Nik: Calf Comes in from the Cold

This January, as we face some of the most frigid winter weather in decades, we are thankful that a little calf named Nik is safe and warm at our New York Shelter. Just a few weeks ago, this five-month-old was hungry and scared, struggling to survive all alone as temperatures dropped into the single digits.

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Nik had been living under a tractor-trailer behind a run-down apartment complex since breaking loose from a nearby farm in August. In the summer months, this young calf subsisted on what little grass he could find in a surrounding rocky field that was bristling with thorns and littered with rusty equipment and trash, but as an early winter set in, the ground froze and was covered in several inches of snow. By mid-November, even that meager food source vanished, leaving this very vulnerable calf without adequate food. To make matters worse, the area was populated by people who spoke with enthusiasm about “shooting the calf for some veal.” The danger of Nik’s situation grew more serious by the day.

After learning of this calf’s plight in late December, we immediately dispatched our Emergency Rescue Team to bring him to safety. Even from afar, we could tell that Nik was emaciated, stunted in growth, and absolutely terrified of people. When we could finally inch a little closer, we noticed a chain around his neck, evidence that someone had attempted to capture him.

It soon became clear why that person failed. We spent more than 20 hours trying to lure this terrified calf with food and water. We even brought Ari, a rescued calf from our New York Shelter, along to help. But not even Ari’s comforting moos from the safety of our trailer could convince the lost calf to come near us. We didn’t manage to get within six feet of Nik. Each time we approached, he retreated into the brush.

On the second day, after attempting to coax him over the course of 10 hours, we finally were able to get Nik into a makeshift corral and, with a huge struggle, into our trailer. He was so frightened that he hurled himself into the corral, attempting with all of his strength to get away from his captors. He desperately needed veterinary care, so we drove him directly to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals.

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Although he was completely exhausted, Nik’s adrenaline remained so high from fear that it was difficult for our vets to assess him. He showed no “flight response” — he had given up and remained motionless as they attempted to evaluate his condition. Eventually, though, they were able to address a variety of critical health issues. Nik’s ears were covered inside and out with a thick, crusty rash from frostbite. He was also 200 to 300 pounds underweight due to malnourishment, infested with internal and external parasites, and infected with giardia. He also had a heart arrhythmia, so they hooked him to an EKG.

After Nik spent a few days at the hospital, we determined that our New York Shelter would be the best place for him so that our caretakers could give him constant attention and work on his most pronounced issue: trauma. When he first arrived at our shelter hospital, Nik was so extremely fearful that he attempted to jump the walls and threw himself into fences. Calm, loving care was what this boy needed the most.

This sweet boy has come a long way since his rescue. Nik has made himself at home here, and our shelter staff is doing everything they can to help him thrive. He is still easily spooked, but caregivers have found ways to gently provide Nik with the attention he missed out on all those months alone. They’ve discovered, for instance, that if you approach him very quietly and give him some good scratching, Nik will hang around and start to relax. And if you lie still on the ground, he can’t resist coming over for a sniff.

Caregivers are patient as Nik gradually becomes more comfortable with us and comes to realize that everyone here adores him. This is important because he still needs a great deal of care. Nik came to us with one of the worst lice infestations we’ve ever seen, and it’s proved difficult to eradicate. Bathing Nik in these icy temperatures is too risky, so we use other cleaning methods for now. Because he has such raw, itchy skin, Nik finds relief in being groomed, and caregivers are more than happy to oblige, spending many relaxing hours brushing the calf. And thanks to nourishing food and supplements, Nik is gradually gaining weight and growing stronger. Nik has started to nuzzle and lick his caregivers, clearly realizing that they are there to help him.

With temperatures and wind chills at 30 degrees below zero, this sweet calf surely would have perished, but now he is now warm and dry, living in his straw-filled stall and sporting a spiffy new winter coat. It is astonishing that this fragile and incredibly gentle calf survived for so long in such harsh conditions. Life must have been grueling for Nik, and yet he persisted. Nik is discovering that life can be filled with abundance rather than scarcity, as he revels in his warm barn filled with food and friendship. While the fierce winds continue to blow outside, Nik has forever come in from the cold.

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