wear your haiku – and support WFAS

Our friends at Wear Your Haiku have partnered with several farmed animal sanctuaries to raise money via shirt sales. Willowbrook Farms is lucky enough to be one of those sanctuaries!

All you need to do is shop their store and use coupon code 10wfas on checkout! That’s it! We will receive around 7$ per shirt sold and you will receive a 10% discount. win-win-win!

Check them out, shop around, and don’t forget to checkout with code 10wfas for your discount and to specifically support Willowbrook with your purchase.

The cow who escaped slaughter… twice

What you are about to read is a mix between facts and assumptions based on the facts. The facts come in two forms: those specific to Cora and those specific to the industries she has lived within. This is not a pretty story and if you don’t like the idea of an animal enduring pain and exploitation, this may not be something you want to read.

Cora Cow-conut has a unique story in that she truly has evaded slaughter … twice. To be rescued from death once is a story in itself – and many sanctuaries have these stories, each one unique to the animal that possesses it. In Cora’s case … she escaped slaughter twice.

This post is to try and piece together what she has experienced in her life, starting at birth. For all she has endured, we have to remember that she is only three years old.

Fact: Cora was born on April 1, 2017. Of course, she wasn’t known as Cora then. She was 5454. We know nothing of her mother or her father … but we know she was a dairy cow born into the dairy industry. Her father was most likely artificially stimulated and his semen captured to be later forcefully inseminated into Cora’s mother.

When she was born she was most likely taken from her mother – the sole reason for dairy cows is to get the milk from the mother and you can’t get the milk if the baby is drinking it. There are some smaller farms that will leave the baby with the mother to nurse at first and there are other farms that put a nose clip on the baby so it cannot drink from his or her mother. We don’t know which kind of farm Cora was on – but because her tail is docked, I would assume it was a larger farm where she would have been separated at birth.

So let’s talk tail docking.

Cora’s tail stops about a foot from the base of her tail

When you are driving around the countryside and see a cow, you are used to seeing a tail: a long hair-covered tail with a tuft of longer hair at the end. They use the tail to swat flies away.

Because Cora is missing the majority of her tail, as her caretakers, we will need to purchase extra accommodations to ensure she is not irritated too badly by flies. Unfortunately, because she is missing most of her tail, whatever we are able to do will not be enough. She will still end up being irritated by flies.

So… the docking procedure – at around age 12-18 months, which coincides to the rough estimate of time the females are artificially inseminated for the first time:

The cow’s tail is docked using a rubber ring, a sharp knife or a hot docking iron. Because the procedure is performed without anaesthetic or pain relief, the cow experiences acute pain. The cow may also experience chronic pain due to inflammation and lesions caused by the procedure (e.g. nerve tumours).

Citation from RSPCA:

I cannot imagine the pain Cora endured because someone thought it was good for them… and by them I mean the humans, not the cow. I can only imagine she cried out in extreme pain because no anesthesia was used. Animals are commodities in the animal industry – she was an “it” to them. She was simply “5454.”

So why dock the tail? It is human convenience, as you can read from the OSU website:

Farmers suggest that the practice of tail docking reduces the transmission of diseases carried by cows, such as Leptospirosis, to workers. Producers also suggest docking improves ease of milking, and makes milking more comfortable for the workers because the shortened tail is less likely to hit people. Importantly, docking is also thought to improve cow cleanliness and udder health and hygiene, thereby decreasing somatic cell count (SCC) and the risk of mastitis.

Citation from OSU:

I’m genuinely not sure if its beneficial to be born a female calf in the dairy industry. The females are taken from their mothers, just like the males; however, they are put into a never ending cycle of forced insemination, birth, having their baby taken away, and then milked on big machines – all the while being hit, shocked, and beaten by the workers.

The male calves are taken from their mothers – but as you can imagine, if the cow is a commodity, what use does a male calf bring the dairy industry? Male calves are usually separated from their mother – also at birth, and then either shot in the head or sold for veal. Those options are at the discretion of the farm (big, small, local, global). I guess there is the option to be allowed to grow up and be used as a bull; unfortunately, this means he will be continually artificially stimulated to ejaculation via electric shock applied inside the anus.

I’m not sure which is worse …

Back to Cora … to recap: on birth, she was most likely removed from her mother and raised on a bottle with formula. Around age 1 when it was time to artificially inseminate her for the first time, she had her tail cut off without anesthesia.

The story then has a gap – a series of time where we can only speculate.

We know the intent do breed and milk her was there, indicated by her tail being docked, we just don’t know what happened between the time she was tail docked and when she was sent for slaughter.We don’t know if she gave birth to any babies or if she had/has reproductive problems. We don’t know if she just doesn’t produce enough milk if she did give birth. Maybe the farm just ended up with too many cows.

What we do know is that for some reason, shortly before October 2019, she was labeled as useless. She was a product that was not meeting expectation – whatever that expectation was. Because of this, the farm where she was a dairy cow decided she needed to be culled from the herd. Culled is a term of convenience for farmers – to cull an animal is to get rid of what you don’t want or what you don’t need … to the animal, cull means death.

