I live in a rural community and as such my drive to work takes me past wonderful vistas of hay fields, streams, lakes, dairy farms and of course, being in the great north east, beautiful mountains.
I drive about 30 miles one way to and from work each day. I have been doing this for over 20 years. You would think that one would take the views for granted after a while but the views constantly change with each season, and no two seasons appear the same. In the spring the snow melts and the tree buds appear. The hay fields start to green-up and the chirping of birds slowly increase as the sun appears for longer periods of the day. The smell of early spring flowers flood in through the partially open windows, each season brings its own special attributes, each one different and I that's what I love the most about the north east, the changing of the seasons.
There was and still is one constant that I notice each year. That is, newborn cows tied up to trees on the farmer's front lawns or tethered to a wall in a semi-open barn. This was a sign of renewal that came throughout the year, no matter what season.
The dairy farm that I drive past everyday pastures their cattle on the opposite side of the highway, from the barn and farmhouse. The ritual - twice a day - once in the morning and once in the early evening, is to block off the main road while the cows cross from the pasture to the barn. Driving past these baby cows used to bring me joy but over the years I began to notice that these baby cows would wind their tether chain around the tree trunk until they couldn't move. Other than the tree branches and leaves, they were not provided with shelter. It began to deeply sadden me, to see this cycle of newborn cows being culled out and deprived of their mothers nourishment, both physically and emotionally.
I discovered that the weaning process begins early for female calves (who are the ones I saw tied to the trees) and immediately for the male calves (who were tied to wall posts - their mother on the opposite side). The female calves would go on to become dairy cows and continue the process and the male calves would be picked up weekly and brought to auction for the veal industry.
Driving by the farm, one morning in late fall of 2006, I happened to notice one calf in particular. I don't know why, but I felt compelled by this particular little guy and I pulled to the side of the road to get a closer look. Knowing it was Wednesday, and having become familiar with the farm routine, I knew that he would be picked up the next day for auction. I felt a pressing desire to do something, to save this helpless being from a fate that he had no control over. Jan and I had previously discussed the terrible life that these animals go through and without hesitation we both decided that we needed to rescue this calf.
We approached the farmer to ask if we could have this calf. The farmer said that he would get $150.00 for this calf at auction and if we agreed to pay that fee then we could take him. Hesitant at first (only because paying meant - in a way - supporting the meat and dairy industry) we decided that this calf's life was more important. We handed the farmer the money and away we went.
[When we went into the barn the farmer kicked the calf in the side to make him stand up. He explained that "this is what you do to get them on their feet." The little guy's hind end was covered in feces and his tail was stuck to his body. We put him in the back of our horse trailer and brought him home. We have three family horses (Spirit, Amber and Mac) who were very curious about their new friend. Once out of the trailer the calf began to run around and kicked his hind legs high in the air. It was as if he knew that he was safe.]
Our family horses and Dylan - checking each other out
Dylan, when he first arrived at our house
This was a first for us, and we felt heavy in heart knowing that we had left others behind, but saving one life - this particular life - felt important and felt right. Neither Jan or I had tended to a cow before so we needed some instruction. With a few frantic phone calls and some Web site searches we figured out the basics of what we needed to buy for food and supplies. Over the next few days Jan phoned numerous places and people hoping to find a permanent home for this newly-freed fellow. After hours she finally reached Jenny Brown and Doug Abel of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (WFAS) in Woodstock, NY. They agreed to take the calf and said that he would become an ambassador for all farm animals.
Jan feeding Dylan
We put down some hay in the back of our horse trailer to prep for the calf's journey to his new home. We walked him inside the trailer and he circled and made himself comfortable as he laid down in the bed of hay. He was quiet and seemed content during the 1.5 hour road trip to WFAS.
Dylan, nestled in the hay on the horse trailer
Upon arrival Doug welcomed the calf with open arms and was anxious to make him feel comfortable and safe. Since the calf was only about one week old, it would be a few weeks before it would be safe for him to join the existing herd.
Doug Abel carrying Dylan to be weighed (80 pounds)
WFAS named him Dylan and now, this former veal calf is two-years-old, friendly as all get-out, and weighs about 800-pounds. Jan and I enjoy visiting him a couple times each year and when we approach the fence and call to him, he always comes running over to greet us.
Top: Dylan with Jan and Dave (2007)
Bottom: Dylan with WFAS 2007 ThanksLiving attendees
We can hardly find words to express our gratitude to Dylan and what he has done for our lives. This experience reinforced that our moral compass is set in the right direction.
Thank you to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary for their open arms.