“Humans take the beautiful things about these animals and use them against them.”
Grace was no more than five months old when she arrived at Asher’s Farm Sanctuary. On the road—probably on her way to an auction—she fell off the production truck that she was being transported on and was hit by a car. A passer-by who witnessed the terrifying ordeal contacted the Boksburg SPCA who took the young calf in immediately, giving her a warm place to spend a few nights. Her hip was dislocated, and she was in a great deal of pain. The SPCA, unable to offer long-term care—and with their only option to euthanise her—took a chance and called Asher’s to ask if they could provide her with a forever home—for as long as “forever” might be. The Asher’s team left immediately to collect her.
Poor Grace was not in a good way, but there was hope. As she was being loaded into the horse trailer, she vocalised for the first time, and the Asher’s team knew without a doubt that she deserved a second chance. While euthanasia was the last conceivable option for this gentle but courageous survivor with the big brown eyes and eyelashes that went on for days, the team realised that in time, with her body too large and heavy to be supported by her dislocated hip, euthanasia would be inevitable. There was, however, another option—and it was going to require a serious amount of fundraising—and that was surgery.
Many surgeons and many opinions later—and the funding in place—it was decided that Grace would be operated on at Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute. An implant, designed by a team of specialists specifically for her, was flown out to South Africa from abroad. Despite her trauma, youth was on her side and, barring the fact that she would always walk with a slight limp, the prognosis for a full recovery was good. The operation was long and complicated with many bone fragments requiring removal, but, after over four hours in surgery, her operation was declared a success. A week later, she was given the all-clear, and she was transported back to the sanctuary. Upon her arrival, she vocalised loudly, almost as if she was expressing her gratitude to all the angels who had gathered around her from the beginning of her ordeal to that very moment, carrying her gently to her new family and her forever home.
Her stablemate and best friend, Mr T, a fully grown white ox, weighs in at 950kg. He is fascinated by anything that is smaller than him. When the two of them are both indoors, they talk to each other and lick one another. Despite his large size, he is incredibly gentle with her and genuinely concerned about her. His love for her does not go unnoticed.
Grace quickly learned to trust humans again—she did not allow her thoughts to be clouded by what-ifs. She felt safe and loved, and that was all that mattered. Cows in general—and Grace in particular—are incredibly innocent, docile and sweet-natured, and are so easy to connect with. Ironically, it is their gentle natures that are exploited by human beings. From the beginning of their lives on a factory farm—and despite the constant mistreatment and abuse they endure—they will still look up at the human who stands there at the end, ready to shoot a bolt through their head, hoping that this person might be the one to save them from their misery.
Just like humans, in order to produce milk, a female cow needs to fall pregnant and give birth. She is artificially (and forcefully) impregnated once she reaches a weight deemed suitable to carry a young calf. Once she has given birth, her milk production begins, but her calf is unable to bond and suckle because the milk that its mother is producing is destined for human beings. If the calf is female, she is fattened up and sent away from the farm at which she was born to an auction site where she is sold back into the system to produce milk like her mother. Depending on their breed, female dairy cows will be snapped up either by a cheese farmer, or a dairy farmer. The cheese farms will snap up the Brown Swiss cows, while the dairy farms will bid on both the Holstein Friesian and Brown Swiss cows. If the calf is male, he is of no use to the dairy industry—he becomes a veal calf and is sent to the veal crates where he is fed powdered milk and slaughtered within a few weeks. Non-dairy cows, both male and female, are sent to feeding lots where they are fattened up and sent off to the abattoir to be slaughtered.
Grace’s breed is that of a Brown Swiss, a Swiss breed of dairy cattle. Brown Swiss cows are a popular all-rounder breed good for milking and meat and, in particular, the production of cheese, due to the high-fat content of their milk. Brown Swiss are the second largest dairy breed after the Holstein Friesian, producing exceptionally high volumes of milk per annum. There are an estimated fourteen million others like Grace on the planet. They are considered “good” dairy cows because of their robustness—their legs able to handle more weight, which means that they can provide longer lactation cycles than the average milking cow, and so, from a production point of view, the industry is able to get more milking cycles out of them. The Brown Swiss breed is also less prone to mastitis, a painful bacterial infection common amongst dairy cows where, through the various intensive dairy farming methods used, the udders become red, hot, hard and inflamed, secreting pus, clots and flakes into the milk, making it unsuitable for commercial use. This infected milk is usually fed to the veal calves, rather than having the product go to waste. All milk contains an industry-accepted level of pus, in line with current health regulations. Treating a cow for mastitis would mean antibiotics, and hence removal from the production line, so most are left untreated. There is rarely a cow who is not infected with mastitis at some stage of her service to the dairy industry, so it is inevitable that this pus-infected milk is
Dairy cows—once “spent” and no longer producing babies—are deemed “useless” and, as with all other animals in the industry who have reached the end of their productive—and reproductive—cycles, they are simply sent off to the abattoir to be sold off into the meat industry. It is a sad reality that all factory-farmed cows, whether they are used for meat or dairy, eventually end up at the slaughterhouse. Cows can live well into their twenties—and even their thirties and forties depending on how well they are looked after—but dairy cows are generally “spent” at between four and five years.
Grace is one of the lucky ones who will live to be a happy old cow at the sanctuary, but she will always remember what happened to her. Animals are often mistaken for having a limited capacity for loving or for remembering, but they carry a great deal of sadness and trauma that they don’t necessarily want to be reminded of. They feel the same love and pain that we feel as humans—all they lack is the ability to rationalise their experiences and express their hurt and confusion. Because of this, their other human-like qualities are disregarded. The trauma they experience on factory farms becomes trapped in their bodies in the same way that it would become stuck in a human body. The only time that trauma is released is when they are slaughtered, only that it is passed on to the consumers who unknowingly consume this trapped energy. It certainly says a great deal about the current state of human mental, physical and emotional wellbeing in the world today.