He had a moo like a foghorn. It would sound again and again as he climbed the hill to fresh pasture, summoning his herd. You could hear it everywhere on the shelter in Watkins Glen.
When Kevin arrived here in 1993, little about him suggested he would grow to be so formidable. The vets doubted he would even live. Kevin was born on a small, local farm. When still young, he fell desperately ill. He had pneumonia. He wasn’t taking his bottle and was starving to death. Unable to stand, he had developed huge, painful abscesses on his chest where it pressed against the ground. The farmer sought veterinary attention for him at first but then decided it wasn’t worth the expense. The vet, however, was not ready to give up, and she happened to have another client she knew would want to help: Farm Sanctuary. The farmer was convinced to relinquish the ailing calf to our custody, and the fight for Kevin’s life began in earnest.
It was well over a month before Kevin could stand. Caregivers watched over him perpetually, flushing the wounds on his chest and staying with him through the night to change his IV. Somehow, the feeble calf pulled through and got back on his feet. He grew stronger. He grew bigger. He grew louder. Eventually, he became the leader of the cattle herd, commanding the respect even of several prominent, and giant, steers who had preceded him into its ranks.
Of course, Kevin was no lightweight. At his largest, he weighed between 2,500 and 3,000 pounds. He dwarfed shelter staff and visitors. Yet he treated everyone with the greatest gentleness. He was patient with his caregivers and amazing with guests. Children adored him. And any time you called his name, he mooed back to you. He was also a kind leader to his fellow cattle. In his old age, he even sweetly indulged the antics of upstarts like the young steers Alexander, Laurence and Blitzen, rescued as feeble calves last winter. When cocky, 200-pound Blitzen tried to take on their monumental elder, Kevin took it in serene stride.
Photo of Kevin by Blanche Johnson Baransky
He was no pushover, however, in matters of friendship. For 17 years he was inseparable from his best friend, Larry, another steer of impressive size and graciousness. A few years ago when Larry’s legs began to give him trouble, we moved him to our special needs herd, whose pasture is less hilly. Since Kevin, though suffering from mild arthritis was still quite spry (a fact apparent whenever he noticed anyone approaching with a bucket of apples or a bowl of grain) we decided to keep him with the main herd. Kevin disagreed with our decision. He spent hours every day at the divide between the two pastures mooing and licking Larry over the fence until we got the message and reunited them. This year, when Larry’s arthritis finally became too painful and debilitating to be eased by treatment, Kevin stood steadfast by his dear friend as he passed.
Both had been by the side of their herd mate Cincinnati Freedom when she faced the end of her life several years before. Suffering from terminal cancer and beyond treatment, Cinci lay surrounded by her fellow cattle as we awaited the vet. Kevin stepped forward and began licking Cinci’s face, calming her in her last moments. When the vet arrived, Kevin and Larry even caused some minor damage to her car as they shouldered their way around it to stand protectively over their friend. Kevin himself did not linger for goodbyes. This year he turned 18, the longest lived of any of our male Holsteins, and he remained hale, hearty and outspoken as summer gave way to fall. Though we worried this winter might be a little hard for Kevin, as winter is for many elderly animals, we were prepared to help him through the harsh months ahead. We didn’t get that chance. It was on a beautifully mild and sunny autumn day, early this week, when we went out to pay Kevin his morning visit and found that he had died, most likely of heart failure. Kevin lay peacefully in the pasture with his friend Kirsty by his side. It appeared he had simply fallen asleep, as on any other night, and then was gone. Quietly and gently.
The grief of his loss was immediate here at the Farm Sanctuary, and I know it will reach far beyond. Kevin touched everyone he met: cattle, humans – everyone. He was an amazing leader, teacher, and friend. No more will that magnificent foghorn of a moo reverberate over these barns and pastures. But in all of our hearts it will continue to echo.