The Tiny Calf Who Changed a Cattle Rancher’s Mind
How a third-generation cattle rancher became the founder of a sanctuary where cows like little Hope can live a full, long life
As a third generation cattle farmer, Mike Lanigan never imagined he’d be running an animal sanctuary. But according to Edith Bar, the one-time farm intern turned sanctuary founder and executive director: Over time, farmer Mike had a change of heart. And then he met Hope. The ailing calf is now considered a big reason for the creation of Farmhouse Garden Animal Home, in Ontario, Canada, where Lanigan’s last herd of cattle now call their forever home.
“She was born really prematurely,” says Bar, of Hope nearly four year ago. “She was very, very weak, and [Lanigan] had to work with her constantly,” to get her to feed. “It was while working with this calf that it really clicked for him, that he’s putting so much love and effort into it, and then two years later she’s going to be butchered.” Bar says Lanigan speaks often of this time nursing Hope to health, “and how he would also think of the other good farmers he’s known, and all the [farming] practices that they’ve helped instil in him,” to help care for animals like Hope. “Then he’d think how all these farmers just end up sending those animals to the slaughterhouse, and that there’s an element of hypocrisy to that.”
Motivated by his newfound perspective, Lanigan then contacted Bar, who during her time interning at his farm, working with the animals and learning about organic vegetable production, had gone vegan. He told her he was having doubts about what he was doing. “He was like, ‘I just want to figure out a way to not kill these animals,” she says. “He wanted the animals to stay on the farm. He loves working with cows; he obviously loves animals. So he didn’t want to just send them away or butcher them all and stop raising animals. It was more like, ‘How do we keep them here, but also make this viable in the long run?’”
Transitioning to a sanctuary just made sense. At least it did for Lanigan and Bar. “It was hard for the rest of his family,” she recalls, who had to suddenly cope with a very different sort of family business, and a very different way of working with the cattle. “It’s this whole other way of looking at the animals. Suddenly they have to be taken care of to a much higher standard,” she says.
“When we were still a cattle ranch, they would not like to go near people. Now, the second they see a human they come running. They love people now. They are getting a lot more love from people.”
But within a matter of months, the transition was made, and all the animals on the farm were safe. “One of the cows was already booked in to go to the slaughterhouse, but we ended up saving him,” says Bar. Of course it took much longer to establish the sanctuary officially: building a board of directors, setting up a fundraising strategy, etc., but as far as Bar was concerned, the minute Lanigan made that connection to his animals, that they wanted to live, and that he wanted that too, Farmhouse Garden Animal Home was born.
Since then, Bar says there’s been a definite vibe-change amongst the animals. “When we were still a cattle ranch, they would not like to go near people,” she says. “Now, the second they see a human they come running. They love people now. They are getting a lot more love from people.”
Today, young Hope has been allowed to grow up, though she still remains a little girl. “If she would have been born on a commercial farm, no one would have bothered with her, because she’s so tiny.”
Today, young Hope has been allowed to grow up, though she still remains a little girl. “If she would have been born on a commercial farm, no one would have bothered with her, because she’s so tiny,” says Bar. “No one would have bothered raising her for two years.” Hope also still struggles with some health issues, which on any other farm would be an early death sentence. “I don’t think many farmers or any farmers would have bothered [caring for her health issues], because it would essentially just be a drain of resources, because that’s all farmers really think about animals as.
But to the staff at Farmhouse Garden Animal Home, Hope and her herd are so much more. “Hope is such a sweetheart. She’s so cute, so adorable. She’s also a little shy,” says Bar, perhaps due to her size.
And as for the rest of the herd: All 29 animals now have their own names. “And I’m proud,” chuckles Bar, “that I know each and every one of them.”