Ted and Leo: Starving Calves Rescued from Small Dairy

Cruelty to farm animals is not only rampant on factory farms, it can be found anywhere that animals are viewed as mere commodities. The anguish Ted and Leo experienced before their rescue is heart-wrenching evidence of that. We encountered these two calves when our Emergency Rescue Team was called to a small New York dairy farm. There, we found Ted and Leo tethered with bailing twine in separate, feces-caked stalls, barely able to lie down or even stretch their legs. Although each endured the same ordeal, the two calves had never met each other. Neither had ever left their stalls. For their entire lives, Ted and Leo suffered alone.

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Most healthy calves are playful and energetic, but Ted and Leo were found anemic, lethargic, and weak. When we freed the calves from their tethers, their muscles were so atrophied that they fell as they attempted to walk. We rushed the youngsters back to our New York Shelter for immediate care. The healing began even before we started treatment for their physical ailments. When they met for the first time, Ted and Leo bonded instantly, providing companionship and comfort to each other as they embarked on their new lives.

There is a great deal more healing ahead for these two calves. Ted, the younger calf, is grossly underweight. Although the size of his head and horns indicates that he is about seven months old, severe malnourishment has stunted his growth, leaving him the size of a three-month-old steer. Leo, the older calf, is unusually short due to malnutrition and poor care. When he arrived, we could see every bone in his fragile body, and his belly, like Ted’s was bloated due to eating his bedding because he was not fed a proper diet. Their confinement and complete lack of exercise resulted in very poor muscle tone, which also contributed to their bloated bellies.

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It is difficult to understand how anyone could allow baby animals to languish in such misery, yet it happens all the time. Dairy producers must impregnate their cows to keep them lactating. The female calves from these pregnancies are typically raised to join the dairy herd, but the males are of no use to the farmer. Generally, they are sold at auction to be slaughtered for veal or raised for cheap beef. Some farmers opt to raise the calves themselves, but because young dairy steers fetch a paltry price compared to beef-breed cattle, there is little financial incentive to invest in their health or even in their survival.

But, now, the welfare of Ted and Leo is our priority. We’ve tested them extensively for diseases, infestations, and nutritional deficiencies. After parasite treatments, their anemia is improving, and we see some pink returning to their noses. The two lived for so long in such filthy stalls that their hair is clotted with hardened manure, which caregivers are working to remove gradually and gently, being careful not to hurt the calves.

We are treating Ted for pneumonia and monitoring bloating in both calves. Both had dangerously low selenium levels, which we are correcting with injections of the mineral. They are still lethargic and weak, but well enough to venture outside to enjoy the sunshine and grass. On their first outing, Leo, who had never seen daylight in his seven months at the dairy, was so excited that he started bucking. Ted managed a couple of bucks himself. This was the first time the calves had seen grass, and they were eager to taste it. Their stomachs aren’t strong enough yet, so we didn’t let them eat much, but there will be plenty of grazing in lush pastures to come for these boys. They must adjust to grazing slowly. For now, they’ll go outside for a few hours at a time and work their way up to a full day.

Caregivers have been watching over these two intently, providing the food, warmth, and affection that they clearly have craved all their lives. Having never known their mothers, Ted and Leo are eager for gentleness. Ted, in particular, is always looking for his caregivers and takes great comfort in their presence.

What these young animals need is so simple: good food, clean straw, room to move, basic health care, and kind attention. That’s all it takes for a calf to flourish and become a healthy and deeply content steer, a loyal friend to herd mates and caregivers alike, and perhaps even a mentor to the future calves who join the herd. Yet in the perverse accounting of the animal agriculture system, the cost of this kindness is too great.

Every gallon of milk on store shelves carries a hidden, heartbreaking price that reaches far beyond the grocery store. And, when we refuse to buy dairy products, we help ensure that calves like Ted and Leo no longer pay that price with their lives.

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Ted and Leo at sanctuary.