Animal Rights

These Cows Were Drowning in Their Own Waste—Now They've Found a Loving Home (Video)

Once victims of cruelty and neglect, these cattle are now cherished and safe.

Cows rescued by Farm Sanctuary.
Photo Credit: Farm Sanctuary

A supporter of Farm Sanctuary recently reached out to us regarding 10 cattle who were the victims of cruelty and neglect in Chester County, PA. Nine calves had died in a barn, and the remaining 10 cattle in the building were being removed. 

This horrific scene did not take place on a large industrial farm, but instead at a “hobby farm” where they used the Ayrshire cattle for show, and had other cattle and horses as well. The farm owner and his family had taken the cows to fairs, where they were paraded in front of judges and received prizes. As is often the case, no one knew how dire the situation was behind the scenes.

Another victim was this young gelding who was found skeletal, with leg and tendon issues and severely overgrown hooves. He was so tiny that they assumed he was a few months old, but the vet confirmed he was in fact over a year. He remains with his rescuers from LAPS.

Thankfully, the Large Animal Protection Society (LAPS), an all-volunteer organization in Pennsylvania with investigative authority, learned of the cattle through the police, along with another Pennsylvania group, Helping Hands for Animals. They had responded to a complaint from a good Samaritan about a dead horse seen in a pasture. Fortunately, the horse turned out to be sleeping, but the complaint launched an investigation into the cruel and neglectful practices taking place in the idyllic Pennsylvania countryside. 

When investigators arrive, what they found were not valued, prize-winning cattle, but instead 19 bovines in a barn with mud and feces so deep that nine calves appeared to have literally drowned in the muck. 

These animals were forced to live in conditions unfit for any living being. 

Once we saw the photos, we couldn’t believe the conditions these animals had come from and knew that we could really help take these animals — once treated as trash — and allow them to be the true treasures that they are.  

The corpses of the dead calves were buried so deep it was hard to see what was feces and what was actually the body of another calf. 

We will start with the babies, each just a few weeks old. Only three of 12 calves survived. One surviving bull calf — a little Holstein whom the farmer had purchased from auction just a few weeks before — was found snuggling up to a deceased calf for comfort. Likely a dairy baby, he had already been separated from his mother and shipped to auction, only to be forced into another cruel environment.

Our sweet boy leans against the body of a deceased calf surrounded by other calves who perished in the muck.  

The first layers of muck removed, this tiny Holstein calf emerges from the darkness.  

Two other calves who also had supposedly been recent purchases looked more like Ayrshire crosses (after their baths). They also look like siblings, one male and one female. An inseparable pair, they huddled closely together after their rescue. 

It is impossible to believe that these are two mostly white calves under all that filth. These two remain at the Nemo Farm Animal Hospital at Cornell University. Once they are healthy, they will mooooove to their new home at Skylands Animal Sanctuary & Rescue

Brother and sister showered and feeling much better, and clearly feeling safe with the amazing folks at LAPS.  

The other cattle in the barn were older and able to withstand the conditions they were forced to live in. The other survivors included a year-old bull, two adult female cows and four yearling females. We are awaiting results of testing to see if anyone is pregnant, and if so, how far along — although we know that one of the older females is definitely months into her pregnancy. 

All clean and recovering, the family stays close together. 

Although the farmer claimed he wasn’t sure how the cattle had been shut inside the barn, and that they couldn’t have been in there for more than three days, it was evident that they had been confined much longer than that. There was two to three feet of wet muck and feces all through the barn, even deeper in some areas.  

I call this girl the Announcer, since she is our big talker. 

Gates were stuck in place because the manure was so deep, and the smell was unimaginable. Fortunately, the farmer agreed to surrender the 10 cattle, though shockingly, he was permitted to keep many more animals who were found outside of the barn. Charges have been filed against him, including failure to provide veterinary care and failure to provide sanitary conditions to his animals.

First week at Farm Sanctuary and a lot of brushing to get the last of the dirt off. These girls are starting to settle in. Notice that the Announcer is announcing her excitement. 

Last week, it was time for these cattle to leave the protective setting of LAPS and move on to the next stage of their journey. Mike Stura from Skylands and Kevin Weil, Jim Dumbleton and Amy Gaetz from Farm Sanctuary’s Watkins Glen team picked up the 10 survivors. 

This still-too-skinny group of girls has a long way to go to get over their trauma, but we are so happy that they are starting their new chapter with us. 

Skylands will be keeping the two twin calves and the feisty year-old bull, but also helped transport two of the yearlings. (Our two very large trailers were full, since we had also brought gates to help load the cattle from the field where they were grazing.) The Holstein calf will also be coming back to Watkins Glen this week. He was taken to Cornell, since he still is quite lethargic and too quiet for a calf. 

The four young girls, each around a year old, are slowly learning to trust people again.  

Because of the generosity and compassion of members of Farm Sanctuary’s Farm Animal Adoption Network, homes for the four yearling girls and the Holstein calf have been secured. Before traveling to their new homes, however, they have a few more medical needs to attend to.  

I don’t think a face could be cuter. One of the yearlings and quite the darling. 

The little Holstein is still dealing with a very tough case of pneumonia, and he is a bit bloated, but hopefully all of these issues will resolve quickly. We also have a lot of GI issues to look into, but again we are hopeful that everyone will make a full recovery. We will continue to update our amazing members, who make all of our rescue efforts possible.

Loving the wide open spaces of our Watkins Glen sanctuary.  

So now here in Watkins Glen, we have six beautiful girls who are trying hard to adjust to their new surroundings. We are learning each of their personalities and where they fit into this amazing little herd. Although they will never be show cattle, they have something much more valuable than ribbons and trophies: love, respect, security, and care. 

Our new friends running on pasture.

Whenever an animal is seen as a commodity who can bring financial gain to another, she is seen as being worth only what that gain is. She is not seen as a being — as someone — but as a thing. And no matter its financial value, a thing is still a thing, and can easily be discarded. 

The bravest is always the one to make sure the photographer is on the up and up. Paparazzi beware.  

Being seen as someone means you are priceless to those who love you, and each of these beautiful cows is now someone — not something. 

Family: loved, cherished, priceless. They are all someone.

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Susie Coston is the National Shelter Director at Farm Sanctuary, America's largest farm animal rescue organization. She leads Farm Sanctuary’s annual Farm Animal Care Conference.