In the spring of 2005, 17 cattle stepped off a stock trailer and bounded onto the pastures of HartSong Ranch. Their job was an easy one for cattle. All they had to do was munch down 30 acres of waist high pasture grass. Almost immediately, they all started to eat — except for one cow… #37. She was in a state of panic. For the next two days she ran the fence lines… down to the pond… up through the barnyard… down through the bramble on the back side of the property and all the while she bellowed, mooed, salivated and cried. I thought perhaps she was sick so I called the rancher who had most graciously donated his cattle to take down the overgrown pastures.
I explained to him the behavior of #37 and under his breath he chuckled — almost as if to mock me for having such “hysterical” concerns for a cow. “Ah,” he said, “she’s just looking for her baby. She’ll get over it in a couple of days.” Needless to say, I was horrified with his explanation and appalled with the blatant realization that he had no concern whatsoever for the distress he had caused this mother and baby. He went on to explain that while loading the cattle onto the trailer, he became frustrated because he couldn’t get #37’s frightened calf to load, so he finally gave up, shut the door to the stock trailer and headed for HartSong, subsequently separating #37 from her two- day old calf.
I begged him to either bring the calf to HartSong or return #37 to his property. Once again, he snickered under his breath and stated, “The calf is no longer here. I don’t have time to bottle feed a baby so I shipped him off to a veal farm.” I remember feeling as if someone had hit me with a brick with the profound realization that the “feelings” of animals raised for consumption are not considered — not by the ranchers who raise them, not by the facilities that process them and not by the consumers who drive the market and buy the product. Right then and there, my life changed… forever.
For three more days, #37 continued to search for her baby and then finally, she gave up. About two months later, the rancher returned to HartSong Ranch, loaded up his cattle and left. The sanctuary grew and years went by but I never forgot about #37 or the impact she had upon my life. I thought about her often and finally decided the time had come to write about my journey with her. I submitted the story to one of our local newspapers and the day after the story published, the ranch line started ringing off the hook. Concerned callers, mostly women, all asked the same question… ”What happened to #37?” Well – that got me to thinking… What “did” happen to #37?
Intrigued, I decided to call the rancher to investigate. He, of course, thinking me totally off of my rocker and absolutely crazy, informed me that he had sold #37 years ago to another rancher, a man by the name of Rancher Jack whom I then proceeded to call. Rancher Jack, much to my surprise, still had #37 and knew exactly where she was at that very moment… grazing a pasture in northern CA with her one-month old calf. Shortly into our conversation, I came to realize that Rancher Jack was quite a different man from rancher number one. He was in fact, a very compassionate fellow and was quite obviously touched by the outpouring of concern for the welfare of #37. In fact, so moved by her story, he asked if we might like to welcome #37 back to HartSong, along with her baby. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said YES!
One week later, #37 and her baby, since named Uncle Jack (in honor of Rancher Jack), were loaded up and hauled back to the sanctuary. Here, they will live a life of quiet and tranquility, mother and son, forever… always together… always happy and always a vivid reminder, to me and the many visitors to the sanctuary, that farm animals too, have feelings. I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to #37. She changed my life and here, on the peaceful pastures of HartSong Ranch, she will continue to enlighten, educate and inspire the lives of all those who are fortunate enough to meet her.
An interesting #37 factoid: About a month or so after the story of #37 was published, I received a call from a fan of HartSong who lives in Southern California. She wanted me to know that, one week prior, she had “#37” tattooed on her arm. How COOL is that?