Remembering Alexander

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

The first time I saw Alexander was at a central New York stockyard, on a bitterly cold day just before Christmas 2010. There were 300 newborn dairy calves on sale that day. Confused, terrified babies wailed for their mothers, and adult cows called back, all separated and unable to comfort each other. I was hoping for the chance to save a calf who had collapsed on the loading dock before even making it to the auction floor, but I was told I had to wait for the sale to end in case he stood up and could be auctioned off with the others. During the calf sale, the auctioneer offered me a second calf who was so small that no one would bid on him. Then there was another calf, a big guy, who received no bids because he was wobbling, falling down, and rolling his fetlocks. He was offered to me as well. That was Alexander.

Rough Start

I had expected to rescue only one calf, but at the end of the day I had three sick babies in the back of the shelter’s CRV. Exhausted, the boys slept as I rushed them to Cornell University Hospital for Animals.

When we arrived, the hospital staff ran blood work. Lawrence, the calf who had collapsed on the loading dock, was in renal failure. Blitzen, the tiny one, had pneumonia. Alexander, nicknamed Goliath by the staff because he was so large, was septic. His umbilicus had not been properly cleaned, and he had not received enough, or any, of the immunity-boosting colostrum his mother’s milk would have provided. Together, these circumstances resulted in an infection that spread to his left stifle, which is the joint that connects the femur, patella, and tibia.

Alexander shortly after his rescue

Though Alexander was started on treatment immediately, he contracted severe septic arthritis. He had to stay at the hospital for 48 days, undergoing multiple surgeries. He left with a guarded prognosis: though he was healthy at the time of discharge, his vets believed that his legs would break down as he grew.

Living Large

And Alexander grew. During his almost five years on the farm, he became a giant, both in body and in presence. In his prime, he weighed over 2,500 pounds, but it was his personality that made the biggest impression.

Tall and awkward, Alexander was something of a loner in the cattle herd. Though he was good friends with Lawrence, he liked his human friends most of all, preferring their company to that of his fellow bovines. At the sound of his name, he would come running.

As a male calf born in the dairy industry, Alexander had been considered a byproduct. Like all other mammals, cows must be impregnated to lactate, and dairies therefore produce not only milk but also a steady stream of calves. Female calves are typically kept to be raised as replacements for their mothers, but males are brought to auction and sold to be slaughtered for veal or to be raised for cheap beef. Taken away almost the moment he was born, Alexander never got to know his mother. In her stead, we became his adoptive mothers. He thrived on the love of his caregivers and adored his shelter family.

Susie Coston, Alexander calf and Blitzen calf

Alexander’s enthusiasm for his human friends was sometimes daunting during his terrible twos, when he was well over 1,500 pounds but still thought he could play with us like a calf. When you entered a pasture where he was, his head would pop up immediately, and he would literally bounce off the ground in excitement to see you. He kept the interns on their toes during feed-moving excursions, chasing them around the truck intent on a friendly head-butt. One afternoon he, Sonny, Orlando, and a few other young Holsteins got so excited when they saw me in our project truck that they ran up to stick their heads in the windows, knocking off the mirrors, and butting the doors. It wasn’t great for the truck, but I was laughing so hard I couldn’t control the situation. They were just beautiful, happy, carefree calves in their minds, and it was so incredible and joyful that nothing else mattered at that moment.

Alexander wasn’t all rowdiness, though. He was sweet, too. He loved to lay his head on your lap and fall asleep as you stroked his face. He was loyal and loving to his friends. I can’t remember ever walking into the pasture during Alexander’s lifetime without being greeted by this huge, happy bovine. He loved newcomers and took Michael under his wing when he was a calf, as well as really loving Sonny, Orlando, and Conrad, who were all younger than he was.

Last Days

Though he had arrived with that troubling prognosis, Alexander ran and played like any other steer for nearly his entire time with us, showing no sign of serious leg issues. He loved life and enjoyed it fully right up until the end.

