Life Comes Cheaply (posted by nicole, but written brilliantly by meghann)
Nicole · Jul. 3, 2009
The gate swings open and she stumbles in. She stands there for a moment, staring at us. Then a shove from behind and she lurches forward. Wide-eyed, she comes to a standstill a few feet in front of us, her legs splayed and unsteady. She is young, very young. I can see her dried up umbilical cord. And she is beautiful. Blue-grey eyes surrounded by long, white lashes in a mostly white face, a soft pink nose, knobby knees. The baby is so unsure of herself, taking a few awkward steps back and forth, always keeping a distance between her and the stockmen. She eyes everyone warily and I imagine how terrified she must be. How many hours ago was she born and taken from her mother? 24? 48? She cannot be more than a day or two old.
The bidding begins. I cannot believe my ears. Ten dollars, five dollars, two dollars...my heart breaks. How can her life be worth so little? Motion from behind me and Carol has bid. There are no other takers. For two dollars â€“ less than the price of a hamburger â€“ her life has been saved. I look at the faces of the farmers around me and imagine they are thinking how foolish we are, wasting our money on an animal destined never to be productive.
Bewildered, she is corralled through another gate into a holding area. The bidding continues, but I cannot take my eyes off of her. She lies down in the sawdust. As I watch, an older cow in the adjacent pen turns her head sideways to fit through the horizontal metal bars of the railing. She sniffs the baby and slowly, tenderly, begins to lick her. The baby responds immediately, stretching her neck out and sniffing the older cow.
Suddenly the noise of the auction disappears and all I can focus on is this one peaceful, heart-wrenching moment. A cow, having had her babies taken from her who knows how many times, comforting a weak little baby, who has just lost her own mother before ever really knowing her. I quickly blink back tears, feeling that they are out of place in this place of commerce.
The baby, Emily, is now worlds away from the auction, along with Todd, another calf rescued by SAINTS. Although they are warm, fed, and cared for, the two are struggling to survive. Who knows how much colostrum they received from their mothers, that essential first milk full of protective antibodies and nourishing calories? So, they live, day to day, feeling weak and sick, their bodies under attack because they were never given the right start to life. We love them and hope for them, long for them to grow stronger, to turn the corner. But we wait.
And I am struck with the thought that, day in and day out, all over the country, tiny, helpless calves are trucked from barn to auction to barn and sold for just a few dollars. They may live or they may die. As an investment, they are not worth much, so little is invested in them. But for me, they have opened my eyes to the reality of animals as commodities, a reality that I will not be quick to revisit, but am grateful to have experienced.
So, for Emily, the little calf that Carol bought because she saw her true value, I have written this story.