In the Sunshine Coast hinterland is a little-known haven for cows that have been re-homed from beef and dairy farms around the South East.
The cows have all been “rescued” by one man, Anthony Walsgott.
Mr Walsgott has given a home to more than 300 cows, as part of the organisation he founded in 2010 called the Save A Cow Foundation.
Re-housing cows is what Mr Walsgott calls a “labour of love”, and it’s obvious from his stories that he really loves these cows.
“Grace was saved off a farm in 2012,” Mr Walsgott says about one of his rescued cows.
“She was perhaps three months old,” he says.
“She had been mustered into some yards by some farmers who were getting them [a group of beef cows] ready to go to the slaughter house.”
Mr Walsgott says Grace was mustered head first into a pole that stood in the way of an entrance gate to a yard, crushing the vertebrae in her neck and paralysing her immediately.
Fortunately for Grace, Mr Walsgott happened to be on the property searching for a cow that had escaped from a sanctuary, and he was asked if he would take Grace home with him.
He says if he had not been there she would have been shot on site and chalked up by her owner as a lost asset.
“They don’t care about their cows at all,” Mr Walsgott says.
“They will see insomuch as it’s worth something to them and they might have this sentimental attachment to some of them,” he says.
“But at the end of the day they usually send them all off [to the abattoir].”
Mr Walsgott says he took Grace back to his farm on a mattress in a horse float and gave her round-the-clock care for the next five and a half months.
“I had her on a mattress and she would drink a bowl from the side,” he says.
“She’d eat grass, banana leaves, bananas.
“I’d drag her round so she could eat fresh grass and I’d do physiotherapy on her, pump her legs and that, so that she kept her muscle.
“So she wouldn’t get bed sores I was putting her from side to side.”
It takes a lot of time, effort and money to save a cow.
Some arrive injured while others are given to Mr Walsgott for a variety of reasons, such as being re-homed from family farms.
The initial purchasing and transport costs can range from $500 to $700, although there are some exceptions, like Grace who was purchased for only $1.
Then the cows are homed at the sanctuary or across a range of properties on which Anthony leases paddock space.
The running costs averages out to be about $1500 per cow per year.
That’s about $37,500 over a cows’ lifetime, which lasts an average of 20 to 25 years.
The foundation receives its funding through donations, sale of merchandise, and through people sponsoring the cows themselves.
Mr Walsgott says it’s all worth it for him because he believes cows are aware of how they are treated and are to some extent aware of the path they’re on from farm to table.
“Gavin’s an example,” Mr Walsgott says, referring to another rescued cow.
Gavin the cow reportedly broke free from his holding chain on a truck that was destined to take him to an abattoir.
“Gavin doesn’t like groups of humans because I think he certainly remembers when a group of humans tried to get him into the truck.
“Because I think he smelt the death in that truck.”
Mr Walsgott says Gavin rushed a gate, taking Graham the cow with him.
The roundup effort was unsuccessful.
Fortunately for Graham, Gavin and four other cows, Mr Walsgott purchased the property they were living on, complete with the cows, to use as a new sanctuary for the Save A Cow Foundation.
Now Gavin faux-charges small groups of visitors from behind his fence.
“The more you let them be individuals, the more you see they are individuals,” Mr Walsgott says.
Professor of Animal Welfare at the University of Queensland, Clive Phillips, says good and bad experiences can affect cows in much the same way they affect people, leading to a range of emotions and behaviours.
“A calf will feel grief to a certain extent when its mother is removed,” Professor Phillips says.
He says grief is a complex emotion that can be a conglomeration of simpler emotions such as surprise, denial, sadness and anger.
“So they can feel both the simple emotions: anger and hatred, love, things like that.”
“But also some of the more complex emotions which are often combinations of a variety of emotions.”
Professor Phillips says this combination of emotions and life experiences allows cows to develop unique personalities.
He says like humans, cows do not have static personalities, but can change depending on the environment, their experiences, and during different stages of their lives.
“There’s always a top cow and then there’s ones in the middle who are usually aspiring to be the top cow, and then there’s usually some down the bottom who really don’t care,” Professor Phillips says.
“They’re happy to be last in line for any of the resources that the herd is moving towards.”
Finding the traits of personality, simple and complex emotions, and life experience in cattle lends credence to Mr Walsgott’s mission to save cows and raises the question of whether using them as livestock is counterintuitive to their well-being.
“I think it is,” Professor Phillips says.
“However, we have strategies to allow us to accept their use as, well, livestock.
“And in particular that is distancing ourselves.
“We may use farm animals as derogatory terms in our own language: ‘you filthy pig’, ‘you rotten old cow’, that sort of thing,” Professor Phillips says.
He says physical distance also makes the concept more palatable for people, given that most people in Australia grow up in cities rather than in the countryside.
“They don’t know, really, how cows are kept on a farm and they probably don’t want to know,” Professor Phillips says.
It is safe to assume that cows like Grace, Graham, and Gavin appreciate their new lives at the Save A Cow sanctuary, and why wouldn’t they?
Their days consist of eating, playing, resting and roaming, with the added benefits of consistent food, shelter, and protection.
RSPCA spokesperson Michael Beatty says organisations like the Save A Cow Foundation have an important role to play in rescuing farm animals in Australia.
“All across Queensland and Australia there’s a number of rescue organisations that do put their hands up,” Mr Beatty says.
“It is obviously important that those rescue organisations don’t get in over their heads, which sadly a few of them do.
“But certainly, the Save A Cow Foundation, they appear to be doing a good job.”
If you would like to know more about the Save A Cow Foundation, visit their website.