I wrote recently about Heidi, the cow who saved herself.
That aspect of Heidi defines her to a great deal. Knowing her story, it is impossible to look at her and not feel a sense of awe and amazement. I doubt anyone meeting her now would guess at her hidden depths, at least not of the jumping-out-the-window-to-save-herself variety.
Yet, it is unsurprising to learn that she’s showing those depths in different ways now. “Heidi, the cow who saved herself” is what she did, it is who she is. “Heidi, the cow who looks after Emily, the blind calf” is what she does now, it is who she is becoming.
Almost two years ago a little blind calf came to live at Poplar Spring. As with many of the animals, Emily’s story is convoluted, with several hops and a good deal of fantastical luck.
Emily was born on a small local beef farm. She was apparently blind from birth. And this, in the end, saved her life. Of course it almost killed her first.
On these small beef farms, the cows are out in the pastures grazing day in and day out. The “breeding females” are gotten pregnant pretty much every year, and their babies are killed at about 18 months old. Until then, the mothers and babies are together. The farmers don’t put much effort into caring for these cows; it is likely they are doing this for tax reasons as much as anything (suburb of DC, hello agricultural tax incentive!), so for their few head of cattle, they go for the minimal effort. In the cold icy February two years ago, Emily was in the field with her mother, but they somehow got separated. Emily was stuck in some ice, and the employees on this farm noticed and told the farmer. He reacted in a way that is both shocking and unsurprising. “Let her die,” was essentially what he said.
This upset one of the workers, especially as Emily and her mother were calling back and forth to each other. Emily was not only trapped in some ice, but she was somehow on the wrong side of a fence. The worker was able to free Emily from the ice. Emily was sick by then, and it was finally clear to the worker and the farmer that she was blind as well. The farmer wanted nothing to do with this sickly blind calf, and he certainly didn’t want her taking up space in his barn. The worker knew of Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary because she’d brought a chicken there once upon a time, and so she called the sanctuary to see if Emily could find a home.
Emily was 4 months old when she came to Poplar Spring, and she was very wary of humans. It was quite a while, and only with the influence of apples, before she would let anyone but Dave and Terry (and some of the regular week-day workers as well) approach her.
As is typical with cows, Emily was accepted into the herd immediately. Yet Emily was a bit independent. She’d get lost in the woods. She’d be down by the creek on her own. Likely this is how she got separated from her mother in the first place. She is actually quite good at following and finding the cows, to a certain degree, using the secondary senses of sound and smell to guide her way. She has no fear.
However, having a blind cow potentially lost in the wooded areas of the 400 acre property made for some stressful and sleepless nights for the human caretakers of the sanctuary.
Terry looked into GPS collars, and was able to raise the money for a couple. There’s a blind horse at the sanctuary as well, and though he is much more cautious and much less independent than Emily, and though he has a partner who wears a be-belled halter so that he can hear her as she moves, there is still the worry. And so GPS collars seemed a good idea.
And they were, but unfortunately they were also no longer made, which Terry found out months after she ordered them, and had her money refunded. A couple of us researched with our best search-term skills, and couldn’t find anything workable for this purpose.
And so time marched on, Emily adapted more and more, and though she still got separated from the herd, it was getting more predictable. The worry was still there, but so was the confidence that Emily did know how to take care of herself. A GPS collar would have made it easier to check up on Emily, but everyone adapted to the reality, which did not include such a collar.
In recent months, Heidi has decided that she is the surrogate momma for Emily. Or maybe not a mother, really, but big sister or mentor of some kind.
Emily is stubborn, but of course we know that Heidi has a determined personality. When Emily hangs out near (and sometimes in) the pig barn, and the cows are beginning to move off, Heidi comes back for Emily and moos at her imperiously.
Naturally Emily, being Emily, tries to ignore the summons.
Eventually, though, Heidi is able to convince Emily to follow her.
Ever since Heidi has taken on this new role, Emily has not gotten lost. Emily has not gotten separated (other than to the extent that she insists on by her not-quite-as-social-as-average nature), and Emily is now able to stay with the cows as they wander the whole 400 acres.
Emily, as it turns out, does not need a GPS collar. She has Heidi.