She was sent to auction for slaughter – her one last use to the farm because she was being sold. It was at that auction, that the university decided to buy her so that she could begin the next stage of her life as a lab animal. Once purchased away from death for the first time, she was given a hoof trim, various vaccinations, and tested for critical diseases in cows. Cora passed those tests with flying colors. These records are how we know roughly when the university purchased her.

Cora, still 5454 to the university, was used to teach vet students large animal anatomy. The students learned how to handle and treat certain issues for bovine. And from the students, she picked up some names like Popsicle and Coconut. And this is how her time from October-ish 2019 until March 2020 was lived.

And then the university decided she was no longer needed – useless again.

And we all know what useless means – it means she was going to be sent back to the auction for slaughter. This time she was being sold to regain assets lost by the university having purchased her the first time. Her life fell into the hands of policy.

Fortunate for Cora – not everyone at the university thought she was useless. There were several students that wanted to save Cora and one in particular, a vet student Cora met in anatomy class, was determined to save her life.

Alexandria reached out to several sanctuaries – Willowbrook included. Some responded they did not have space and others didn’t respond at all. I know its a grey area about purchasing animals away from slaughter because in the end, we are just giving money back to the industry to keep doing what they are doing.

But how do you tell the animal that you need to “prove a point” at the cost of their life?

While we, as Willowbrook, were not able to financially support the purchase of Cora – we definitely were ok with an owner surrender from Alexandria to our sanctuary. And that is what happened.

I tell the story of the auction in another post that outlines the timeline of Cora going from the university to the sanctuary.

But the important takeaway is that Cora was seen as an individual and Alexandria did all she could to save Cora’s life. She raised the money via GoFundMe, Venmo, and a little via Facebook. She had others giving her money to help – over 100 people came together to support Alexandria in her mission to save Cora’s life.

Cora escaped slaughter for a second time on April 13th, 2020. From this day forward, we know Cora’s story because she is here with us. She eats grass and chews her cud, she relaxes in the sun and shades herself when she feels like it. She has nibbled at leaves on the trees and called over to the neighbor cow herd … and she has played with Charlie, the mini donkey, that shares the pasture with her. She runs, trots, scratches, and moo’s – all at her own discretion. No more expectations other than we expect ourselves to be good stewards for Cora – to show her love and give her the care she deserves.

I would like to finish with one more fact about the industry.

Go over to Google, I’ll wait here. Search “average lifespan of a dairy cow” – you will be presented with a very bold answer:

The average life span of dairy cows in the U.S. today is 4 to 6 years old, however with a natural life expectancy up to 15-20 years, it is not unheard of to find a 10 or 15 year old cow still milking on a dairy.

Citation from Cornell:

The reason the lifespan in the dairy industry is so low is because they are culled as soon as they become useless to the industry. Many cows breakdown to the point of being unable to stand and they are carted off, or in most cases chained and drug, to a trailer where they are loaded for auction. They are slaughtered.

Cora is only 3 and had she stayed in the dairy industry, she would not have lived much more than three more years if she were lucky. But now that she is at sanctuary, provided no accidents or illness, she has the potential to live to be 20 years.

Cora’s lifespan has changed significantly because we have changed the humans she is around. You can help change the lives of animals in the dairy industry by simply choosing to not consume dairy. It’s so much better for your health (you can Google that too!) and it helps reduce the demand on that industry. Less demand = less cows being subjected to the cruelty generated by human greed.

As for Cora, we are simply thankful that we can help the remainder of her life, whatever that is, be one that is cruelty-free … one that is full of love.

Matt offering Cora a carrot as her very first Willowbrook treat.

The Timeline of Cora Cow-conut

In truth, I do not even know where to begin with this story. So, I guess I’ll start at the very beginning and hope you, dear reader, can endure such a long post!

On March 12, 2020, a vet student reached out to us blindly. Her ask was if we could take in a single cow. The cow in question was a holstein she met during her anatomy class (and maybe others, I don’t know). She gave a brief description and after talking it over with my partner in life and sanctuary, Matt, we decided to respond “yes – we would take her.” I asked for pictures but the response was that the university had policies against photographing lab animals. Later, in other conversation, I found out she said she had reached out to several sanctuaries but there was no room or no response.

We were the only sanctuary that said yes. At that time, we were good on space and the pandemic hadn’t even crossed our minds. It simply wasn’t a thing. She said she would let us know the details as she had them.

And then … pandemic.

We heard nothing, and in truth, I thought the university wasn’t going to do anything. Who could hold an auction in the middle of a pandemic lockdown? Well – the animal industry, of course. I recognize now that she was part of the food supply chain and with or without pandemic, the food supply chain lives on.

Fast forward to Tuesday, April 7th (one week ago from this post), I received another message that the university was sending the cow to the sale barn for slaughter in less than 7 days. Alexandria, the vet student, had it together. In her message she made it clear she was already securing transport (truck and trailer) although she had not done any fundraising because she thought she had more time with the pandemic. We did too.

