Bruno: A New Perspective on Happy Cows

Sitting in my office in downtown Boston I stared out the frosted glass and dreamt of Italy. A small farm filled with animals wandering in green pastures, clucking at my heels, waiting eagerly to have grain and hay thrown into their troughs. One more month, and I would be volunteering on a small organic dairy farm nestled in the pristine Italian countryside.

While I had been a vegetarian for five years at that point, I loved cheese, and the idea of being as close to the source as possible was enticing. I wanted to know where my food came from, to be part of its growth and life. What could be more idyllic than to live my life by the chimes of the church bell and oscillating calls of impatient cows?

When I first arrived, the farm was everything I had hoped for. Each morning I awoke to the church bells I had dreamed of. After a classic European breakfast, complete with fresh milk, I trudged up the hill to clean out the cow and goat stalls, and feed the chickens. Then, if the weather suited, I would go for a walk in the woods with the goats, or down to the pasture with the cows. It was serene.

The story I truly want to tell you though is about one cow in particular, a cow to whom I owe a great deal:


The first time I met this funny cow, I had to jump out of the way as he attempted to lick my jacket. Once, when I was distracted, his tongue caught me on the arm. I would later compare the sensation to being licked by a wet Brillo Pad.

Bruno never walked down to the grazing pasture with us because he was a bull and too unpredictable, but each morning he waited impatiently for his share of milk, alongside a female cow who was pregnant with her first calf and Max, a smaller variety of bull.

I loved giving them their morning milk. Never once did I question the inherent strangeness in taking the milk from Max’s mother, and the other two lactating cows, walking 100 feet and then feeding a portion of this milk out of a bottle to Max and out of a trough to Bruno. They were simply adorable animals that I was thrilled to feed.

These cows were “lucky” that they even got milk, although at times it was partially powdered or had an egg in it when there was not enough milk for both us and them.

Life went on like this for a month and a half. And then a piece of paper entitled “Bruno” started floating around the house.

-    Paul 50 Kg
-    Nichole 125 Kg
-    Lupo 25 Kg

They were dividing up Bruno’s body for consumption. My host, who was a vegetarian, said it was her least favorite part of owning a dairy farm. She had warned me, before I even arrived, that she had to sell some animals to pay for the care of the others, but I never fully understood what that meant. At the time I spoke of praying for their souls and being glad they had lived a good life; a happy life.

After another two weeks, the list was complete. My host said that the following Saturday, a friend would be coming to help her move Bruno to a temporary holding stall before he was put in the butcher’s truck.

As Saturday morning approached, my fellow volunteers and I waited eagerly to see if Bruno would put up a fight. He still had his horns and had quickly grown to a hefty size under our care.

My host and her friend took off up the hill, their breath hanging in the air above the slowly rumbling tractor.  Those of us left in the house waited for the sound of the tractor to disappear and then paced, paused and pondered its return. The time seemed to drag on forever. Finally we heard the tractor slowly descending. As it rounded the bend, we saw that there was no fighting bull, no struggle. Bruno, tied to the tractor, slowly walked behind, calmly being led by someone he trusted. We were the only mothers he had ever really had the chance to know. Why would he put up a fight? Why would he distrust the hands that fed him and scratched his chin?

The next morning he was gone.

A day later, his body came home in pieces. Being a vegetarian at the time, my host did not ask if I wanted to try the meat I had helped to “raise”, but my fellow volunteers were asked if they wanted to have hamburgers that night. They hesitated, which was one of the few things at the time that made the acid in my stomach turn. If they could eat meat in general, why couldn’t they eat an animal they had helped to raise? They finally relented and dined on Bruno that night.

As I left the house that evening, the smell of hamburger still clinging to my clothes, I almost tripped over a long white object lying in the driveway. It was Bruno’s spine, left as a treat for the dogs. Tiny bits of pink flesh were still clinging in between the vertebrae. I could not connect this piece of flesh and bone to the animal I had loved. Instead, I simply turned away, went into my room, and fell asleep.

I awoke the next morning and wrote to family and friends how his death had not bothered me – a lie, although I knew it not at the time. I wrote that “I will be a veggie until the day I die, but living and working on this farm has allowed me to accept death as a natural part of life.”

