Rescue Story

Welcoming Norman: Solitary Steer Finds His Place in the Herd

Norman steer relaxes in a barn at Farm Sanctuary

Rescue Story

Welcoming Norman: Solitary Steer Finds His Place in the Herd

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Norman’s ears twitched at the distant mooing.

Standing up to his full height of 5’5” from ground to shoulder, the dark brown steer craned his head towards the horizon. They were coming: his new herd. It had been nine years—nearly his entire life—since Norman had last lived among other cows. He threw back his head and gave a joyful bellowing moo.

“I’m here,” he seemed to say, “and I can’t wait to meet you!”

Life as an only steer

Young Norman lost his family at just three days old. He was born on a dairy farm, which had no use for Norman since males do not make milk. In most cases, boys are either killed on-site or raised for veal or cheap beef.

However, someone fell in love with the calf and decided to keep Norman as a companion animal. This was unheard of in the man’s farming community. The standard slaughter age for cows raised for beef is between 12 and 15 months. Dairy breeds like Norman have even less time; most dairy industry “rejects” are killed for veal by the time they’re 16 to 18 weeks old. Meanwhile, cows can live into their teens to early twenties—and in that time, they form deep and lifelong bonds with their loved ones.

It’s important to note that cows are herd animals; companionship helps them feel safe and supported. They grieve when separated from bonded friends and family; some grow quiet and withdrawn, while others pace and bellow. And while Norman wasn’t completely alone—he spent time with the horses and goat at his new home and loved attention from his human guardian—a growing steer can’t buck and play with smaller friends in the way he could with other cows. Research also suggests that cows understand a concept of “species”: they know their own kind as distinct from other species and may form closer bonds with those whom they’re most like.

In short: Cow companionship could enrich his life immensely.

Norman steer in the pasture at Farm Sanctuary


  • Norman comes to Farm Sanctuary

  • Norman moves into his new barn, in a neighboring stall to the rest of the herd.

  • Norman officially joins the herd.

The search for a new home—and herd

Eventually, Norman’s circumstances became more difficult, and he made the difficult decision to rehome his animals. While he found rescue homes for the horses and goat, he struggled to find a safe place for Norman—one where he wouldn’t be exploited for meat. But he kept caring for Norman as long as he could. Then, over the summer, his tenants removed the remaining fencing around Norman’s pasture. Without a safe place to roam, he spent his days alone in a small pen.

Norman couldn’t stay there anymore. Something had to change.

Cows form positive social bonds and feel safest when among those of their inner circle.

Making connections

Farm Sanctuary learned the urgency of Norman’s situation from a Humane Officer looking out for his wellbeing. As we had space at our Watkins Glen, New York shelter, we made plans with Norman’s guardian to bring Norman here.

After a brief quarantine to ensure Norman was healthy, we moved him into our special needs barn, which is a quieter space than the barn for our main herd. (Residents include younger cows, older cows, those with greater healthcare needs, and those who are mild-mannered, like Norman.) He spent his first days in a neighboring stall where he could meet his new herd-mates through the fence. As this was Norman’s first time interacting with a herd, we wanted to make sure he didn’t feel overwhelmed and had space to decompress if he needed it.

Norman told us he was ready with those jubilant moos! He called out to the herd to let them know he was there, and they curiously sniffed at each other through the fence. After spending so much of his life on his own, Norman didn’t want to be alone any longer.

A few days later, the team gathered to open the gate and watch Norman make his way out to pasture and his new family.

Norman steer at Farm Sanctuary

Coming home

Norman looked back to our staff for reassurance before taking his first tentative steps toward the herd. He stopped for a few bites of grass, then took another few steps before exchanging gentle sniffs with his first group of greeters. Suddenly, Norman kicked up his heels for a victory lap around his new home!

Norman galloped towards the opposite gate, then circled back for attention from his human friends. He leaped towards the woods, ducked into the trees to explore, and then circled back towards the herd.

After that first energy burst, Norman went off on his own to graze and decompress from this big life change. Later that day, and in the coming weeks, he split his time between slowly meeting new friends and going out to explore on his own. He began clicking with Pietro: another relative newcomer who also loves people but can be shy with the herd. Both are well-liked: no one’s fighting or excluding, and they’re often marked with wet spots from other cows’ kisses. (Grooming is a way the species bonds and shows acceptance.) Norman seems most comfortable socializing with small groups and will go off on his own when they are too large for his liking.

He remains gentle and affectionate with people and enjoys being scratched behind his head and on his back. We share mutual friendship and trust: He’s very careful around people despite his size and seeks our affection when we’re around.

And he remembers his friends: Studies show that cows can tell people apart, and when Norman’s former guardian came to visit, Norman approached him to say hello. Before their visit, the guardian was heartsick with worry about Norman: He had never been to Farm Sanctuary and hoped that Norman would be safe and happy here. He was amazed at the quality of our barns and pastures and relieved to see that Norman was thriving in our care.

Norman loves to be loved. We’re excited for him to meet more friends on public tours—and for people to see that their relationships with cows can be about friendship and not exploitation.

Norman steer at Farm Sanctuary
Connie sheep at Farm Sanctuary

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