We both knew that it wouldn’t be cheap and she wanted to start the fundraising immediately. My recommendation was we had to have a name for her. After her original contact in March, my family had already had some conversations and selected some names we liked. We were simply waiting to meet her – but that really isn’t how it worked out. I tossed some of the names back at Alexandria and she landed on Cora. Cora Cow-conut (because the students in class called her cow-conut … it has become her last name).

We exchanged some words and in no time, a GoFundMe had been created.

Again – no pictures because of university policy.

Within 24 hours the fundraiser blew through the halfway mark and within 48, I believe it was fully funded. And after a couple more days, it creeped over the goal line by a little more than a hundred. Watching that number go up so fast was the first big hurdle being crushed. Next was transport and then the actual auction.

I’d like to throw a disclaimer here that we, Willowbrook Farms, did not donate to assist in the purchase of Cora. It is against our ethical belief and against our bylaws, but we can take an animal from a private holder and in this case, Alexandria was trying to become that private holder. It was absolutely nerve-wracking on our end. We were helpless but so wanting her to succeed. We do not want to buy into the animal industry but for her, this was the only way to save her.

Alexandria came into transport what seemed to be pretty easily. Truth be told, it could have been a nightmare for her but it didn’t seem that way on our end. So many people wanted to help save Cora’s life and things that would have been difficult either weren’t or we were simply willing to work through them.

Two days after the notice of when Cora was going to be sold, I was notified by my employer that my wages were going to be reduced due to the company’s need to respond to the COVID-19 impact on business. At that point my heart sunk because of Cora. We were the only sanctuary to say yes – would we still be able to afford her care? We rely heavily on my wages for the sanctuary. Whatever is not spent on our daily needs as a family goes straight to the sanctuary. We do get donations and we appreciate them – we genuinely appreciate those donations, the farm is still ran primarily on my wages. I did go through a bit of panic about it. I didn’t cry about it until I thought of Cora and her fate.

But then I realized I had been praying for Cora’s life and whatever is needed to make that life comfortable. If it was us, great – if it wasn’t – that’s great too. Because in the end, it was about Cora. I reached out and found that other sanctuaries in the area really were not able to take her, but they were willing to offer help! I received links to emergency vet grants I could apply for if needed (which really is applicable to any of our residents in this time of need). We were offered a round bale … which we will probably take them up on after she eats down the grass).

And it hit me – we can give Cora what she NEEDS and be ok with that. If I can’t give her everything I want, that’s ok too. She will get so much more than she would have should she had been sold to someone else … in fact, life here is much better than death.

We decided that we could not live on “what if” scenarios and just go forward with the original plan. My husband, Matt, was critical in that decision. Of course, he had been around cows in his past life whereas I have not. So I think he had a bit more real life application to apply rather than my imagination of every disease and injury running rampant at the farm.

The ups and downs of this story were mostly for the humans. Cora was the one with the greatest risk – being sold into slaughter for a second time. The weekend seemed like it took forever but at the same time it went so fast. We simply had to wait for word. No one knew how the sale would go. Would Alexandria have enough money? What has the pandemic done to the market for live cows? We simply didn’t know.

Monday started with a quick exchange of “good luck” from me to her. I cannot imagine what it felt like to be Alexandria that day… and then I received a picture with the message: we found her.

They knew she was there and all it was now – a waiting game… a bidding game. All for the life of Cora Cow-conut.

This picture here – this is the first image I had seen of Cora. She looks sad BUT she also is looking towards the camera. I do think she recognized Alexandria and her friends – and she had to have some sense of joy knowing someone she knew was there with her. Alexandria messaged me that Cora was looking right at them.

And then silence. It was a wait for the auction to get started and make their way to Cora. As it turns out, she was almost the last animal to be auctioned. And then the three most amazing words ever messaged to me:

“I got her.”

That was the moment that we here at Willowbrook went into a flurry of action. We had been holding off on some last minute items because if Cora was not saved, then these were things that would not need to occur.

But she was and we had to get moving fast!

By the time the truck hauling Cora pulled into the drive – we were ready. So was Cora. Alexandria backed the trailer into the pasture entrance and with help of her friends, dropped the gate of the trailer. It took a couple minutes, but Cora untrailered herself.

NOTE: I failed as a cameraman because I got video of Cora in the trailer looking around, and video of her looking around… after she left the trailer. Nothing in between. DOH! I was just. too. excited!

We could not hug or celebrate this wonderful moment because of the pandemic, but I assure you it was all smiles and joyful laughter. Charlie and Cora acquainted themselves quickly and have stayed relatively close to one another in the last 16 hours. I’m sure it will be more of the same. They have even played a few times, which is super cute to watch!

I think this is pretty much it for her timeline over the last week or so – how she got to Willowbrook. Cora is deserving of another story… a shorter one – the one that tells the story of her life. She is, as the case may be, the cow that escaped slaughter twice.