the fun of it. Bottle feeding baby animals is a lot of hard work, and the special formulas are not cheap. Plus there is a risk factor that the young animal will not survive. In this case the bottle baby was not being by his mother. Had we not started bottle feeding him he would have died. She was a first time mother, and while she clearly looked after one lamb, the second one was a mystery to her and although he tried to feed, she always moved away when he did.

bottle feeding lamb

photo by Author - this is the baby lamb in question, he is a Katahdin (hair sheep)

In other cases a farmer may bottle feed little ones because the mother died, or is in poor shape following delivering her young ones. In goats it often happens that a doe has multiple kids and cannot feed them all, so to give them better odds, one, or more, are removed and bottle fed.

True, sometimes baby animals are removed for other reasons. In the dairy industry the calves are removed young for two reasons, one so they do not drink all their mothers milk, and two, so they can be used as veal.

bottle baby calf

Photo source

In the beef industry calves are removed young, but not as young as in the dairy industry, so their mothers can be regain condition as they will have already been rebred. Additionally it allows the calves to be fattened up for market on supplemental feed.

Piglets are separated from their mothers because of the fear that the large sow may lay on top of some of them. The sow is kept in a pen that keeps her fairly immobile but allows her to lay down to nurse the piglets, as in goats a few piglets may be removed and bottle fed if the sow is unable to feed so many little ones. If her nutrition has not been up to par during her pregnancy, a mother animal may not be able to produce enough milk for her young.

In the PMU industry foals are removed from their dams at young ages. Sadly they are considered by-products of an industry to collect pregnant mare urine to be used to make female hormones, mostly used by menopausal women. Although some foals are sold, many are slaughtered.

Eggs are often removed from birds for a couple of reasons. Some birds are not “broody”, they will not hatch out their own eggs. The eggs are removed and put in an incubator for hatching, or are collected for eating (you do not need a rooster to get eggs, but do need one to get chicks). A bird will continue to lay eggs when the eggs are removed, but if left with her (and she is a broody bird) she will eventually stop laying more eggs and concentrate on hatching those she has. As such by removing the eggs, a producer gets more eggs.

Although not livestock, kittens and puppies are taken away from their mothers at early ages (6-8 weeks) because that is what buyers demand. They want young, cute, animals. On their own kittens and pups would be better off with their mother until at least 12 weeks of age.

To summarize, farmers remove baby animals from their mothers when they have to. In many cases it is to aid in the survival of the little one, but other times it is what the industry demands.  These babies soon bond with humans and make good animals for petting zoos, or as 4H animals.

Related Links

How to Care for Bottle Baby Goats

How to Care for Bottle Baby Lambs

How to Care for Orphaned Kittens

How to Care for Orphaned Puppies

Cruelty of Battery Hen Egg Production