Thanks to one compassionate family, Princess — a former dairy cow— now receives the royal treatment at Farm Sanctuary! The eight-year-old Holstein came here this May, following her release from a New England dairy farm. Princess had a longer life than most cows in the industry: Typically, farmers send their “spent” cows to auction at just four to five years old, once their milk production is no longer sufficient. But her best friend, a young woman named Ali, knew that Princess deserved all the time she could get. With help from Ali’s mom, Virginia (who helped us rescue Pippi just a few months earlier), Princess can now live out her “retirement” at Farm Sanctuary.

Ali and Princess grew up together. They met when Princess, who was then named Sho, was just eight months old. This was during Ali’s freshman year of college. During winter break, she and mother Virginia began visiting the dairy, just a short walk from their home. They enjoyed strolling the grounds and interacting with their bovine neighbors — especially Sho, who caught Ali’s eye from the start.

“Sho distinguished herself from the others almost immediately,” Ali recalls. “When we would approach the heifers (a female who has not been bred) she would push her way to the front, eager for scratches behind her ears and extra food. However, heaven help you if you dared pet another heifer before her! She would pretend not to care about you for a few minutes, only deigning to offer you a second chance when she felt you finally recognized her obvious superiority.” Ali loved that this “princess” knew exactly what she wanted, and she vowed to give her all of that and more.

Ali started volunteering at the farm during school breaks, and she spent every moment she could with her best pal. She learned a lot about Sho that year, such as what her favorite snacks and scratching spots were and how to read her nonverbal cues. The two had a language all their own, just like people with their domestic pets. This friendship changed Ali’s life, and it would soon change Sho’s life as well.

First, Ali switched her major from mechanical engineering to animal science. Her friendship with Sho meant so much to her that she decided to dedicate her life to making a better world for all cows. Ali began studying mastitis, a painful inflammatory condition that can decrease and contaminate a cow’s milk supply. To supplement her studies, Ali began working at her university’s dairy, where she milked the cows and collected samples for analysis. She also worked at the dairy where Sho lived, which allowed her to spend as much time with her favorite cow as possible.

As Ali embarked on a new path in her life, so did Sho: motherhood. Ali proudly watched her mature from a rambunctious, stubborn calf into a devoted, loving mother cow. Over the next eight years, Sho had several healthy pregnancies and remained free of mastitis. She was a valued member of the dairy’s herd. What impressed Ali most, however, was the way that Sho gave from her heart.

“During this time, I got to appreciate even further the unique personalities of the cows and see how capable a cow is of caring for those they interact with on a regular basis,” Ali says. “During one memorable occasion, I was alone in the herd looking for a cow when one got aggressive and cornered me. Just when I realized I didn’t have an escape and was bracing for a headbutt, Sho broke away from the others and began to fight the other cow, forcing her to flee. As I was petting Sho afterward, I was struck by just how far Sho was willing to protect her people.”

Sho saw Ali as part of her herd, and for cows, these bonds can last a lifetime. Sadly, they rarely do in the dairy industry. Even in the best of circumstances, cows live just a fraction of their natural lifespans — up to 25 to 30 years when given appropriate, individualized care. When they are born, calves are separated from their mothers by the farmers so that the mother’s milk can be consumed by people. Some female calves grow up to be dairy cows like their moms, and they may live a few years. But since boys cannot make milk, they are of no use to the industry. They are sold at auction for meat. Some are killed while they are still young for veal.

No matter how well these dairy cows live — how much space they have to roam, how much organic grass they are fed, or the quality of veterinary care they receive —they are valued only for the commodity they provide until they can no longer provide it. Then, they too typically go to auction and slaughter. The more time that Ali spent with Sho, however, the more she knew that Sho — and all cows — deserved so much better. They deserve the same love, care, and protection that we give to our pets and to each other. And, just like us, they deserve to stay with their loved ones for life.

It is because of Ali’s relationship with her mother that a new life became possible for Sho. While on her usual walks, Virginia met and fell in love with Pippi — a tiny, premature calf with severe pneumonia and a heart condition, thought to be terminal — and coordinated her rescue and placement with Farm Sanctuary. Around this time, Sho’s time at the dairy was running out. Both Ali and Virginia hoped that she, too, could find her happily-ever-after. Thankfully, the dairy agreed to place Sho in our care.

At Farm Sanctuary, we helped Sho, renamed Princess, transition from a dairy cow to just a cow. She was given intermammary antibiotics to reduce swelling in her udder and to gradually decrease her milk supply. Everything was done under sterile conditions to prevent mastitis and infection and to allow her body to adjust to a life outside of dairy production. She is healing well, and we are excited to introduce Princess to her new family, which currently includes only one cow who she instantly bonded with. Soon she will join our special needs herd where she can help raise our younger cows alongside our doting elderly cows and receive a lifetime of love and care from cows and people alike.

Princess plays with new friend Snickerdoodle at Farm Sanctuary

As for Ali, this experience has not only changed her relationships with cows, but it has expanded her work on their behalf.

“[Princess] is still an omnipresent force even in my work life,” Ali explains. “While studying genetic engineering for my thesis work, I concluded that true change in the lives of dairy cows won’t happen by making incremental changes in therapeutics for them to continue in the industry. Rather, research must be done to replace animals used for food production with other, non-animal alternatives. I am working to synthesize my past agricultural work with my current genetic engineering work to create alternatives to cow’s milk.”

In this way, we can value cows like Princess not for what they produce but for who they are.

We are so thankful for Ali and Virginia for befriending Princess and Pippi, and for introducing them to our family. These beautiful girls will spend the rest of their lives knowing the care and love they deserve. With so many choices available for dairy alternatives, will you make the compassionate choice and go dairy-free?

P.S. This month, Princess is the face of our Adopt a Farm Animal campaign! For the fourth year in a row, Farm Sanctuary is collaborating with Treeline Treenut Cheese to protect and support more cows like her. For a one-time donation of $50, you can symbolically adopt Princess and be a part of her journey. Treeline will double each donation, up to $10,000, to increase our impact on behalf of cows everywhere. By sponsoring Princess, and by choosing alternatives to cow’s milk, we can help all cows live the fairytale lives they deserve. Adopt Princess now!