Flo is a very sweet cow who lives on a beautiful farm made up of lush, green meadows, rolling hills and small ponds. There are about 70 cows in Flo’s herd and they wander freely. Life on this farm is very good for the animals. It’s referred to as “ethical farming” and it’s as close to nature as life can be.
This started as an ordinary sunny, spring day for Flo. She was pregnant, but she wasn’t due to calf for at least another day. But, during the early afternoon, Flo was near the fence at the pond and it was time to have her calf. The ground is sloped and it seems he slipped under the electric fence when he was born. Now, the fence prevented Flo from getting to her baby, and it prevented the baby from getting the milk and the collostrum he needed from his mother.
Dave is a man who lives nearby. It’s a small town and he knows who the farmers are but they have yet to meet. Dave is also an animal lover and a videographer. He stopped here a few days earlier and filmed the first wobbly steps of another newborn who came into the world near the fence. Now he has stopped again because he saw the cows in the pond and he wanted more footage for a video he was working on about the first newborn.
For Flo, it was a very lucky thing that Dave stopped. When Dave reached the fence, he put a GoPro on the fence post, aimed at the cows in the water. He also used a hand held GoPro to record them beside the pond. Flo began pawing at the dirt while facing Dave. Dave thought Flo was agitated by his presence near the fence and he wondered if she felt blocked in. He turned his camera on the fence to record her unusual antics and he stepped farther away, hoping she would relax.
Instead, Flo walked back to the fence behind her and stared out. She mooed, she paced, and she pawed the dirt. After a few minutes, Dave realized that she was looking at something outside the fence and she was looking at him. What appeared to be aggression now looked more like distress. The camera on the fence post continued to record as he discovered that Flo was looking at a newborn calf in the long grass. Dave knew that mother cows could be protective. The thin wires of the electric fence would not hold Flo back if she thought that Dave was trying to hurt her baby. If it cried out, or if it tried to run on the road, Dave would have to restrain the calf and Flo wouldn’t be happy.
The truck that was usually at the farmhouse was gone. There was no gate nearby. Dave had to try to put the calf back on the other side. He was well aware that Flo could trample him if she burst through the fence as he crouched near the calf. He lifted the wires with a stick and pushed the calf under the fence. The calf and Dave both received several small jolts in the process but Dave didn’t dare react and the calf didn’t make a sound. As he worked away, Dave could see Flo becoming less agitated. she seemed to understand that her calf was getting help. Dave could also see now that the calf had a fresh umbilical cord and there was blood on the ground. The calf could have been in the sun for about an hour before he arrived.
Dave got the calf through and Flo reacted with surprising relief. She watched Dave with interest and displayed what appeared to be gratitude. The farmers came along as they returned home, and Dave explained what happened, as well as the video recording of the newborn calf a few days earlier. Dave offered to help catch the calf so it could be checked and tagged. The calf had his umbilical cord treated with iodine and his ear tagged with F20, although he would be called “Sparky” by those who heard the story of his early experience with the electric fence.
Dave talked to the farmers about how they ran their farm. They refused to produce veal, for ethical reasons. They provided the cows with the best life possible. They spoke about the cows affectionately and the response of the animals to their presence was proof that the cows were treated very well.
Dave knelt down in the meadow near Flo and Sparky. To his surprise, Sparky walked towards him. Flo stared at him with great interest. She seemed to almost nudge Sparky forward and the two came right up to Dave for a sniff and a long gaze that seemed to be recognition and gratitude. In this moment, and then later while watching the footage, Dave put it all together. Cows are obviously more intelligent than we give them credit for. Flo recognized that a stranger could help her baby and she successfully communicated her request. She also recognized Dave soon after and reacted to him in a way that suggests she remembered his good intentions. But most of all, Flo clearly demonstrated a protectiveness and a love for newborn that shows her capacity for emotion. Even Sparky, as young as he was, seemed able to understand a little bit and he showed that he had already learned trust and love for his mother. If these animals are capable of such intellect and emotion, surely they deserve our respect, as well as the most ethical treatment we can provide them.