It took me months to realize that I shut down that night, that to simply turn away from the bones of this animal – an animal I had loved and cared for – meant turning off a part of myself. My willingness to accept his death as a “natural part of life” signaled that I had yet again pushed away the essential understanding that I was born with, that we are all born with: Life is precious and not ours to take.

This understanding seems so simple now that it appears ridiculous to defend any other perspective. But as I know from my own life experience, it is often the things we intuitively know are wrong that we defend so vehemently.

Upon rereading my emails and blogs from this time, anger and shame well in my heart, and tears are not far behind. I realize now that I was complacent towards the existence of these creatures. I accepted the use and abuse of their bodies for my desire for milk and others’ desire for meat. And now, I find that the only way I can ask for forgiveness for my part in Bruno’s death is by telling his story.

This is not the story of a factory farm; it is the story of a beautiful farm with “free range” animals who seemed to be “happy.” They were labeled “happy” because someone cared enough about them to “minimize” the abuse of their bodies before they were killed.

Now, as I go about my life, awake and vegan, pictures of these animals float across my mind: Bruno, Ortensia (the first cow I ever saw skip with joy), Mariolana (my favorite goat struggling to carry her last kid) and Max (the smallest calf and the next to be sold for meat). I see their shining eyes eagerly waiting for me to deliver their morning milk, hoping for a bit of green hay or a scratch on the chin. I know these were animals capable of being happy and that they had this chance stolen from them.


Monique D.
Mon D3 years ago

I am glad you posted this as it shows "humane" is not really ethical either. The only ethical way is not to eat meat or animal products at all. I am sad reading this story but glad you shared it

Jennifer Hebert
Jennifer Brown4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Past Member
lynda l4 years ago

bless you for sharing this heartfelt story......sadness lingers

Sienna Joy
Past Member 4 years ago

Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Nicely written!

Mike Wilkinson
Mike Wilkinson4 years ago

excellent me something to ponder.....

Winn Adams
Winn A4 years ago

I don't know how anyone could raise animals and then send them to become food.

Nickihermes Celine
Past Member 4 years ago

thank you for posting bruno's story 7/7

Susan M.
Susan M4 years ago

I am sure there are people starving that would love to have had some meat from Bruno. Even the Native Americans would thank the animal and respect it before killing it and eatting it. We are certainly omnivores and have been since the dawn of man and discovering the necessity of killing animals to survive. Do you think they just lived on fruit and nuts? I love animals and once we start thinking of them as humans and putting them before humans is where the sin begins. I will not put an animal over the needs of humans. My father became very ill as a child with anemia, my grandmother who owned a ranch gave him fresh blood from an Angus cow and it saved his life. How dare any one of you judge those who eat meat? Do you ever think of how others have to live who have no choice? Even with a choice it is the choice of some people to decide what their diet will be. Some of you have probably never lived in an area overrun by wild hogs that do damage to crops, kill farm animals, dogs, cats, chickens and have attacked humans. These animals need to be killed. They are destructive and there is no other way to deal with them. The meat is often distributed to the poor where allowed by law. This story makes me sick only because of its misplaced sentimentality and narcissism. I think some people need to grow up and face the realities of the world. If you are a vegetarian fine, a vegan fine, a meat eater fine. Most of us are free to choose. Others may judge you for your choice

Suzy Baranski
susie B4 years ago

Kim W. - your comment sickens me because it is a good example of ignorance and narrow mindedness, with a big scoop of idiotic race beliefs. NO we are NOT omnivores. We are herbivores. Do some research instead of just blurting out things which are completely untrue just because it suits you to live that way. I am a vegan as are millions of people in the world. We do no harm to any other living beings. We are very healthy (I am nearly 60), we do not need supplements to stay healthy. The food we eat contains every single nutrient that the body needs. Unlike meat eaters we do not suffer from arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, etc etc. Look up some proper information on vegan lifestyle and philosophy. You will be totally amazed.

Suzy Baranski
susie B4 years ago

Avril V. - your comment is childish and pathetic and makes no sense. Grow up and think about what you are saying.