Follow Your Instincts

Even a cow can do it!

Our cow, Barbie, recently had her 2nd calf! We arrived shortly after the birth to find it had already nursed and was beginning to dry off. Watching calves take shaky steps and follow their instincts to suck on the mother’s teat is always amazing to me. The cow seems to give a few low moos and a nudge with her head, then the calf is latched on. It’s not as if someone tells cow or calf what they need to do, the whole birth process just happens… whether I’m there to witness it or not. 

Nick petting the newborn calf.

By the 2nd day, the calf began strutting around, following his mother up the lane to get water and laying on the leeward side of the feeder to stay warm. Although I worry about many things daily, I am not in the least worried about those two animals doing all the right things for our farm.

And this isn’t a one-off event. Our farm is full of chickens that range far and wide on their own to find the best forage. A dog who knows to chase predators from the farm without ever having been told it’s her job. There is even a group of lazy cats that somehow find the time in between naps to keep the barn free from mice. Then there are pigeons, who are able to find their way back from whatever town a race starts in.

Calf sleeping next to hay feeder, other cows stand nearby.

Which begs the question: How do animals know how to do it all? 

In this post-modern society (or so they call it these days) it seems like we have instructions for everything. IE, in public schools we are encouraged to explicitly state each tiny detail for pupils, especially for everyday things like behavior and routines. Although animals come hardwired with a set of instincts, humans have to learn it all from each other.

But, humans are at the top of the food chain, shouldn’t there be all sorts of skills we’re born with?

You can take a class for anything nowadays. There are ECFE parenting classes, expectant mother seminars, businesses that will teach you how to eat healthily, and even personal trainers that will show you how to get in shape. One would think that an organism that is the culmination of a few billion years of evolution would at least be able to eat the right foods without a curriculum…

Yet, we know that’s not the case! Our modern world is hopelessly unnavigable without some serious mental effort. The truth is if you dump a fully grown human into the concrete jungle they can fall into some pretty poor choices indeed. Now, you’re probably thinking that with a clear, moral upbringing people can make good decisions, (your kid would probably do just fine, I’m sure.) Just check out one of those Amish Rumspringa documentaries and it is obvious that the potential for failure is always there, no matter how good the formative years were thought to be.

So where did our instincts go? Is there any direction left in the hardwiring of our brains? Off the cuff, I think there’s hope. I’ve seen too much good in humans to prove otherwise. You can see it in the ways we love and empathize with each other. 

But maybe, deep down, our bodies are telling us a few things about what to do with our time and what to eat. And just like Barbie happily caring for her calf out in the pasture, I’m of the mind that we would all be better off with a little more intuition.

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This post was written by Nick Schmitz, April 2021.

Nick sits in canoe and Luna swims in the water

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