Lay of the Land: Farmer shuns the slaughter as herd granted sanctuary
Living in the country exposes an animal lover to some stark realities. Because if absence makes the heart grow fonder, imagine the suffering of all the missing mothers behind those many fields of unaccompanied calves that have become a common sight in recent years, as a consequence of dramatic expansion of the dairy industry.
But compassion is slowly beginning to effect change - and never is it more heartening than when it comes from those within the industry. Like the Munster farmer who has chosen to forgo the small fortune he could make by sending his 70 milking moos to slaughter. Instead, he will make history as they become the first dairy herd in Ireland to go to an animal sanctuary.
"I can retire with peace of mind now, knowing they will live out their days together," says the farmer, who has individually named the magnificent 70. "I am so grateful to Joe from Charlie's Equine Rescue for helping me get them to safety, and to Sharon Shannon, who came down to visit us and played a few tunes. The support is wonderful."
Not least from Catriona Lowry, a Galway native now living in County Clare who set up the gofundme campaign to cover the costs.
"A lot of this herd are in calf, so it is wonderful that they will get to raise their babies, who won't ever have to endure premature and unnatural separations from their mothers at a few days or weeks old," she says. "People have been brilliant, helping to keep all these families and friends together."
For these bovines have not only bonded with the farmer but also each other, waiting for older cows when moving fields and protecting a young calf with epilepsy by circling her until the fit stops.
They are not the only lucky livestock, for the farmer's sheep, geese and ponies will also go to Hillside Animal Sanctuary in the UK - founded by the appropriately named Wendy Valentine - after the herd arrives. All, that is, apart from two golden oldies in their 20s (one is called Granny) for whom the journey to England would be too much.
"They will live out the rest of their lives with the farmer," Lowry explains. "It's a great day for cows!"
Though not everyone agrees, which may explain why the farmer wishes to remain anonymous.
"Some comments have been really disturbing," Lowry admits. "One lady called us 'nut jobs' and another man said the farmer should 'be sent to slaughter'. Animal welfare and vegetarianism really stir up some vitriolic reactions. It is really tense at times. But at the end of the day, these cows belong to the farmer, and his choice is to save them from the slaughterhouse."
"Why shouldn't the herd retire with me?" the farmer asks. "They deserve it - after all their hard work over the years."
Let's hope donations continue to roll in for these dearly loved cows - and hope bovine begrudgers don't curdle their chances or turn their dream sour.