AS the late Sunday afternoon shadows begin their long descent down the Glass House Mountains on the Sunshine Coast, a rag-tag herd of calves lift their cold wet noses skyward and bellow mournfully.
All are barely a week old, all are dairy breeds and all of them should be dead.
"They're so tiny and so little when they get sent to the abattoir," 20-year-old Kirby Woods says.
Steam rises above the fuzzy brown, white, red and black heads as the slender young woman pours warm milk into a self-feeder.
Five mouths greedily suckle long fake pink teats, milk bubbling from the side of their lips as long sloppy slurps of satisfaction echo across the yards.
As the daughter of a farmer, Ms Woods knows the realities of primary production.
It's a world where an animal's value is measured by the amount of milk or meat they can produce.
When dairy cows - and goats - give birth, the grower takes their off-spring away as soon as possible because every drop of milk they drink is one less drop in the milk tank and that means less profit.
Most heifers will be raised by hand and become milkers themselves, while almost every bull calf will end up on dinner plates as veal.
Those that don't make it to the abattoir will most likely be knocked on the head.
"When I get them they're often terrified, but after a while they'll just start following me and licking me and being so friendly - it's just amazing to see," Ms Woods says.
Ms Woods started Kirby's Calf Rescue in January, travelling to cattle sales and dairy farms across the coast to purchase unwanted calves for about $100 a head.
She pays for their veterinary care, vaccinations and feed out of her meagre vet nurse's wage.
"By the time I worm them, dip them and get them healthy enough to sell on, I'm well over the $150 mark for each calf," she says.
Ms Woods posts the calves' photos on Facebook and Instagram, appealing to her swiftly growing audience to take a chance on a pet with a difference.
Adopters pay the animal's initial purchase price plus GST - in return they get a quiet, almost dog-like, bovine that may one day tip the scales at more than 1000kg.
"They have the best personalities," Ms Woods says.
"After they've had a good feed, they just run … you can see on their faces how happy they are just to run free."
Over the past eight months, Ms Woods has rescued and rehomed at least 70 calves.
"Most people are showing them, some people are breeding from them, some people have never had a calf before and it's their first pet," she says.
Cows and steers are not pets for the feint-hearted and adopters will need a well-fenced paddock with good quality pasture and the ability to pay for grain-based feeds to supplement the animal's diet.
There are also ongoing costs like tick protection and vet services, but Ms Woods says the benefits can outweigh the costs.
"Cows are fun and they are adorable to be around," she says.
About an hour's drive from Ms Wood's Glass House calf sanctuary is the historic town of Dayboro - the home of Farm Animal Rescue.
Giant wide-set brown eyes peer over the gate at the entry to the 55-acre property.
Their owner - a massive blue and cream steer - meanders forward, followed by a couple of elderly cows and a big white pig with black patches.
After a few gentle pats along the bovines' broad shoulders and long scratch of the pig's rough back, the miss-matched herd slowly moves aside so the vehicle can pass.
At the top of the hill there are more faces, but this time it's goats - big goats, little goats, bearded goats, happy goats, grumpy goats.
Feigning disinterest, the ruminants chew their cuds and flick their ears as the intruders head toward a nearby small white cottage.
A tall bloke steps from the veranda, reaching down to ruffle the ears of a 500kg-plus pig sleeping soundly in his path.
Brad King is in his element.
The 52-year-old is a passionate animal rights advocate who firmly believes that everyone who walks onto his farm will leave with a different view about where their meat and dairy products come from.
Mr King bases his volunteer-run haven on the ultra-successful Farm Sanctuary concept which has operated in America for about 29 years.
It promotes animal welfare and advocacy through education and lifestyle choices like vegetarianism and veganism.
FAR is home to 60 chooks, cattle, pigs, goat and sheep.
"The animals have come from all different places," Mr King says.
"They've all got very different stories.
"There are a number that have been surrendered to us, some have come from farmers who just did not want them and they were going to shoot them.
"And some are RSPCA seizures and cruelty cases."
There are many sad stories here but the hardest to hear is that of Fiona.
The delicate small brown dairy calf arrived on the farm a few months ago in pitiful condition after spending the first four weeks of her life in a tiny crate.
"It was quite shocking," Mr King says softly as he points to a photo of a heifer with malformed legs and massive patches of bare skin.
