Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Heidi: the cow who saved herself

What you have done is who you are. What you do is who you will be.

That’s the quote my yoga instructor started today’s class with. I don’t know who originally said it.

And in many ways it ties in with the story I want to tell today, about one cow by the name of Heidi.

Heidi was born in Florida on a dairy farm. The farmer didn’t see enough profit in selling the babies for veal, so he would put the newborn calves into trenches and shoot them. Heidi was spared that fate only because a couple farmers from Virginia had come to visit the Florida farmer to give him information on goat dairy farming. In “payment”, Heidi was given to these farmers, to be slaughtered for meat once she had grown enough.

And so Heidi went to that small farm in Virginia, a farm that was likely close to what most people imagine when they think of the idealized little farm. It was a farm that was a hobby, rather than an occupation. These hobby-farmers made a clear distinction between the animals they grew attached to, and those they would kill for profit or convenience. They were running a goat-dairy, after all, and the baby goats get killed just as surely as the baby cows do on a cow-dairy farm.

And so Heidi lived there, on that small hobby farm, for her first year. When she was deemed large enough to fetch a profit at slaughter, the slaughter truck was called to come pick her up.

And Heidi refused to get on it.

The farmers and the truck driver gave up, and the slaughter truck left without Heidi. Heidi lived, but the farmers of that small little hobby farm hadn’t given up their determination to kill Heidi.

The next time they called the slaughter truck, they were prepared. They’d closed Heidi into a barn, and backed the truck right up to the doors. The only way out was onto the truck, and there is no way that those farmers would have been gentle in their persuasion.

And so Heidi broke out of that barn by jumping through a window.

When Terry told me that, my jaw dropped. It bears repeating – Heidi jumped through a window.

I still can’t get over that.

Heidi wasn’t quite safe yet, however. The farmers’ next plan was to slaughter her on the property. Talk about people determined to cause death. One of their coworkers (remember, this farm was just a hobby for them) heard about Heidi, and somehow convinced the farmers to let her purchase Heidi so she could find a place for Heidi to live out her life. Her real life, where she wouldn’t be profited from, and she wouldn’t be killed.

When she called Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, she was getting desperate. Terry and Dave would have one chance to bring Heidi home. They arrived at night with their trailer. Heidi was out in the field.

“You’ll never get her on the truck,” the farmers stated. Terry didn’t agree.

And Terry was right.

She had the farmers stay away from the trailer, away from the pasture where Heidi was. They got the trailer ready, and they called to Heidi. Heidi came right over and walked calmly onto the trailer. She knew, somehow, that these were people who would do her no harm, who were there to save her and take her home.

That is the story of how Heidi saved herself.

But that’s only half her story. The other half will be saved for another day.

Edit: part 2, now posted!


39 responses to “Heidi: the cow who saved herself

  1. Kelvin Kao January 2, 2009 at 3:49 am

    Some animals are good judges of people’s intentions! I guess the vibe doesn’t lie.

  2. b January 2, 2009 at 7:14 am

    These are such important stories. I worked at a farm sanctuary in Massachusetts that had a cow, Cassie, who had done something similar – jumped a six foot fence to save herself from slaughter. After watching her whole family killed in front of her in the slaughterhouse, she decided that wasn’t for her. She still lives peacefully in rural Mass.

  3. sheryl, washington, dc January 2, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Heidi is one smart cow, that’s for sure. The second part of this story will be really good.

    I met Jake yesterday, up close and personal, by the carriage barn. His breath smelled like sweet grass.

    The other excitement was in the pig barn where everyone was sleeping (including Harley who peeked up when we called his name). They all looked so cosy and warm and snoring!
    Lisa and Dave were handing out treats and medicine. Just after Lisa gave Olivia her treat, she turned away, but Olivia wanted more and grabbed Lisa’s arm above the elbow. It hurt, bad, and Lisa said she began crying immediately. No skin broken, but it was swollen and bruising when we looked at it in the gift shop over broccoli quiche.

    See you tomorrow.


  4. kelly g. January 2, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    I’m so glad I don’t work in an office, Deb, because right now I’m blubbering like a newborn.

    The things we do to other beings…

    (collective “we,” of course!)

  5. Deb January 2, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    @Kelvin – you are so right! We hear so many stories about animals who are better judges of character and intention. They are sensitive to a lot of things that we might not even be aware of.

    @b – I looked up Cassie’s story – she’s the one at Maple Farm Sanctuary? That really is an amazing story. There’s a cow, Justice, at Peaceful Prairie outside Denver who bust his way out of the slaughter truck as it went down the highway. (If I remember correctly.) They are amazing, aren’t they?

    @Sheryl – sounds like yesterday was exciting!

    @kelly – that’s how I feel when I think about them too. I see them when I’m at the sanctuary, and I just want to give them the biggest hug…of course that’s not really what *they* have on the agenda. lol. And lucky you for not having to work in an office! But yes, the things that people do, and justify endlessly, are really sad. Luckily there are others who are the complete opposite…

  6. girl least likely to January 2, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    what a fantastic story! thank you so much, and i can’t wait to hear the rest.

