The sight of five male dairy calves in a small dirt pen greeted Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter Field Services Manager Todd Stosuy and an accompanying veterinarian when they arrived at the property neighbors had reported. The sickly, malnourished, young steers were skin and bones. Recognizing the precariousness of their condition, and fearing they might perish if left any longer in that state of neglect, Stosuy confiscated all five. The person who had purchased the calves at auction, wishing to avoid penalties, relinquished custody of them.
Stosuy knew just where these animals could find the safe haven and expert care they desperately needed. He had served as in intern at Farm Sanctuary in 2001 and later, in his role as a humane officer, worked with us to rescue a group of animals suffering severe neglect at a Watsonville slaughterhouse. Stosuy contacted Farm Sanctuary and Animal Place, another farm animal rescue, and both immediately agreed to help. The calves were transported to Animal Place’s Rescue Ranch in Vacaville, whence two shortly departed for the organization’s sanctuary in Grass Valley and three made the journey to our California Shelter in Orland.
Many such ailing calves have crossed our threshold over the past 25 years. They are a perennial byproduct of the dairy industry, which must breed cows in order to keep them in milk production but has no use for the male calves whose births inevitably result. Taken from their mothers as newborns, these babies are sold at auction, either for “cheap dairy beef” or for “bob veal,” or they are simply abandoned to a slow death from illness and starvation. The industry measures their worth only by their price, which is meager.
Of course, we know how precious every one of them truly is. We were thrilled to welcome little Phoebus, Blake and Sixer to the sanctuary and begin helping them grow into happy, strong steers. Blake and Sixer had no health problems but were unusually subdued when they first arrived. Though calves tend to be playful and respond eagerly, and loudly, whenever a bottle makes an appearance, these two boys preferred to rest quietly in their stall. After a few days, however, they began to perk up. They love to explore their yard, graze, and lie in the sun. As their personalities have emerged, we’ve found that Sixer is the leader of the two, Blake the more laid-back.
Phoebus has had a rougher time than his companions. When we picked him up, he was lethargic and wouldn’t take his bottle. After our veterinarians at University of California, Davis, treated him for dehydration and low glucose, Phoebus rallied, but then he worsened, necessitating extensive blood work and an ultrasound to investigate signs of an umbilical infection. Finding that he had low protein levels, the vets performed a plasma transfusion; and suspecting that Phoebus had not been given a chance to drink his mother’s milk, and thus lacked the vital immune support her colostrum would have provided, they also started him on antibiotics.
To our relief, Pheobus responded well to his treatments and has now returned to the shelter. He looks much better than he did at first, is taking his bottle gamely, and has already proven himself to be the most playful of the three. When we helped him down from the trailer upon his return, he took off running around the yard, a sight that warmed our hearts. Though the threat of death loomed over Phoebus, Blake and Sixer from their first moments, these boys are full of life and ready to take on all the pleasures their new world has to offer them.