In all my years caring for rescued farm animals who have been subjected to the most severe neglect and abuse, nothing has ever prepared me for bearing witness to the dismal scenes unfolding at stockyard auctions across the U.S. At these terrible weigh stations for animals being sold by one party and purchased by another – some heading into a life of production, others to slaughter – there isn’t any compassion to be found, and suffering abounds to a staggering and immeasurable degree.
In fact, it is in these places that the realization of how farm animals are viewed by the industry – as lifeless commodities rather than feeling individuals – really sinks in. Here, there is no discrimination: Labeled with numbers and pushed and prodded into chaotic auction rings for bidding, terrified and confused animals of all ages and conditions – from tiny babies to aging adults – are all typically treated in the same callous manner until the sale is over and they go on to meet some equally miserable end.
Since Farm Sanctuary started nearly 25 years ago, we have been rescuing animals from these environments, nursing them to health, and giving them new, better lives – starting with Hilda, the now famous sheep who was lifted from a stockyard dead pile in 1986. Just last month, we rescued Riley – a very sickly and partially blind piglet – from such a place, and, most recently, I found three newborn male dairy calves on the brink of death at a large sale being held in the bitter winter cold.
On the day I discovered the calves, I watched truck after truck filled with these baby animals drive up to the auction yard. The newborns, some not even a day old yet, were visibly frenzied and could be heard bawling for their mothers. But while all I wanted to do was comfort them, their terror was only met with frustration from the workers who forcefully unloaded and moved them into holding pens by hitting them with canes.
The scene turned even grislier when I came across the poor babies who were obviously very ill. I found one – a little guy who couldn’t even stand – collapsed and left freezing in the 20 degree weather near a loading dock. The other two I would rescue that day were shoved into the auction ring when the sale began. One was so sick and weak that his legs kept buckling beneath him as workers prodded him to get him on his feet. The other, weighing only 37 pounds, was so small that the bidders made a joke of him – calling him “trash.” Treated with the same indifference as all the others, these little ones were only mocked in their distress and ultimately deemed as being worthless when they failed to sell for even $1.
Stepping in to claim these three sweet babies when no one else would, I rushed them to safety and ensured that they immediately began receiving the emergency medical treatment they so desperately needed to have any chance of survival. If I hadn’t shown up, there is no question that these boys would have wound up in a garbage dump or the grip of a renderer, their suffering simply ignored.
One of the calves receiving care at the hospital.
As I write this entry, which I know is as painful to read as it was to witness the abuse firsthand, I still do not know what the fate of these three babies will be. Right now, we are asking for emergency year-end donations to help with the critical care of these fragile calves and support all of our work to protect animals like them from harm. If you can help, I ask that you please make a contribution today and forward the babies’ story on to others to consider doing the same. Together, we can pierce the darkness these animals endure every day and shine a light on their plight so it might be changed in time with each person we enlighten and each life we save. We are their only hope.