  7. Pingback: Heidi, a Cow with a Story : Elaine Vigneault

  8. Elaine Vigneault January 3, 2009 at 11:41 am

    LOVE IT!
    She jumped through the window. hahaha!
    She’s really cute, too.

  9. farm kid January 3, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Cow’s jump high fences and stuff like that all the time when you’re trying to do stuff with them, even when you’re not trying to kill them… Like when you’re trying to vaccinate them so they DON’T die. They just don’t like to be trapped and naturally distrust the way they’re allowed to go so they do as all animals do when cornered, go crazy and try to escape.

    It’s really a matter of how you’re trying to get them to move, be calm and they will be calm. The farmers were probably just being too aggressive because they were frustrated whereas the other lady was calm. Cows aren’t dumb, but their not that smart either….

  10. greentangle January 4, 2009 at 7:35 am

    I wrote a post about Cassie and my visit to Maple Farm Sanctuary back in 2007 which I won’t bother linking because it was about a bunch of other stuff as well. But it’s interesting that every time a story like this gets publicity, people are so amazed and touched that an animal resists being killed. Might be a good idea for someone to compile all the stories into a book to make people think about the fact that it’s actually not just one unusual animal who wants to live.

  11. Deb January 4, 2009 at 8:22 am

    @gllt – hopefully I’ll get it done soon!

    @elaine – she does have one of the sweetest faces. Thanks for linking it in on your site!

    @farm kid – intelligence really depends on how you are judging intelligence. For instance, if someone were to judge us based entirely on grammar, book smart would trump any of your knowledge of animals. Of course those people who bumble around and don’t know how to interact with animals must seem pretty dumb to you. (just don’t ask them what they think of YOUR intelligence, right? we almost never like what we’ll hear.) And then what is the absolute stupidest thing anyone could ever do? I’d say that poisoning their water supply, the ground they grow their food in, and the air they breathe has got to be that absolute stupidest thing that anyone could ever do. That means humans win the stupid prize. oops. Amazing what perspective will do.

    @greentangle – when I googled info on Cassie, your visit to MFS was one of the first that came up! I hadn’t realized you were so close to their sanctuary. I told Terry about Cassie yesterday…

    As for a book of compiled stories, I think there have been at least a couple books written about a couple of the sanctuaries (Farm Sanctuary, and Catskill are the two I know of), and then there are 3 other people I know of who are in the process of writing books either about their own sanctuary animals, or about many sanctuaries and a select few animal stories from each.

    My worry is always that if you tell the story of the individuals who manage to break free, it makes it sounds like all the other individuals were willing participants in their own death. We know it isn’t true, but for someone intent on justifying causing death, it certainly sounds good.

  12. Bea Elliott January 4, 2009 at 9:02 am

    What a great story! I’m wondering if there might be any truth to the theory that says an animal can smell “blood” or smell “fear”? Perhaps the truck (and the people driving it) had such an overpowering “death chemistry” that Heidi sensed the danger? In any case – I’m so happy she made it to safety… She really is beautiful šŸ™‚

  13. greentangle January 4, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Deb, I’m usually 1300 miles from the sanctuary but my father who I was visiting lives close to it.

    I knew there were books about individual sanctuaries, but I was thinking of a book just on the famous individual survivors. Maybe you’re right about people’s reaction to that since folks are always likely to twist facts to support their beliefs, but it seems to me that hunters around here, for example, always write irate letters when a wild animal gets a name and fame. People who kill animals don’t like them to be seen as individuals subject to sympathy.

  14. Keith January 4, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Wow… wonderful story, Deb! Thanks for sharing!

    I was linked here by Stephanie Ernst’s AR blog on, which is a great site for animal lovers/advocates/activists and I see is in your blogroll. If anyone’s too lazy to look over there, they can get there by clicking


  15. Ingrid January 5, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Animals know better and when it comes to common sense they have humans beat – hands, paws and hooves down. Part of their common sense is that they listen to their fear reflex the rest of it is simply they aren’t a dumb as we like to pretend they are. It actually gives them an advantage of us and we should listen more often to what they have to say; regardless of the fact that they can’t speak.

    Given a choice between being with someone and listening to my horse; I listened to my horse and what happened afterwards is a story in itself and on the human side is one that doesn’t bear repeating…. My horse was right.

    Animal Common Sense 1
    Human Judgement 0

    Small pat on my own back for listening in the first place.
    The reward… Mr Toad will live out his days with me watching every step of the way; he earned it and I’ve learned from it.

  16. kelly g. January 5, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Hey, congrats on making it onto the Animal Rights blog on, Deb!

  17. Deb January 5, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    @Bea – their senses are certainly more acute than ours. I’m sure they can smell blood, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they could smell fear. I think that’s part of what they’re sensitive to that we have lost (or never gained) the ability to sense. In addition, they’re much more attuned to body language. I have no doubt that there were a million things telling her that the truck and the people were bad, and to do whatever it took (including jumping out a window of a closed barn) to get away.