His decline began this past winter, when we noted that his back right leg was turning out. Once again, like he did as a baby, he was rolling his fetlock. The vets who came out to check on him felt that he had just injured himself and put him on pen rest, but the condition worsened in the spring. Because of his size, over 6’5” at the shoulder, taking him to Cornell in a trailer was a concern; the giant steers do not do well on even short trailer rides, and with bad legs the journey is far worse. That was our last option, however, to keep his condition from progressing further.

Alexander steer

Though he was evaluated by specialists and even outfitted with shoes to help guide his leg back into alignment, his condition continued to decline over the summer. He was still happy at first. He spent time in our special-needs herd and made a new friend in young Valentino. By the end of the summer, however, it was obvious that he was deteriorating rapidly. We brought him back to Cornell, where he had spent those first weeks of his new life, to see a neurologist. After more tests and attempts at alignment, Alexander was diagnosed with progressive neurogenic disease, likely congenital and definitely untreatable.

By this point, there was no effective way to manage his pain. We knew the kind thing now was to prevent him from suffering. Five years after I brought Alexander home to sanctuary, we gathered to help him on one final journey. A group of six caregivers drove to the hospital to be with Alexander as his vet administered euthanasia. He passed away gently, surrounded by people who loved him.

Each time we rescue one of these magnificent beings, we have to think about the billions of animals each year who are never seen, who are never noticed, who do not have the chance to experience love even from their own families. Each calf, chicken, pig, or sheep we rescue is an individual, as are the far too many still suffering behind closed doors, who are treated merely as products and never recognized as the incredible creatures they are.

Alexander was one of the lucky few to make it out, and we were blessed to have him even for a short time. The thought of the shelter without Alexander is nearly unbearable. He was such a huge part of this place, a friend who made his presence felt every day. He was majestic, fun-loving, silly, beautiful, and kind. I have so many memories of him, from his first days in the world to his very last moment, and I know everyone who met him cherishes Alexander memories of their own. He will live forever in our hearts.

Alexander steer

38 thoughts on “Remembering Alexander

  1. What a beautiful baby who got to spend 5 fabulous years with you. Words can not express the gratitude for what you do for so many at Farm Sanctuary. RIP Alexander. You will be missed.

  2. I am so sorry for your loss, but also so greatful for the chance that you gave him for life. All life is precious and needs compassion and love, Thank you!!!!!!!

  3. I’ve only seen pictures of sweet Alexander along the way. I read about his rough start and watched through those pics the development of his happiness and love of life. It saddens me that these beautiful creatures are taken from the lives they deserve and left to the ills of malnutrition, neglect, slavery and subjected to truly unbearable pain, horrible confinements and shameful brutality. My heart aches, my soul weeps, my body shudders at this and that I am a part of a species that has so few who care to open their eyes to the cruel, inhumane treatment of beings we are meant to share life with and love with for all time. What precious Alexander, his mother, father and any other creature being viewed as a thing instead of a being is simply wrong on every level. These are creations filled with wonder and who are someone’s with a heart that loves, a spirit that soars, who longs to love and live in peace and safety just as any other living creature.

  4. What a happy and sad story. Sometimes we don’t realize how fragile these animals are. He was fortunate to live at the Farm Sanctuary and to have such loving caregivers. RIP Alexander!

  5. Thank you for a wonderful, happy and sad story, and thank you and bless you for giving him a happy life, no matter how short.

  6. I am so sorry to hear about Alexander, but am thankful he got taken care of in a loving home during his short life. ?

  7. Thank you for sharing the news of sweet Alexander. I feel as though we’ve all lost a precious friend. Period. Thank you for providing him with such a wonderful life at Farm Sanctuary.

  8. We met Alexander this summer when we took a tour. He was such a love and I wanted to take him home with me. Thank you for all you do.

  9. Thanks so much for caring for him. He was a sweet soul. I remember meeting him and then Valentino, both polar opposites in size but both having a huge heart to those of us that met them. Hope to volunteer at Farm Sanctuary again next June. Thanks for caring for him to the end.

  10. Thank you for sharing the story of your time with Alexander, and for taking care of him and all the other lucky creatures who find their way to you. The world is a better place because Farm Sanctuary is in it.

