Fluffy, fuzzy and wobbly — baby animals are guaranteed to brighten the cloudiest of days just by virtue of their overwhelming cuteness. Not only are they adorable, baby animals on the farm are among the surest signs that winter is ending, spring has arrived and summer is just around the corner.
Right on schedule, barns and pastures around the state are bursting with all manner of newborns and the “awww” factor is off the charts.
“It’s the Disney side of things,” said Daniel Bell, homesteader in central Maine. “These babies are so cute and so full of personality it just melts your heart.”
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Bell raises heritage breed laying hens on his farm and can have hundreds of baby chicks peeping up a storm this time of year. He has no problem admitting the cuteness of the chicks gets to him and that he enjoys it for as long as that cuteness holds out.
“These little babies do grow into adults,” he said. “They lose that playfulness as they get that adult personality but for now it’s all about the cute and spring.”
That cuteness combines with hope every spring at Maple Knoll Farm in Solon, where Michele Schrader has already welcomed eight new kids to her herd of Nubian milking goats.
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“For me, spring kidding season is such a sign of hope for the future,” Schrader said. “I’ve been doing this for 8 years and each year it’s an example of my hope for the future.”
Spring and babies
In the wild, spring is the time of year when many North American animals and birds produce young. It is also — when left to their own natural devices — the time of year domesticated animals like livestock have their babies.
“Nature has its way of sorting things out to make it easier on the animals,” said Dr. Michelle Walsh, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry state veterinarian. “Spring is really a much friendlier time of year for the young [because there is] better food, warmer weather and increased light that allows mothers and young to better see predators.”
When it comes to livestock, especially ones raised to meet market demands for pork, beef or eggs, Walsh said humans can — and have — manipulated the breeding seasons to have those food products available year round.
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“We all like to have our bacon and eggs in the winter, not just in spring or summer,” Walsh said. “So you see some farms breeding for that market demand.”
But there are farms in Maine where it would not be spring without a barnyard baby boom.
On Bell’s homestead he sees no reason to interfere with the natural order of things so he does not give his birds artificial light sources that would trick them into breeding year round.
“On our farm as we move into spring you see the roosters starting to get a bit more randy as those hormones start flowing,” Bell said. “In the wild it made sense [because] spring is a great time to increase a flock because they’d have all summer to get big and go into winter fully feathered and healthy.”
The availability of food in the spring plays a big role in that, according to Walsh.
The spring plants on which livestock forage are packed with protein and nutrients in the spring which means the mother animals are getting the best food to produce quality milk with which to feed their young.
Others though do make sure that the baby animals arrive in the spring — for the human’s sake.
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At The Highlands in St. Albans, it’s calving season when farmer Debra Vermette welcomes the newest additions to the herd of Highland beef cattle. Vermette said they do time the release the breeding bull into the cow pasture to result in spring calves, a move she said is more about [being a human] aging on the farm than anything else.
“We used to have a lot of calves born in the middle of winter [and] as we got older it seemed they were all born during snowstorms,” Vermette said. “Now we have our calves born in early spring and that makes it a lot easier on us as older farmers.”
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The science of cute
Calves, chicks, kids and ewes evoke an almost universal response from humans.
“If you ever looked into the eyes of a Jersey calf you know what that cuteness can do,” Walsh said. “Those enormous, liquid pools of brown with those long lashes, it just turns you into a pile of mush.”
There could be good evolutionary reasons for that, Walsh said.
“There are studies that have shown the ratio of eye space on [a baby animal’s] face is tied to our desire to nurture and protect that animal,” she said. “That is a real evolutionary benefit for those animals.”
It’s also something of a mental benefit for the humans who interact with these farm babies.
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“When it’s nice out and the [kid] goats are all bouncing around I just stand and watch them,” Schrader said. “It’s entertaining and good for the soul.”
Not one to play animal favorites, Walsh did say that the sight of kids or ewes gamboling about in a pasture is for her the epitome of farm cuteness.
“There is nothing cuter for me than seeing spring lambs or kids in a pasture as they jump and run and boing-boing from one spot to another,” she said. “It is just so endearing.”
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Toss in the fact that all that barnyard activity comes at a time when winter in Maine is finally ending and you have a recipe for true bucolic bliss.
“This is when the grass is getting greener, the mud is drying, my flowers are blooming and the babies are all out and running around,” Vermette said. “Those are all signs of spring around here [and] the calves are such a sign of new life for the farm.”