    @greentangle – you have a good point. I’ll have to think on it. I’m going to ask a friend who I know is working on a book to see what perspective he was going to take on the sanctuaries. I could put together some of the stories that I know, but honestly there are people who write better than I do! And to self-publish a book with photos would mean the book would start at like $50. Getting a big publisher interested could be a challenge. The idea itself is definitely worth considering (even if the end result had nothing to do with me!). If nothing else, it is certainly something that the lot of us would enjoy. šŸ™‚

    @Keith, thanks for stopping in! I’m glad you enjoyed Heidi’s story. She’s pretty amazing, really.

    @Ingrid – there are a lot of stories out there showing just how smart animals are when it comes to judging human nature. We could really learn a lot from them! Good for you and Mr. Toad.

    @kelly g – thanks! šŸ˜€ It was pretty cool to see Heidi front and center there. šŸ™‚

  18. DEBORAH January 6, 2009 at 7:00 pm


  19. Katja January 7, 2009 at 10:30 am

    What a great story! I learned from temple grandin’s work that animals possibly have an extra sense. Heidi’s story brought some tears to my eyes.

  20. Marie January 7, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Animals are a lot smarter than people like farmkid and others give them credit for. Unfortunately, people like farmkid and his ilk who raise animals for food view them not as living, sentient beings, but as commodities to make a buck off of. Farmers usually treat livestock with complete indifference to the fact that these are living, breathing animals who feel pain and fear. The only reason a farmer would care for a sick or injured animal is because he wants to get it healthy enough to slaughter. Ironic, yes? Confinement farms are everywhere in the midwest. The poor, innocent animals who are kept prisioner in these awful places never feel the sun on their backs or enjoy being outside. The next time some livestock producer tells you that farm animals don’t have it so bad, remind him/her of these confinement buildings and see how they respond. I am so glad this animal got away from people like this and is living her life in peace.

  21. ARPhilosophy January 9, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Love this story. I hope you don’t mind that I link to it on my blog.

  22. David January 9, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    the trailer must have smelled like death…

  23. Deby January 10, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Thank you so much for posting this. It makes me wonder why so many of us are still tolerating those who do these sacrificial murders and eat the dead animals afterwards. They create such diseases that it effects those of us who do not want to be like that. It shortens our life and kills our decendants. It causes mass pain, suffering and death. The whole of America and other parts of the world are just large graveyards full of the dead rotting corpses and bones of man and animals crying out to stop the slaughter of Gods pets.
    In the begining, god didn’t ask much of us, just to till the ground, take care of his pets, and don’t eat flesh. He provided the fruit of the tree as our meat.

  24. Deby January 10, 2009 at 9:25 am

    I certainly agree with Marie. Thanks for posting Marie. Deby

  25. Pingback: » Blog Archive » easyVegan Link Sanctuary, 2009-01-03

  26. Gary January 11, 2009 at 2:00 am

    Thank you for that wonderful story. One of my favorite sayings is “Kindness is the highest wisdom.” By that criteria, we should all be humble. But we can also always improve. farm kid, try being nice to animals for their own sake, out of kindness and respect – not to manipulate them – and you may gain a new perspective.

  27. St. Fairsted Farm January 11, 2009 at 10:53 am

    A wonderful story! It is amazing how animals have the instinct to know. . . I can’t wait for part 2.

  28. Stephane Le Clair January 14, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    How wonderful this story is…We are all the same: in the same boat,under the same sun,with the same desire to live and not suffer,whatever our specie is.

    Things are changing slowly because of people sharing this kind of story…I wanna thank you for that.

    We don’t need to eat animals and make them suffer. How do you think elephants,rhinos,cows…are growing such big and strong bodies?…by eating large amounts of greens (in fact the ”meat” protein people get when eating animals,is the protein the animals get by eating greens but with bad fat added to it).

    …all these animals suffering for humans to get coronary diseases and cancers in the end….we still got a long way to go!

  29. Nione Almie January 15, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    OMG, no fair! I want to hear the rest of the story! It’s uber-sweet tho. I’m not usually fond of cows, but Heidi’s cute.

  30. Ari Moore January 18, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Beautiful story. I’m so, so happy for Heidi. If only we could all go vegan – then all cows would be safe from us…

  31. Pingback: Heidi: reinventing herself « Invisible Voices

  32. Deb January 18, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    Thanks everyone who commented!

    Ari – totally agree. šŸ™‚

    And part 2 is posted now:

  33. Amanda Daniell January 22, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    Oh, thank you so much for this beautiful story.

    Thank you.

  34. loredana January 23, 2009 at 4:59 am

    Thanks, among so many sad stories Heidi made me believe there’s a Hope ! Such a beautiful cow showed how much animals are intelligent and sensible
    Thank you a lot

  35. Deb January 25, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Amanda, my pleasure!

    loredana, I’m glad that this gave you hope! It is so hard sometimes, there is just so much awful stuff happening all the time. I love my work at the sanctuary for just this reason – once a week I have a few hours to be with those who have been rescued and are safe. It definitely helps!

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