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Cow Nurses Lambs

Updated on December 9, 2017

The vintage photo shown below is a personal snapshot I picked up on Ebay. It got me thinking about how common cross-suckling of young may be between different species.

Vintage photograph: property of Psyche Skinner
Vintage photograph: property of Psyche Skinner

The Photograph

A picture, probably dating from the 1930s, showing a man in overalls holding a cow nursing three lambs.

Cows Nursing Lambs

It is not difficult to find more examples of cows nursing lambs such as the video below from 2017 and others from 2016 and 2012.

Nursing Across Species

There have been many cases of animals nursing members of another species. In this case it seems that the three lambs were orphaned or the ewe could not provide milk for them. So they have been fostered onto a cow.

In this case I am not sure how willing the cow is, but she is putting up with the situation. I have not been able to find any other case of lambs being fostered onto a cow.

It seems that the mothering instinct in mammals is sometimes strong enough to encompass young that are not their own, or even of another species. Examples can even be found on ancient mosaics such as this one showing lion cubs nursing from a donkey.

Other Examples

Old German postcard: "First come first served"
Old German postcard: "First come first served"

Milk Stealing

Even adult animals will sometime learn how to get milk from a cow. Pigs are particularly notorious for "milk stealing".

See:

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    • Hollie Thomas profile image

      Hollie Thomas 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      These vintage photographs in your most recent hubs are really interesting. As you point out, it's not certain how the cow feels about her new role, she does look awfully thin though. Maybe her expression is one of wiriness than reluctance. It doesn't really surprise me that mammals would be willing to raise and feed a species other than their own. I have a cross border collie that has mothered, in no uncertain terms, a stray hamster I found in the snow last year. She obviously doesn't feed her, but she constantly grooms and protects her.

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