I hope you’ll spare a few minutes to read their story.
The last month was like none I’d ever experienced. It started when a customer friend reached out to me to see if I could help spread the word. She and her animal activist friend were looking to find homes for several newborn calves that her friend planned to rescue from the dairy industry the following morning. To be specific, these were newborn male calves, who are considered byproducts. They are of no use and little monetary value to dairy farmers.
I immediately sprung into action, having no clue how entangled and emotionally invested I would become in this mission. What started out as a bunch of direct messages to some of my contacts quickly evolved into much more.
The Roller Coaster Freedom Ride
The elation that came with my first “up” of securing transportation and a place to live at an animal sanctuary for one of the calves rapidly plummeted to a “down.” The farmer, who had agreed to give up 3 calves, had a last minute change of heart and sold those babies to another farmer. This was after we had lined up places for them all to go. A couple of days later, we learned that the same farmer would soon have as many as 11 baby bull (male) calves available. Yay, another “up,” albeit a stressful one! This meant that additional adopters, transportation, donations to help cover food (milk replacer), medication, vaccinations and travel expenses were needed ASAP.
I’m in Wisconsin. The calves were in Georgia, heading to foster care in South Carolina. The people I found to drive the newborns to their forever homes live in Iowa. Our combined efforts led to a plan for the calves to be transported to homes and sanctuaries in South Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas, Colorado, Texas, and Florida.
Here’s what we hadn’t planned:
• Covid struck 3 members of one of the adopter households. As a result, we had to find replacement homes and rearrange transportation kindly provided by volunteers. We wanted to adopt out the babies in pairs, so that each guy would have a companion. These calves were ripped away from their mothers after birth and transferred in unsatisfactory conditions with inadequate provisions within the first days of their lives. The least we could do was provide them a little bit of comfort by keeping some of them together, if possible.
• A freak accident at the calves’ first stop (where they were being fostered) led to the death of the family’s beloved dog, and a broken thumb. Like human newborns, calves need to be fed every few hours. Can you imagine taking care of 11 new babies, in addition to your own family and other animal residents with the thumb of your dominant hand out of commission?
• Calves’ health is very fragile, especially when they don’t receive the milk that was biologically produced for them by their mothers. This is one of the many injustices of dairy. While newborn calves are being fed milk replacer, people are drinking the milk intended for the offspring of the cows who bore them. Supposedly, these babies received colostrum from their mothers for 7 days, which would have helped protect them from deadly infections following birth. But, with no use for these boys, what incentive was there for the farmer to ensure the calves got what they needed?
• Immediately after the first four calves were transported, grave zoonotic and contagious illnesses struck. We were already worried about pneumonia, diarrhea and umbilical infections. But the introduction of cryptosporidium, salmonella, and clostridium – “the trifecta of calf killing pathogens,” as the director of Broken Shovels Farm Sanctuary put it – was devastating news.
• Emergency arrangements were made to find additional drivers and transportation to get the calves (some of whom were now across the country) to the nearest university animal hospitals. Unlike farm veterinary clinics, these facilities are equipped to handle the lifesaving measures that were so urgently needed. Had a handful of people not dropped everything they were doing on that Saturday to rush the calves to the hospital, we would have lost even more of them.
• Human exposure to the above mentioned illnesses caused severe infection (E. coli, C. diff, and rotavirus) to at least two of the rescuers involved. And if that wasn’t bad enough, one of these people was also exposed to someone with Covid-19 upon returning home. Unbelievable, I know.
• Despite our best intentions, communication problems and misunderstandings amongst those involved in the mission added to the stress that most of us were experiencing. We were fried, frustrated and heartbroken.
The liberation of the calves had started out so successfully. I felt like an expectant aunt, cheering with glee every time new photos of the beautiful calves popped up on my phone! We dubbed them the #Lucky1s. But a couple of weeks later, that Freedom Ride riddled with more “downs” than “ups,” seemed more like a cattle car… a car that veered so far off track that I was left nauseated.
Ultimately, only 3 of the 11 calves survived. Even with all we’d done to provide these babies the opportunity to enjoy long happy lives, we still lost 8 of them. We had saved them from slaughter! We had found them transportation to loving homes in 5 different states! We had found donations to cover some of the expenses. We fed them and cared for these frightened and fragile babies. We rushed them to hospitals where they were kept for days. But it wasn’t enough.
I felt totally deflated and couldn’t get what happened out of my head. So, here I am now, sharing this story with you. I hope it encourages you to learn more about the dairy industry. First and foremost, for ethical reasons, but also for your own health and the future of our planet. More and more studies are coming out about the negative effects of cows’ milk.
From an animal rights perspective, the dairy industry is the meat industry, only worse. If you didn’t already, you now know that male calves are considered byproducts and disposable. If they aren’t killed or sold for cheap beef shortly after birth, they get confined to very small enclosures, to become veal.
Female calves suffer even more. They are bred and used as milking machines like their mothers. They are impregnated repeatedly. Cows carry their young for 9 months like we do, but they have every one of their babies taken away shortly after delivering them. This is because their milk is “needed” for human consumption. Cows are maternal beings. They love their offspring as we do. They bellow and cry for their missing babies and their babies cry back.
When cows are no longer profitable, a.k.a. “spent,” they are sold off for slaughter. This typically happens at between the ages of 4 to 6, but cows’ natural lifespan is closer to 20 years. Nearly all fast food hamburgers were dairy cows.*
If you are a mom or a feminist or a compassionate person, I can’t imagine that these standard industry practices sit well with you.
*Source: from the book, The Cow With Ear Tag #1389
How to Help
If you’d like to learn more about dairy, please visit my Links page, my Instagram account or send me an email for more information. Milk, yogurt, ice cream, and cheese used to be an large part of my daily diet. But, once I learned the truth, I could no longer pay for the suffering and killing of innocent beings. I can help you quit, too.
If you are interested in helping with the care of the calves or contributing to cover their thousands of dollars of hospital bills, please contact the sanctuaries below. Any donation at all is so appreciated!
Babies Oberon, Puck, Theseus, and Lysander are residents of Broken Shovels Farm Sanctuary, in Colorado
Baby Nicholas** lives at Shy 38, in Kansas