Jay Wilde vegetarian farmer

A vegetarian farmer who could no longer bring himself to slaughter cows has given his entire 63-strong herd to an animal sanctuary.

Jay Wilde, 59, from Derbyshire, England, has not eaten meat for 25 years, but since 2011 has had to wrestle with his conscience as he farmed cattle for the meat trade.

He inherited the farm from his father six years ago, having spent his childhood helping to rear animals on the family's land.

He recently decided enough was enough and on Monday (12 June) rehomed his entire herd to the Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norfolk.

"Cows have good memories and a range of emotions. They form relationships. I've even seen them cry," he told the BBC.

"It was very difficult to do your best to look after them and then send them to the slaughterhouse for what must be a terrifying death."

The herd is worth about £40,000 ($31,200). Wilde's brother-in-law described his decision to give it away as "absolutely insane".

The Hillside Animal Sanctuary said in a statement that the cows, 30 of which are pregnant, would now all be saved from the slaughterhouse, living out their lives "essentially as pets".

Hillside is already home to more than 300 cattle and 2,000 rescued horses, ponies and donkeys. It is reported by The Times to need around £5m a year to care for its residents.

Holstein dairy cows
Wilde has given £40,000 worth of cows their freedom REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Wilde will convert the farm into an organic market, supplying garden produce. He blamed a "lack of imagination" for not coming up with the idea sooner.

He said: "Cows are conscious of what goes on around them – they have personalities and an inner life. They're not just units of food. Knowing them personally makes it more difficult to think about eating them."