Cows are remarkable creatures. They are highly sentient and intelligent with markedly different personalities. Like our classmates or colleagues, some are friendly and considerate while others are bossy and devious. To most people though, cows are mere food products of one sort or another: steak, burgers, veal, leather, and producers of dairy milk. And, though cows also have strong maternal bonds and are attentive, protective, and loving parents, a shocking 97 percent of calves birthed on dairy farms are taken away from their mothers within the first 24 hours of their lives so their mother’s milk can be used for human consumption. Many of the cows at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls, NY are survivors of the dairy industry. Here are four heartwarming stories of rescued cows and their babies—all of whom I am lucky enough to call my friends—that’ll make you want to stop eating someone’s mother or offspring.
Colin and Woody kept everyone up at night—just like other babies, they wanted their mothers.
Last year at this time, we were up throughout the night to bottle-feed rescued calves Colin and Woody (we’re sure human moms can relate). Rescued from a large-scale dairy farm as newborns, the calves came to Woodstock sick and wanting their mothers. Whenever we spent time with them, the cows suckled our fingers. Weighing 60 pounds and just a few days old, they were just babies. Though the pair were scared and confused when they first arrived at the sanctuary, they now get to spend most of their time outside in their pasture, growing and thriving, as baby cows should. With their soft hair and black and white patches, they are likely the cutest cows you’ll ever see.
After surviving their own traumas, friends Maybelle and Kayli became beloved mother figures.
Maybelle was kept at a historical reenactment site as a demonstration milking cow. She was milked continuously, so she had to give birth again and again; tragically, she had many calves who were taken from her. Nowadays, she is a kind and gentle cow who lives in a pasture with her more rambunctious friend, Kayli. When Colin and Woody were big enough, they joined Kayli and Maybelle, who took on different roles with the boys. Maybelle is sweet and maternal, whereas Kayli is bossy and teaches them manners. It’s the perfect combination to show these boys how to be grown-up steers. Kayli gets very protective of them when there are strangers around and will closely watch their interactions, but they go to Maybelle for reassurance. It’s amazing to see them have these two mother figures in their lives—they have become a perfect little family.
Old “Baby Elvis”—rescued as a calf from a dairy farm—is now revered as the king of the sanctuary.
Elvis is 17 years old and the patriarch of our senior herd. He was rescued as a calf from a dairy farm, just like Colin and Woody. He’s also a Holstein, which you can tell because of his coloring and size. Sadly, Elvis’ mother never got to know that her baby calf ended up being saved from slaughter, and is now living a peaceful life at the sanctuary. He’s a handsome steer with a big, strong body and horns—but he is endlessly curious, and especially enjoys accepting love from human friends.
Fawn—born into the dairy production industry—can now trust humans again, and is perhaps the friendliest cow you’ll ever meet.
At another barn, little Fawn sun-bathes and spends time with her friends Maribeth and Johnny Boy. Fawn is a Jersey, a breed used for dairy production. She was born on a dairy farm, but her mother was chained up in a milking stall and unable to move during labor, so Fawn fell back into the concrete manure pit when she was born, hitting her face and a front knee. Typically, she would have been killed by the farmers because of her injuries, but luckily, a local woman rescued her and eventually reached out to Woodstock for help. Sadly, Fawn’s mother was never able to know that she survived. We met Fawn a year after she was born, at a point when her injuries were compounded and she needed medical intervention to live. She now wears a state-of-the-art prosthetic brace and a boot on her legs to help her stay healthy and mobile. Fawn was going to be used in the dairy industry just like her mother, but serendipitously, her tragic birth wound up saving her life. These days, Fawn is one of our friendliest cows, with a bright and bubbly personality that everyone adores.
If you come across a cow who is contentedly chewing her forage, she may look like she doesn’t have a care in the world—but there’s a lot going on behind those big brown eyes. If you’ve never given much thought to how wonderful these gentle giants are, Mother’s Day is a perfect time to start.
Rachel McCrystal is the Executive Director of Woodstock Animal Sanctuary and a lifelong animal and environmental activist.
Photo credit: Animals Australia