They paused—one in front of the other—and closed their eyes to drink in the rare light. Then, the taller one leaned over his friend to plant slow, cleansing kisses along his neck and back. Grooming is a way that cows show trust and affection—and for these two, a sense of belonging at long last.
Friends for Hayes: Calf Rescued From Solitude Finds Family at Sanctuary
Friends for Hayes: Calf Rescued From Solitude Finds Family at Sanctuary
On a late winter’s day, two young steers trekked through mud and melting snow towards a sunny patch of earth to warm their backs.
Hayes arrives at Farm Sanctuary
Hayes meets Pietro for the first time
Hayes is introduced to the rest of his new herd.
Scroll right to see the video of Pietro grooming Hayes!
The gift of friendship
The boys came to Farm Sanctuary nine months apart and met in February of this year. (We rescued Pietro, the black and white Holstein last March, followed by Hayes, the red Holstein, last December.) They’re each other’s first real playmate: Pietro was the youngest of the herd by several years, while Hayes had spent his first months of life on his own.
Meanwhile, cows are social creatures—so much alone time wasn’t ideal for these youngsters. Companionship reduces stress, helps these herd animals feel safe, and improves their quality of life. (Cows need friends as much as people do—through good times and bad, life is better together.) Younger animals also learn through play: Aside from being fun, playing builds social skills and helps animals find their place in the herd.
And these youngsters are now thriving because they have each other.
Companionship reduces stress, helps these herd animals feel safe, and improves their quality of life.
Though Hayes is a few months older than Pietro, he’s the smaller of the two. Alas, size is everything in the dairy industry: Since boys don’t make milk, the biggest and strongest are often raised for meat. Those who are sick and injured, as Pietro had been, are typically killed or left to die on their own.
Hayes’ new owners purchased him for meat production and housed him on a rented lot with some of their other animals. But soon after, they stopped tending to the animals’ care: The food deliveries ended, the rent payments went ignored. They ultimately abandoned Hayes altogether.
The property owner didn’t have to help. She was already losing money from her wayward tenants; it would cost even more to feed the animals they left behind. But she and a neighbor—the brother of Hayes’ original owners—took a liking to Hayes and felt that he deserved a second chance. Though the brother lacked proper shelter for a growing calf, he decided to foster Hayes while appealing to authorities for guardianship. If granted custody, he would help the calf find a proper home.
After a few months without word—or support—from Hayes’ former owners, his new guardian received permission to sell or rehome the calf as he pleased. While some in the community offered to butcher Hayes, the guardian had a soft spot for the little calf. He called him a “big baby” and took him for walks on a lead outside his home. He wanted Hayes to go to a sanctuary—and he reached out to us for help.
Though the guardian loved Hayes, he couldn’t give the calf the care that he needed. He kept Hayes in a shed—he didn’t have a proper barn—and lacked fencing and pasture space for him to roam. Aside from their guided walks, Hayes spent little time outdoors. But he needed more room—Hayes had already escaped from the property once. He was at risk of getting hit by traffic or being killed in the name of public safety should he break free again.
After learning the gravity of Hayes’ situation, we discussed if we could offer placement at Farm Sanctuary or with a member of our Farm Animal Adoption Network. Our New York shelter felt like the perfect fit. We had the space and means to care for Hayes, his transport would be easy (we’re close to where he was living at the time), and we had the perfect friend in mind: Pietro.
Getting to know you
Pietro spent his first few months at Sanctuary healing from illness and a broken leg. As such, he spent those formative months around people and came to see us as his family. After introducing Pietro to his new herd, he still looked to his caregivers for reassurance, snuggles, and deep chin scratches.
The others received him with warmth and kindness. Some of the older moms, who’d lost children to the meat and dairy industries, took to him as though he was their own—showering little Pietro with kisses just as we’d eventually see him do with Hayes. Pietro also found a guardian in Norman: another gentle introvert who prefers interacting with the herd at his own pace.
Still, we wondered if Pietro needed someone his own size and age. While some cows, like Diane, love to run and play, this herd is mostly an older crowd—and Pietro is reserved and mellow around them. Perhaps that’s his norm—but perhaps having a playmate might put some pep in his step, too.
Hayes spent his early days in quarantine while recovering from illness, as well as routine neuter surgery. (Contrary to industry castration, which is performed without anesthetic or pain relief, Hayes was sedated and received post-op care from his veterinary team.) All males are neutered before joining a herd, as we do not support breeding at Farm Sanctuary. Neutering also prevents testosterone-related aggression.
Surgical dehorning was also recommended, as horns can pose a safety risk during rough play or fights for dominance. This procedure was performed in a hospital setting and under anesthesia. Many incoming calves undergo routine disbudding—the removal of the buds before they grow into horns—but Haye’s had already grown. Dehorning is uncommon in larger cows, but as Hayes’ horns were still small, his team felt that surgery would be the best choice to keep himself and others safe as he grows.
Once Hayes was healthy, it was almost time to introduce him to the herd! As these meetings can sometimes feel overwhelming (especially when the “new kid” has spent little to no time among their own species), we decided to break his big move into steps. First, he’d spend the night in an adjoining space to the rest of the barn. That way, he could meet everyone through the fence but still have his space if he needed it.
But we did want Hayes to meet Pietro first: It often helps newcomers feel more secure to have a buddy by their side when joining a larger group. And it would be the first time that both little boys could meet another their own age. We brought Pietro into Hayes’ area, then crossed our fingers and held our breaths, waiting for something magical to happen.
Slow and steady
Some cows leap and buck upon meeting a new friend. Others stare and moo when we bring in new arrivals, itching to greet them with a cleansing cow lick. Upon meeting Hayes, Bonnie and Diane stuck their muzzles through the fence to welcome him with kisses and maternal love.
Pietro, on the other hand, hardly acknowledged Hayes’ arrival. He was far more interested in snacking on the extra hay we brought in for the pair. It wasn’t until the next day, during Hayes’ larger introduction, that Pietro would join the welcome wagon, too.
Opening the gate
Most of the staff on shift that day gathered at the barn for Hayes’ debut. We opened the gate and coaxed the boys to follow us out, as they still lingered behind. Hayes took a few slow steps towards the center of the barn, then walked straight up to the closest steer: Norman. (For the record, Norman wasn’t ready to meet him yet and backed away as Hayes approached the larger group.)
Hayes slowly began to explore his new space—first exchanging a few gentle sniffs with some cows, then heading outside the barn to roam the grounds. After a few minutes (and a few reassuring pets from his human friends) Hayes kicked up his heels and started running laps around us! That’s when Pietro poked his head out from the barn and decided to get in on the action, too. He began to bounce and spin with joy, occasionally throwing a headbutt Hayes’ way. It was the first time we’d seen him so animated!
Over the course of the afternoon, Hayes continued to explore and play. The herd showed him where to find a good meal, leading him from one hay pavilion to the other. They nuzzled him with kisses and ran laps back and forth along the road outside their barn. Even Norman, now past his initial shyness, joined in the fun!
Despite an uncertain start, Hayes and Pietro are now the best of friends and are almost always together. Hayes is fitting in well with the larger group, too: He gets lots of attention from big Holstein Orlando, along with the moms of the group like Whitney, Honey, and Moochelle. He’s curious, outgoing, and like Pietro, enjoys a hearty scratch under the chin.
Without rescue and Sanctuary, these two little boys would have been killed for meat or as byproducts of the dairy industry. Now, they have beautiful lives ahead. They’re free to run, jump, play, and explore; to graze and lounge in the sunshine; and to love and be loved exactly as they are.