Unprecedented Dairy Cow Rescue Effort Still Underway
Over 2,600 dairy cows needed to find new homes upon the closure of Big Island Dairy in Ōʻōkala on Hawai‘i Island. The Hawai‘i Lava Flow Animal Rescue Network (HLFARN) has been placing these cows in new homes since the beginning of 2019. While the number of cows at the dairy dwindles, the timeline to have the cows out of the facility (as determined by a settlement reached with a community group) grows shorter. After rehoming nearly 200 cows and calves, HLFARN continues to work tirelessly in order to find more homes and raise more funds to save the remaining cows, who number in the high hundreds. The group’s next operation is scheduled for April 27, 2019.
The effort that has required countless volunteer hours, contributions from all over the globe, and compassionate adopters, is unlike any rescue of farm animals that has come before it. Typically, dairy cows are rescued in smaller numbers and placed at a sanctuary or similar facility. Rescued cows typically come from calves and cows falling off of trucks or being removed from dire situations. Though many dairies across the country are closing due to a shift in consumer trends (Wisconsin alone has seen more than 650 closures since 2017), their cows are typically sold at auction for slaughter or to be used by another farm.
In order to pull off this massive rescue operation, HLFARN utilizes a dedicated network of volunteers to fundraise, do outreach, vet potential adopters based on a rubric of requirements, assist with removal and transport of the cows, assist adopters with last-minute needs, and more. Rather than place all of the cows at one sanctuary, the group is able to rescue a larger number by placing them in private homes, ranches, and small sanctuaries where they will no longer be utilized for milk or meat, allowing them to retire from the animal agriculture industry in peace.
“We have a lofty goal of saving at least 10% of the original cows and calves that needed to be rehomed in January (some cows have since birthed new calves, adding to that original number),” animal rescuer Alessandra Rupar-Weber said. “That’s 260 lives that can be saved thanks to adopters and donors, without whom none of this is possible. We still have many challenges ahead of us, sleepless nights and sweaty days, but we are highly motivated to reach our goal and save these amazing, kind, intelligent creatures.”
Once placed, after a required quarantine period, the cows and calves become a part of the family. Toddlers bottle feed calves, cows snuggle with sheep and pigs, and adopters delight when their new “pets” come running at feeding time.
“My girls wait for me every morning, eager to receive their breakfast and tolerant of the hugs and kisses we bestow upon them,” adopter Danielle Spitz said. “They are no different than my dogs and cats, willing and capable of returning our affection (sometimes they lick our cheeks).”
HLFARN provides community and support to these adopters via a private Facebook group where this new, unlikely community can gather to ask questions, share photos, and tell stories of their new companions.
How the community can help
The two most pressing needs for this operation are homes and funds. Big Island land owners who can take in a minimum of two cows or calves (with at least two acres of land per cow), and can provide them with supplemental feed, shelter, water, and vet care as needed, are still desperately in demand. For those interested in adopting these gentle giants (who also make excellent lawn mowers and manure generators, plus there is a tax incentive available), HLFARN will pay the adoption fees and assist with transport, if needed, thanks to the group’s many generous donors. Adopters must agree to not use the cows for milk or meat. Those interested in adoption can email [email protected] to begin the process.
Though Big Island homes are the focus, if enough funds can be raised, some of the cows may be able to be shipped to neighbor island, where many farms and sanctuaries are eager to take them in.
For those not on the Big Island looking to help, funds are still greatly needed to pay the dairy’s fees, provide transportation from the dairy to the new homes, purchase starter feed, and assist with primary medical needs once the cows are removed. Those interested in making a tax deductible donation through HLFARN’s fiscal sponsor, Sanctuary of Mana Ke‘a Gardens, can donate via Go Fund Me or Paypal (designate #HawaiiCowRescue when donating). Donors will receive regular updates from adopters and volunteers about the cows, including heartwarming photos and videos.
Rescue operation background
In May 2017, after members of the Ōʻōkala community filed several complaints to the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health, Big Island Dairy, LLC received a Notice of Violation of the federal Clean Water Act for releasing animal waste into the nearby waterways that eventually ran off into the ocean. A lawsuit ensued, resulting in Big Island Dairy announcing the closing of its operations this spring.
In January 2019, Big Island Dairy and Hawai‘i State Department of Health reached a settlement. One of the stipulations of the settlement is for Big Island Dairy to reduce and eliminate the number of animals that they have. When a dairy closes its operations, the cows are usually auctioned off and distributed to slaughterhouses and other dairies. Big Island Dairy has roughly 2600 cows, heifers and calves, to remove from the premises.
Members of the Hawai‘i Lava Flow Animal Rescue Network (HLFARN), one of the groups instrumental in the rescue operations of animals in last year’s Lower Puna lava flow, are currently engaged in an effort to save some of these animals. After initial meetings with representatives of the dairy, HLFARN received permission to remove a number of the cows for a negotiated fee.