When his father died, in 2011, Jay Wilde inherited the family cattle farm, in Ashbourne, UK. He has been constantly sending cows to the slaughterhouse ever since, but he recently decided he couldn’t do it anymore, so he gave away his heard of 59 cows to an animal sanctuary, where they will live out the rest of their natural lives in peace.
59-year-old Wilde has been a vegetarian for 25 years, so having to sell animals to be killed for meat was particularly difficult, but he had promised his father that he would take over the family farm. Having to send off the animals to the slaughterhouse after seeing them grow under his eyes and spending time with them was extremely unpleasant, and the farmer recently decided that he couldn’t bear to do it anymore.
Photo: Jay Wilde
“I began to see that cows recognize each other, and they’ve got very good memories,” Jay Wilde told the Vegan Society. “They experience a range of emotions – they can be sad, happy, bored or excited. They do also have facial expressions. You can tell what a cow is thinking by looking at them. I’ve even seen cows cry.”
“Cows are conscious of what goes on around them ,they have personalities and an inner life,” the farmer adds. “They’re not just units of food. Knowing them personally makes it more difficult to think about eating them.”
Photo: Jay Wilde
After taking over the farm, Wilde began making major changes. He converted it from a dairy farm to one that raised cattle for organic beef, because he couldn’t bear having to separate cows from their babies to take their milk. The animals would become distressed and took a long time to get over their separation. But just selling young cows to the slaughterhouse didn’t make him feel much better, so he eventually stopped doing it.
After getting in touch with the Vegan Society, he learned that he could grow food without having to slaughter animals, and when he asked what would happen to his cows, they put him in touch with Hillside Animal Sanctuary, a rescue center near Frettenham, in Norfolk, which was willing to take in his whole heard. There, they would live out their lives “essentially as pets”.
Photo: Jay Wilde
When Jay’s brother-in-law heard about his idea, he told him that he was insane for even considering giving away cattle that could fetch up to £40,000 ($52,000) at the market, but all he was interested it was walking away with a clear conscience.
“I know farmers are supposed to have a very matter-of-fact attitude about their animals and think they’re only here as a crop but, when you know them, you do realize that they do have individual personalities,” Jay Wilde told The Derby Telegraph. “They’re alive, not in a human way, but they do have their own experience of the world and it must be terrifying to be sent for slaughter. It just didn’t feel a good thing to do.”
Photo: Hillside Animal Sanctuary/Facebook
Jay says he didn’t switch to a vegetable farm earlier due to “a lack of imagination”, but now that he can finally do what he loves without constantly feeling guilty, he wants to make the best of it. “We’ve got a huge range of brick buildings on the farm which are unused. We’re hoping to turn those into a vegan restaurant, a vegan teaching kitchen and accommodation for people who would like to come and help on the vegetable growing. A vegan holidays sort of thing,” he says.
He has kept 11 of his cows on the farm, as pets, and plans to use their manure as natural fertilizer for the vegetable farm. The rest of the cows, 30 of which are pregnant, have already arrived at the sanctuary, where they live peacefully alongside 300 cattle and 2,000 horses, donkeys and ponies.
“Jay is a real pioneer, which we hope will inspire other farmers to move towards more compassionate and sustainable farming methods that don’t involve animals,” Tom Kuehnel, the Vegan Society’s campaign officer, told The Independent.