Mike Lanigan, a farmer in Uxbridge, Ontario, used to raise cows to be sent to slaughter. But now he’s had a huge change of heart…
Mike Lanigan first moved to the farm back in the 1950s when he was just a kid. After university, he left the farming life for 20 years, but ended up returning and buying the farm from his father’s estate. Running a farm is expensive, so like many other farmers, Lanigan brought cows to the butcher to pay the bills.
“I never liked that part,” said Lanigan in a video made by his employee, Edith Barabash. “As a farmer you can kind of just turn off that part.”
Or at least he did up until a couple of months ago as he was helping a newborn calf get its first milk. “I was doing it with such love, and talking to it, and cleaning the scuzz of its face and trying to get it on its mama,” said Lanigan.
That’s when he remembered Wilfred Fletcher, an old man who had worked for his father on the farm. He remembered how loving Fletcher had been with the cows. Then he looked back at the calf.
“He was so careful with his animals, and then I said, ‘Oh it’s too bad I’m gonna knock you in the head and cut you into pieces and eat you,’” said Lanigan.
“And then I thought how hypocritical of me to give something so much love and the end thing is so different from that love.”
Ultimately, Lanigan decided to turn his cattle farm into a sanctuary farm, and now has 21 cows who will never meet a butcher, including Baby, who’s basically a giant, affectionate dog. There are also some geese and horses, and a “guard donkey” named Buckwheat who’s happy to buck Lanigan if he’s not getting enough attention. One day, Lanigan hopes to take in more cows in need of homes, like those that have been seized by animal control from neglectful owners. But for now, the farm is a place where all the animals can live out their days in peace, according to the farm’s Facebook page.
Of course, the road to building every sanctuary is paved with good intentions. It’s one thing to turn land into refuge for animals — and quite another to sustain all those hungry mouths. The farm is not yet an official sanctuary.
So to help create his dream, Lanigan turned to Barabash, who worked as a cashier for him at the farmers market where he sells vegetables every week. Being a vegan, he hoped she’d have some ideas to change things at the farm.
To help raise the profile of the would-be sanctuary, Barabash created a video and Facebook page in hopes of getting the farm to official sanctuary status.
“We do need a solid amount of startup money though, because raising cows is extremely expensive. But we’re getting there,” she said.
Keeping a farm with no income from meat makes things even more difficult. So Lanigan continues planting vegetables on the property and taking his produce to the market. Along with some lumber. And, being a Canadian farm, a little maple syrup. And the cows, in their own way, pitch in too. “It’s absolutely essential to have an herbivore here,” Lanigan says in the clip. “There’s something about a herbivore on our land that makes my farm healthier.
“And it’s not just the manure. There’s some inter-relation between a herbivore walking the land and eating the grass and the rotation of healthy vegetables.”
In the meantime, Lanigan is getting to know the animals that will stay with him until the end of their days on his 100-acre patch of paradise.
“When I go into my old age, I want it to be with a nice clear conscience,” he said.
Follow Lanigan’s journey here. You can also also help make his dream to turn his farm into an animal sanctuary by making a donation here.
This story first appeared on The Dodo.