Do you have the stomach to adopt a heifer?

I was amazed by Mike’s comment suggesting an “adopt a heifer” program following my last post about the impact of falling milk prices on my dairy cows and even more amazed by the responses it generated.

One of my fellow dairy farmers, Jessa, has had the same thought but a few reservations have held her back. The biggie is: “What if the heifer dies?”.

To that, I’d add: “What if the heifer turns out to be infertile, bad feet that send her lame often or gets intractable mastitis?”. The reality is that, ordinarily, she’d be sent to market. There is no ‘fat’ in the price farmers are paid for their milk and, consequently, no room for infirm passengers on farm. How would you feel if your adopted heifer had to go? Especially if I posted a picture of her big brown eyes.

The scenario gets at the heart of what it is to be a farmer. We love animals. But we can only look after them properly if we are profitable farmers and that means some animals are created more equal than others (with apologies to Mr Orwell).

Farm animals are cherished but not in the same way as pets – mostly. I still remember the day 30 years ago when my father sent Queen Bessie to market. For a decade or more, Queen Bessie stood regally at the head of the dairy entrance demanding scratches until she simply became too old to thrive. Dad was shattered for weeks but, nevertheless, she was sold.

It’s only with a philosopher’s eye for the big picture that farmers manage the balancing act of love, business and the welfare of the herd. Could you stomach it or is that where the “adopt a heifer” experiment would come unstuck?


14 thoughts on “Do you have the stomach to adopt a heifer?

  1. I have to sell one of my three girls. Even as a smallholder I only have my cows through the gift of herdshare, but the flip side of that is that I need to provide products back to my herdshare. Candy is a lovely cow, but she won’t let down her milk for hand milking and grass is a bit thin.

    So as soon as Dolores calves I will be selling Candy, the money will be going to feed and fencing that I need to keep producing milk.


  2. I still remember the formative experience of leading the school steer onto the abattoir truck after the Royal Easter Show Hoof and Hook show each year. An animal that we reared from 6 months, taught to walk and even shared a pen. Distressing yes – but for a city boy it showed a side of farming you don’t get from Little Golden Books.


    • That would have been heartbreaking. I think it’s a bit of a rite of passage to take responsibility for the real cost of food in that way, though.


      • I remember when I was younger we went to a friends farm and named two little lambs. I think I was about 6 or 7 and we went back a year later expecting to see my two little lambs and had to find out the hard way about life on farms!!

        I think a lot of people even older people need to understand the other side


  3. Don’t do it Marian! I look after a few cows for friends & it can be a pain.You tend to hang onto them too long. I AI them but you have to make sure you have the right bull. These people are real nice but I think you would want to watch out for legal problems if those adopting suddenly don’t agree with your farming practices. You would want a water tight contract.


    • Thanks for pointing out some negatives, David. I’ve obviously shared a lot here on the blog but this would take things up another notch, that’s for sure.


  4. I only milk one as I don’t have the facility to safely deal with the milk of two yet.

    I had really hoped she’d get used to it but even with the head bales and not letting her go to the calf, letting the calf on for a bit then trying again, nothing has worked. Even the calf has to headbut pretty hard to get it going.


  5. Rather than sponsoring a specific animal forever, could make it more about the circle of life on a farm. So, could attach sponsorship to a particular animal from birth and can then follow that animal for however long or short the journey. Can then transfer to another from birth, thus following the real ups and downs where one might last a few weeks and another 13 years… If it is all up front, then might be ok? There are far too many variables to lock in to a specific animal for a specific time frame. Still need to articulate the value proposition though… With herd size average of 290, I’d suggest it’s more about the story than a particular animal.


    • Yes, I think that’s the only way it could work but I’m not sure whether it would always be palatable, all the same. The “value proposition” in this case might be similar to that of contributing to an animal shelter: doing the right thing with some education and fun along the way.


  6. You could consider something like what taronga zoo do.
    There, you can “adopt” a type of animal for a time period (a year, I think, perhaps other options), the money goes to food, care etc, for that type of animal, but you don’t get a particular animal to adopt.
    You get a photo of the animals, and get included in the generalised “zoo parent” update

    You could have tiers of donation: $x buys food for a month for one calf, $y buys medical care… (whatever’s appropriate)…$z buys food for one calf for 1 year and personal recognition….


  7. would be a great idea though, would mean kids could learn the other side of farming and all that it inherits as well
    Would def like to do something like this with my 2 daughters,


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