Baby Cow Escapes Slaughterhouse and becomes member of Wild Deer Family in Snowy Forest

When a baby cow now known as Bonnie was just 4 months old, hardly ever leaving her mother’s side, her life totally changed.

The calf had been born on a farm in upstate New York. But when the owner of the farm died, the cows living there were slated to be sold. Bonnie and her mom, like so many millions of other cows, were going to end up separated. 

One day last summer, as Bonnie’s herd was being loaded onto the truck, Bonnie decided to make a run for it, escaping into the forest. 

Runaway calf who lived in the woods for a year

Among local residents, Bonnie’s escape became something of a myth.

Time passed. The weather grew colder. And still no one had been able to capture the calf. But people knew she was still there.

Baby cow raised by family of wild deer in upstate New York

Some sightings came from eyewitnesses who spotted her walking through their property; others were photographs shot on wildlife cameras set out by local hunters around Holland, New York.

And people had very different opinions about what should be done with the fugitive cow.

Runaway calf who lived in woods for a year

“Venturing out of the safety of the forest only for occasional sightings, Bonnie quickly became a local celebrity, dividing the Holland community into two groups: those who were ‘Team Bonnie’ and rooted for her to survive, and those who were determined to shoot and eat her,” Meredith Turner-Smith, media relations specialist for Farm Sanctuary, told The Dodo.

“Both groups searched for her in the woods — which stayed buried under 3 feet of snow all winter — but aside from quick glimpses, the ‘babe in the woods’ remained hidden. That is, until hunters started picking her up on wildlife cameras. And what they saw truly amazed them.”

Runaway calf who lived in woods with wild deer

The mythical bovine escapee may have lost her family, but Bonnie was not alone. 

Bonnie had joined a family of wild deer, who seemed to accept her as one of their own. 

Baby cow raised by family of wild deer in upstate New York

“Since she had lost her first family (and cattle are herd animals), the deer helped Bonnie survive and accepted her as their own — eating, sleeping and running together!” Turner-Smith said.

“Like a deer, this ‘bovine Bambi’ would disappear into the forest whenever people appeared.”

Runaway calf who lived with wild deer

Even though Bonnie had found love and comfort out in the forest, people following her story knew that Bonnie, being a domesticated animal not suited for the harsh winter woods of upstate New York, couldn’t stay with her new herd forever if she wanted to grow up into a strong, healthy cow. 

Luckily, someone was looking out for Bonnie: A neighbor named Becky decided to help Bonnie survive the winter. 

Baby cow raised by family of wild deer in upstate New York

“A kind neighbor knew the woods were no place for a cow, and helped her survive the winter by trekking through the snow each day, bringing food, water and fresh bedding to her on a sled,” Turner-Smith said.

“And after slowly winning Bonnie’s trust, she called Farm Sanctuary for help.”

Baby cow raised by family of wild deer in upstate New York

The people at Farm Sanctuary didn’t realize just how difficult it would be to convince Bonnie to leave her wild life, even if it was for her own good.

Eight months in the woods with her deer family seemed to convince Bonnie that this was the only life for her — even if it was a tough one. 

Runaway calf who lived in woods for a year

It ended up taking three attempts over the course of two weeks for rescuers to finally get Bonnie to come to the sanctuary.

“Since it was too risky to try catching her in the woods, we built a corral around her eating space, patiently waiting to close her in,” Turner-Smith said. “Bonnie was very wary of our presence, however; she only let Becky touch her, and would run away if anyone else got too close.”

Resident feeding cow who lived in the woods

Finally, with enough food in the corral to tempt her — as well as a slight sedative — Bonnie complied and left her wild life. She was understandably mistrustful of people after what had happened to her family — but when she woke up at Farm Sanctuary, where she’d be able to live out her long life in comfortable pastures and cozy barns, it must have been clear that this move was actually for the best.

And while Bonnie did have to leave her deer family behind, she quickly began making some new friends — of her own kind this time. 


“Bonnie beat the odds,” Turner-Smith wrote. “Here, our resilient new friend will spend her life in peace, surrounded by caring humans and a loving herd of her fellow rescued cattle.”

You can help welcome Bonnie to her loving new home by making a donation to Farm Sanctuary.

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