Looking out on the West Pasture
Cows Come Home Sanctuary was created to provide a forever home for nearly 50 FORMER beef cows, steers, bulls and calves when Rick Gentry, a multi-generational farmer, my former husband and current best buddy's heart finally spoke louder than family tradition.
In 2007, my pig, Tobie, and I moved to my soon-to-be husband's cattle farm. I was thrilled that Tobie would have lots of room to roam and graze - and I would live in the midst of lots of lovely cows! What could be more idyllic? And, yes, I'll admit, I had more than a little bit of hope that I could change the fate of those cows.
It was there I first heard the heartbreaking sound of a mother cow crying so desperately for her stolen child. She cried for three days and three nights. I don't know how many days it took for her to give up hope that her baby would walk back out of the trailer that had carried him or her away. I hadn't eaten beef or pork for ethical reasons since 1995 (now vegan!), but I really had no awareness of this painfully sad part of the process when making that decision.
From that day, forward, I was determined to put an end to EVERY part of this cruel process - at least on this farm
It took ten long years.
In 2017, when Rick shared that he could no longer be a part of the process either, I suggested I look into starting a non-profit IF he were willing to donate the cows to the future sanctuary, as I didn't have the means I could purchase them. HE SAID YES!
For five decades, Rick had struggled with conflicting feelings about raising animals with tenderness and love, only to shut those emotions out when it was time to load them into a trailer and deliver them to an eventual brutal death.
We may no longer be husband and wife, but our shared love of animals brought us together and have bonded us for life. I, like thousands of others around the world, am so proud of him and grateful to him for making the decision to spare the lives of these cows. His change of heart meant a huge financial sacrifice and lifestyle change. I don't take it lightly.
My own house sits atop a hill on the family farm, overlooking the West Pasture, where 35+ beautiful cows, each with an important story of his or her own to share with you. Most are members of their own little families, but also have best friends, partners in crime or have adopted another's child. Sadly, some will spend their final years without any of the 10-12 babies they nurtured and loved as fiercely as a human mother loves her own child.
The fields behind Rick's house are home to 13 additional cows, including two steers, the Madison Boys, who are larger than life and the reason Cows Come Home Sanctuary became my dream- and now, reality.
While I lost my beloved Madison in 2014 at age 19 or 20, her two gentle giant sons walk softly in her hoofsteps as the self-appointed babysitters of the children of their herd. It's a bizarre sight to see a tiny, two-day old calf trotting along beside one of these mammoth moos, but it's also a testament to the trust and love in this tight-knit community of kind, sentient beings.
I am excited to share these wonderful, funny, loving, intelligent, caring and curious cows and their stories with the world.
In these fields, I've watched as grown cows cheer from the sidelines as their babies play a rambunctious game of Buzzard Chase. I don't know who invented it, but everyone seems to know the rules and when it's time to retire from the field and join the adults in the cheering section.
In these fields, I watched wide-eyed calves stand by in disbelief as several moms and dads leapt through the air and threw themselves into a just-delivered mountain of sand. They rolled in it with complete abandon, then raced, "laughing" across the field, coated in sand, kicking up their heels. Naturally, the kids had to see what all the fuss was about, but surprisingly, never seemed to enjoy the same unbridled, boisterous fun as their parents. After a few days of heavy-duty cow play, the sand pile wouldn't fill a bucket, but it was worth losing it and $300 to witness their pure joy.
In these fields, I've watched the entire herd running up and down the fenceline behind a worried mother and daughter as they bellowed for an adventurous 6-month old who found itself on the wrong side of the fence. The young calf appeared to be unaware of the excitement, as he explored and destroyed my lawn and landscaping. When reunited, the family of three gathered, heads together, in a relieved cow hug. Kind of reminded me of... oh, yeah... us.
And in these fields, I've witnessed friends and family standing in line, yes, standing in line, to say goodbye to a mother, best friend, child and even the love of one's life.
IT WILL BREAK YOUR HEART.
To watch a tear fall from a young steer's eye as he lay dying or the entire herd gather, then walk to the burial place the following day will do more than break your heart.
It should change it forever.
It's funny how we humans fail- or refuse- to consider the possibility that farmed animals share the same emotions we do, with the ability to love, express joy, concern and grief. Sadly the emotion they know best because of us is fear - fear for their lives, their children, being held against their will. They know so well the same emotion we spend our own lives trying desperately to avoid, yet inflict so easily upon these sentient beings.
If not for the love of a pig, there would be no story about the love of the cows. He was not my first non-human kid, not even my first pig. But he was the first to share my life after escaping an abusive 16 year marriage in CA in 2001. Our journey began in 2004.
He was my first animal-kid to not bear witness to anger or fear, upheaval or sadness. It allowed him to grow up strong, brave and trusting, just as I began to live my life knowing true joy and love without fear and believe our dreams ARE within our reach.
Our nearly 14 year adventure ended on May 6th, 2018, just as the Cows Come Home Sanctuary adventure began, as if he planned it that way.
The hoofprints of the cows are all over my heart, but right at the very center of my being is a pink and black snout print of the pig who inspired it all.