Promoting understanding
and compassion for animals



Nina is a Chianina – an Italian breed of cow that is used for beef production and also as a draft animal for hauling heavy loads.


It is believed that the Chianina breed began in the Bronze Age in about 1500 BC, derived from animals of Asia and Africa brought into Italy. The Chianina are among the oldest, if not the oldest, of purebred bovine breeds. They are also the tallest breed of cow in the world with the bulls being 6 foot at the shoulder and the cows 5 ft 6 inches.

I remember seeing a Chianina at the Sydney Easter Show in the early 1980s and was absolutely fascinated with them. They are simply enormous creatures and are stunning to look at with their white coats and black pigmented skin. My interest in them remained strong and twenty years later in 2002, I bought Nina. It is always hard buying animals especially farm animals, as you know that the animals that you don’t pick are almost certainly going to end up being eaten. I had to pick between two Chianinas and I still think about the heifer that I didn’t choose.

Nina is now nine years old, being born in 2001. In fact she is a couple of weeks younger than my daughter Kelsea. She is very opinionated and strong willed and totally dominates Hamish, our other cow despite his huge horns. She is also extremely intelligent – a characteristic of her breed as they are often used as draft animals. The breeder that I bought her from remarked that in some ways Chianinas are more like horses than cows and do not respond to rough handling at all. Personally I don’t think any animal responds to rough handling but I think what he meant was that they can retaliate and become quite ‘mean’ themselves. I’ve never been rough with Nina so I wouldn’t know.

Like a lot of animals, Nina loves being groomed. She especially likes it along her backbone and either side of her tail and down her neck – all those itchy places that she can’t reach.

Why did I buy Nina? Well apart from my fascination with the breed I also had a feeling that Nina would be a useful addition to our sanctuary because of her shock value!

Part of the work involved in getting an animal welfare message across to people is getting their attention in the first place. Sad but true… But people really look at Nina. In fact they stop their cars, leave them parked out on the road and walk into the property to look at her and take photos. They ask questions about her and are as fascinated as I was by my first exposure to the breed, all those years ago. This is when you can really get though to people – they are receptive and they want to know more. I talk about Nina and her breed but I also talk about her personality and little idiosyncrasies and her relationship with Hamish. This usually leads on to other animals and hopefully they leave the place a little wiser, more compassionate and understanding of cows and farm animals in general.

Nina will live out her life here in peace and safety and will hopefully contribute to many more discussions about animals.


Hamish is a Scottish Highland cow who was born in 2002. Like Nina he was purchased for his huge ‘shock’ value and potential to attack people’s attention – therefore hopefully increasing their receptivity to an animal welfare message.


It would be hard to say who is the most eye-catching, Hamish or Nina. While Nina is tall and slender – Hamish is short and squat. He is covered in red shaggy hair and has the most enormous horns you’ve ever seen. Most people in the Bilpin, Berambing area know of him and I’m often asked “what is that thing?” In fact I think we started a craze. Over the past eight years that we have had Hamish, approximately six other highland cows have popped up in Bilpin. Mind you the climate does suit them – with its cold winters and low humidity.

As I mentioned in my write-up on Nina, people will often stop and walk in off the street to look at the cows and take photos of them. Hamish seems to be fully aware of these photo sessions and proudly holds his head up high, displaying his magnificent horns. Sadly as stunning as these horns are, they have severely impacted my ability to interact with him.

When I first bough him he was halter trained and would walk on a lead. I could brush him and he was quite affectionate. However as these horns began to grow I became aware of the tremendous damage that they could inflict and began to become more and more careful around him. Occasionally he would knock me on the arm or hand just by turning his head and the pain was excruciating. I now don’t physically handle him at all and put his worm medicine into feed which is mixed up with molasses.

However I must give him credit. He has never hurt Nina whom he has lived with since the age of one. Thankfully never even a scratch and this is despite the appalling way she treats him whenever food is concerned. Hamish and Nina’s long running relationship, apart from these feed scenes is usually harmonious and quite affectionate. They will eat together and sit together to ruminate. They regularly groom each other (lick each other) and sometimes run around together in play or to let off steam.

Greg, my partner however, is not a fan of Hamish having been knocked by his horns on numerous occasions and was convinced that it was no accident. I’m not sure what exactly has gone on here – maybe just a case of male rivalry.

On that note I should explain that Hamish is a steer which is a castrated male, who is unable to breed. He would have been slaughtered at about 12 – 18 months of age, had he not come to live here.

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