As an undercover investigator for Animal Outlook, I can’t yet tell you my name–but I can tell you the story of cow 714.
Last winter, I worked undercover at Martin Farms, a dairy factory farm in Pennsylvania. During my time there, through all the chaos, I connected with a kind and beautiful cow who was only known by her tag number: 714.
She was an adult cow, trapped in the cycle of being impregnated, giving birth, then having her baby taken away so her milk could be collected for humans to consume. She was treated like a mere milk-producing machine, enduring a lifetime of torture than I could sadly see in her eyes when we met.
I think of her first few days of life, pulled from her mother’s tender love and isolated in an open crate, shivering in cold Pennsylvania air. I imagine her fear and loneliness, as her mother bellows for her throughout the night. Then one day, she’s forcefully tied down in her crate and, while kicking and screaming, a hot iron is pressed against her skull in an extremely painful, yet standard industry practice, known as disbudding to prevent her horns from growing.
I reached out to her and I watched her flinch before my hand slowly smoothed her fur: the first time she had ever received affection from an interaction with a human in her entire life.
I think of her being kicked, yelled at, and sprayed with scalding hot water to force her into the room so where machines clamp onto to her udder, collecting her milk meant for baby and leaving her teats raw. This process happened every day, enduring abuse each time, and walking through piles feces amongst countless other cows.
It was here in this milking-machine room where I saw her for the first time. The white diamond on her forehead caught my attention, then our eyes met. I cautiously approached her out of sight of the workers, and I slowly reached out. She flinched at first, but as I gently smoothed her fur, her eyes softened. This was perhaps the first time in her life she experienced affection from a human.
After that bonding moment, any time I able to approach her, she would nudge forward and nuzzle her head against mine. I would watch her eyes close and feel her body relax as I pet her.
On my last day at Martin Farms, I looked for her once more, hoping to say goodbye. But in a sea of hundreds and hundreds of cows, I couldn’t find her. As I drove away from the farm, I cried, thinking of her fate and the misery she and so many other cows are forced to endure behind the closed doors of the dairy industry.
To this day, I wonder if she’s still alive. I wonder if she looks for me, longing for a gentle touch. I wish she could know that I will never forget her. Cow 714 will always have a place in my heart — and I hope she has a place in yours.
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