  11. His stay on this earth was a short one but during his time here, he knew what it was like to be loved and to feel sheltered and safe. And he had a positive impact on everyone who got to interact with him. All of this, thanks to you Farm Sanctuary. Thank you for giving Alexander such a wonderful life.

  12. What a beautiful and bittersweet story. Tears are flowing as I write. RIP Alexander. I’m so glad you were loved dearly. <3

  13. Im just so sorry that it took me so long to be vegan. I love all animals and I once made friends with a young bullock whilst holidaying in Devon, hence I became vegatarian but it took me longer to finaly stop eating dairy. My dream is to have a farm sanctuary, whilst humanity remains ignorant to the suffering of farm animals i will not be at peace. This story made me cry and im so grateful for you people who gave Alexander Steer a beautiful life. The cruelty involved in the dairy industry is beyond words and it is hard to understand the thought process behind the design of such an evil system.

  14. My heart is breaking for all of you…I’m so sorry for your loss. Your sweet, tender care of this beloved baby moves me so much. You were unselfish in your care, and unselfish in letting him go peacefully and with love. We should all be so lucky to have a passing like Alexander’s. God Bless You all. I pray for the day when the murder of these precious beings will be recognized for the crime that it is…

  15. Lovely story. He was a lucky calf that day. Wonderful that he got to live his short life with freedom and love. Wonderful work that you do, thank-you.

  16. Thank you for what you do. God loves ALL creatures. Alexander (and the other rescued animals) are able to feel God’s love through you. He has allowed to have an extraordinary life with his human family.

  17. So sorry Susie and Gene to hear about this beautiful boy!!! :'( I share in your grief as I remember meeting him a few times and always loved reading about his antics. May he rest in peace and forever romp on the other side of the rainbow bridge never again to know the confines and pain of this world!

  18. How terribly sad, but I am so glad he found someone to love and protect him. Huge respect and admiration for you all

  19. What a sad story .I have been changing my life after learning about factory farming .Learning how to eat without meat.I think every one should learn about factory farming and the way animals are treated just so you can have meat and eggs It truly breaks my heart.Thank you for being there for this babies GOD bless

  20. My sincerest and deepest condolences to you and everyone at Farm Sanctuary, Susie. I cannot thank you enough for all that you did for Alexander these past 5 years … and all that Alexander, in turn, did for us. <3

  21. Thank you for sharing the beautiful sweet history of Alexander’s rescue and life path. You are so right when you point out that every one of the animals that is not able to be rescued should be thought of today as well and everyday. I am so glad for every animal you are able to take in and love and in the days they are with you we need to honor, remember those that were not so lucky. Alexander was so beautiful and so loved…..thank you for all that you do each and every day for these lucky ones. I pray for a day in which all animals will be lucky and loved with the same kind of tenderness you show to the animals at your sanctuary.

  22. What a beautiful story. Thank you for saving Alexander. Bless you for all the amazing work you do. Your compassion is boundless and I thank you for that.

  23. My heart is aching with sadness for Alexander and you Susie. I know how painful it is to lose an animal family member. Bless you and everyone who cared for him.

  24. Susie and Gene, my heart feels your loss. However, at the same time the your Compassion and Kindness is an encouragement to all. Alexander was loved and now his soul is free. Remember, no man can measure or imprison the soul. Animals are other Nations, and not one will be lost to the cruel coldness of this world. Blessings to you both. <3

  25. So sorry to hear of Alexanders passing. God Bless this beautiful loving boy and God Bless all you do!

  26. Thank-you so much for the love and care you provide to these animals. We are so sorry for your loss.

  27. That story made me cry. It was both heartwarming and sad. At least he had some time in paradise.

  28. Thank you Susie Coston for being so brave and strong to go to those stock yards to save those precious animals. Alexander was an absolutely gorgeous, special, sweet soul. I was inspired to sponsor a cow again, I have so in the past, and I will be sure to visit the Farm next year. Thank you again to all of you who do such important work for the animals, you are all angels.

  29. What a wonderful world it would be if everyone was this kind and caring. I love Alexander from just reading about him.