by Cheryl Wylie
I grew up on a beef farm. The herd was small, only about a dozen or so cows and one bull that I could virtually walk under as a child. I often watched them throughout the summers and sat in the pasture with them any time that I could. My weekends were consumed by 4-H and Future Farmers of America, and summer vacation didn’t begin until the County Fair ended in July. It was not always the easiest life, but it truly shaped who I am today.
Who am I today? I am a veterinary technician and the full time caregiver at VINE Sanctuary. Living in the middle of one of five pastures, I am surrounded by and ultimately responsible for the health and care of the cows of VINE. Currently VINE cares for 27 cows ranging from 5 months to 12 years of age. Some of our residents came from cruelty cases; some were pets; some were retired from farms; and others were saved from slaughter by a friend, relative or a stranger who made a personal connection with them. Regardless of their background, they all find their place in the herd and a personal peace that is seldom present at “production-based farms.” On occasion we have welcomed a resident who had more challenges adjusting, but inevitably they find a companion who makes the transition easier.
Thankfully—since seven of the steers weigh over a ton!—cows are true herd animals and demonstrate respect towards the older members. They save the pushing and shoving for play. The larger elders also help us by instructing the adolescents in proper cow etiquette. They often can be seen leading a group of younger calves across the pasture to better grass.
The story of Bill and Lou has proven to be far-reaching. The offer from VINE was made in the same spirit that all of our offers are made when we are contacted regarding an animal who needs placement. VINE simply wishes to offer a place for Bill and Lou to live out their lives, however long that may be, in peace and with the opportunity to form new friendships.
Our multiple pastures allow us to ensure that our cattle are not only matched with others whose company they enjoy but also that they are in pastures that best match their physical abilities. Our goal at VINE is to ensure that our residents enjoy their lives. Various “surprise” plants are seeded in the spring in out-of-the-way corners of our pastures to encourage exploration and offer a special taste treat. We have several animals on supplements to help maintain joint health, and we do administer NSAIDs for those who have arthritis or pain associated with past injuries.
We understand that death is inevitable and that cattle do grieve when a herd member is lost, but they also support each other. Members of the herd say their goodbyes and are able to move on. When the time comes that quality of life dictates euthanasia at a sanctuary, the animal dies peacefully in their home, surrounded by things that are comforting and familiar. If that happened for Lou or Bill, the survivor would have the strength and comfort of the herd on which to rely.
If retired to VINE, Lou and Bill will be together, receive veterinary care as needed, and be monitored to ensure their quality of life. We would welcome respectful students, facility and alumni who would wish to visit Bill and Lou in person, and we would be happy to forward photos, video, and updates as possible. VINE would also be happy to update any news sources that have covered the story, lauding the college’s compassionate decision to retire rather than slaughter.
I welcome the chance to answer any questions regarding VINE or my own personal experience. I offered to attend today’s meeting at the college, to provide information about the sanctuary and the life chances of cattle with injuries such as Lou’s, but that offer was refused by the event’s moderator. We understand that the meeting has now been closed to the public.
I hope that the students at the meeting will realize that, for Lou and Bill, this is not an abstract debate. Now is not the time to argue about diet or definitions of “sustainability.” The only question really should be: What is best for Bill and Lou? I ‘m sure that, if they were able to speak for themselves at the meeting, they’d ask to be allowed retire to VINE.
I grew up on a farm. I know that retiring work animals to pasture is a long-standing tradition of kindness in agriculture. I hope that Green Mountain College will generously elect to honor that tradition.