We see cases like Dixon’s all too often: too many calves lose their families and their lives, just for being born male. He, like so many others, started life on a dairy—where females grow up to produce milk for profit, but where males have no place. Typically, farmers sell these boys, who have no economic value to them, at auction for veal or beef; Dixon’s “owners,” on the other hand, deemed him worthless, and offered the little calf on Craigslist free of charge. Thanks to one kind rescuer, Dixon now lives at Farm Sanctuary—a place where we see all lives as priceless. Here, this calf saved from an “ordinary” fate now has an extraordinary life ahead of him.
About half of all calves born into the dairy industry are male; that makes hundreds of thousands of babies killed years before their time—and Dixon could have been one of them. There’s no telling what might have happened had he wound up in the wrong hands; anyone could have taken him, and most would rejoice in obtaining a free meal. Thankfully, Casandra found Dixon when she did, and quickly removed him from harm’s way.
But Cassandra had to act quickly; realistically, she could not care for Dixon for very long and had to find someone who could. We were overjoyed when she reached out to us—not only for little Dixon’s sake, but for another recently rescued calf: Leo. Like Dixon, Leo is also a dairy survivor. He’s just a few months older and a little bit bigger—Leo still has lots of growing to do before he catches up with the “big boys” in the herd, so it would be great for him to have a playmate his own age. And, as cattle are herd animals, Dixon will do better with a “big brother” showing him the ropes.
First, however, we had to make sure that Dixon was well enough to be with other steers. While he appeared healthy at the outset, we brought Dixon directly to our vets for routine examination and preliminary care. As it turned out, he had a nasty case of cryptosporidium—a gastrointestinal parasite often found in newborn calves when they do not get enough colostrum (a key nutrient in developing a healthy immune system). This disease is highly contagious among people and other cattle, so we had to keep him on strict isolation. Our caregivers worked around the clock to keep him hydrated and showered him with love and care to help him recover.
Once Dixon was parasite-free, we took him back to the vet for routine neutering and disbudding. We disbud to prevent any injuries amongst the cattle and our staff and visitors; this procedure removes the buds before they can mature into fully-functioning horns.
Cattle will assert themselves through headbutting, so it is safer for everyone if there are no horns involved. That said, we would never remove an animal’s horns if they arrive fully intact, unless necessary for health or safety reasons. This procedure is performed under anesthesia, and calves typically experience minimal discomfort—most, in fact, will start headbutting again the very next day!
Now that Dixon is healthy and getting bigger, we take him on supervised outings throughout the extended paddock area—and he loves to run, leap, and play every chance he can get. He’s an avid explorer and loves seeing what the “big boys,” including fellow Holstein Safran, are up to. For now, they “chat” with each other through the gates; once Dixon is a little older, he’ll join them. It’s a little scary being the new kid, but we think that with Leo around to show him the way, he’ll be one of the boys in no time.
Dixon is one of the lucky ones. He, unlike most male calves discarded by the dairy industry, has the chance to grow up—and he’ll spend the rest of his life valued as someone, not something. We can’t wait to introduce him to the rest of the herd and see what his new life has in store.