Out In The Open

Meet the cattle rancher who stopped killing his cows ‒ to the annoyance of his neighbours

Mike Lanigan figures he hit a sore spot when he converted his beef farm to an animal sanctuary last year: ‘Right now, I think farmers feel under attack’
Mike Lanigan runs an organic vegetable farm and animal sanctuary in Uxbridge, Ont. (Sam Colbert)

Mike Lanigan has always done things a little differently.

His farm went all-organic before he even knew what the word "organic" meant ‒ he just stopped using chemicals. His farmer buddies didn't't get it.

"It was goofy," he says. "I was the brunt of jokes at the coffee shop."

But the good-natured wisecracking became something more biting when Mike upended his family farming operation in Uxbridge, Ont., again last year. 

The third-generation cattle rancher decided he didn't't want to kill his cows any more. He converted his meat-and-produce business to a vegetables-only farm combined with a non-profit animal shelter.

"I just thought it was hypocritical to give so much love, and then you can shut the door at the end," Mike says of his animals. He says he came to the epiphany after spending hours trying to get a premature baby calf to nurse. Why give an animal all this care, only to send it to slaughter? So he made the change.

"And the support has been incredible."

The sanctuary ‒ with its 31 cows, three horses, three chickens and one duck ‒ runs with the help of donations and volunteers. Animal rights activists from all over have shown their support. 
Mike Lanigan was a third-generation cattle farmer until last year, when he decided to stop sending his livestock to slaughter. (Sam Colbert)

But the response from inside his own neighbourhood has been different. Fellow farmers stopped waving when they passed by his farm. He receives the occasional snort or comment at the market.

"Right now, I think farmers feel under attack," Mike says. "There's a lot of really strong animal activism going on. … I didn't realize all of these nuances to running a sanctuary, to saving my cows. I didn't see all of this."

Even his own sons didn't get it at first. "They were mad at me. For the first month, when they walked by, they would just about spit.

"They're young men, they're strong willed like their dad, and they were planning on taking over a beef farm in the next couple of years." 
Thirty-one cows, three horses, three chickens and one duck reside on Mike Lanigan’s farm. (Sam Colbert)

But his boys have since come around. And so have his customers. He figures what's made him different has also allowed him to survive while other independent family farms sell their land to larger producers.

"You know when you have a really lousy week and you think, 'What am I doing this for?'" Mike says.

"Then you go to the market and a lady comes up and says, 'Mike, you know that we pray for you at every meal?' That's happened about three different times."