"Urine burnt a lot of her fur off.
"It's weird because you'd normally expect a (vealer) crated calf to be a boy, it's confusing that she's a girl - we're confused about how she ended up like this.
"From the injuries, this is how we ascertain that it was a crate because if she was in paddock that would never have happened."
For Mr King, some of the toughest cruelty cases are the smallest.
"The hens come in naked after being in battery cages for 18 months," he says as he looks at a nearby chook that just a few months ago had no feathers.
"And we've got a couple of lambs that were thrown onto the side of a highway when they were born on the slaughterhouse truck."
Saving livestock helps Mr King reach his ultimate goal - changing society's expectations and values around primary production.
"What's really important for us is for people to see that there's somebody inside the animal who has desires, needs and wants and that when we put them in the farming system we take a lot of that away from them," he says.
"We take away the things that are special to them, the things they enjoy.
"We are breeding animals in such a way that they can no longer survive as they normally would.
"For example, we have broiler chickens come in at six months old but they struggle to breathe.
"They've been designed to have an expiration date - they've been designed in such a way that they can't properly function as a proper animal."
When it comes to baby farm animals, it seems common sense goes out the window.
Many people buy infant pigs and goats, thinking they will make house pets.
Instead the townies often end up with big, noisy and destructive animals that can also be extremly hard to control.
Serendipity Farm Animal Centre owner Alison Bosscher is acutely aware of this.
The 47-year-old criminal lawyer, her husband Michael and children Bella, 17, Fred, 13, Tom, 11, and Peri, 19, run the 10-acre haven which is home to over 80 animals including peacocks, sheep, horses, ducks and countless goats and pigs.
"We've just picked up this fella from someone who thought they were buying a miniature," Ms Bosscher says as a squealing black pig scurries from her arms and dives between the legs of a tiny horse with a deformed back.
Serendipity is a work in progress.
Ms Bosscher and her husband juggle their busy professional lives as criminal lawyers with erecting shelters and fences and lengthy feeding routines at the Upper Brookfield property.
In her spare moments, the down-to-earth animal advocate responds to requests from people looking to rehome pets they have bought with little forethought.
"Most of these animals were bred to be pets," Ms Bosscher says as she points toward the pigs and goats.
"And then they've been discarded and I don't like that."
Among her menageries is a 25-yeard-old racehorse with a gaping hole between its eyes.
"He was a racehorse," Ms Bosscher says.
"He was to slow so they shot him, but he ran away.
"He ended up at the doggers (horse abattoir), but they said 'we're not going to take him if he ran away from that'.
"He's got a lovely life now."
Horses have given 45-year-old Lismore factory worker "Karen" countless moments of happiness, but saving them from harm also has her living in fear.
The East Coast Horse Rescue director helps rehome neglected and starved equines from across the Northern Rivers area of NSW.
She is so scared of retribution from irate owners that she refuses to use her real name for this story.
"I have safety concerns because a lot of times our cases involve people that have been abusing their horses and they don't like us to intervene," she says.
Over the past few years, the volunteer-run organisation has rescued, rehabilitated and rehomed more than 40 animals.
"The horses are usually emaciated and they haven't had any farrier or dental work," she says.
Karen says a shocking cruelty case fuelled her passion to save animals.
"About 10 years ago two men hurt a horse near Lismore with star pickets," she says.
"I was outraged, I couldn't believe it.
"What really makes me angry is that most people who hurt their animals only seem to get a slap on the wrist."
- APN NEWSDESK
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Kirby's Calf Rescue offers calves for adoption. The registered business is working towards gaining charity status. Until then it cannot accept financial donations, however donations of goods and services are welcome. If you adopt a calf, you will need to provide a property identification code. It can be contacted through Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Kirbys-Calf-Rescue or Instagram via @kirbyscalfrescue
Farm Animal Rescue holds regular open days at its Dayboro sanctuary. It raises funds through donations and animal sponsorships. It can be contacted via its website at www.farmanimalrescue.org.au
Serendipity Farm Animal Centre provides a mobile farm visiting service to help raise money to feed and house its rescued animals. It also offers animals for adoption at a small fee. It can be contacted through it Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Serendipity-Farm-Animal-Centre-Inc
East Coast Horse Rescue is a not-for-profit organisation. It can be contacted through its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NorthernRiversHorseRescue
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