On a cold September day in Eureka, Sequoia Park Zookeeper Lucinda Smith unlatches the gate of a nearby exhibit and wheels in a plastic trough overflowing with 20 pounds of straw.
A 6-foot 4-inch, 2,000-pound dairy cow named Danniel, with a head that would fill a shopping cart and a body like a jet engine, tromps around the modest enclosure. Tail swishing, maw chomping, he eagerly awaits his evening feed.
The heap of hay is a day’s worth of food for both of the yaks that typically occupy the exhibit, but Danniel is no ordinary steer. The behemoth bovine is believed to be the tallest living cow in the world, and paperwork is currently being processed with Guinness World Records.
“It cost about $10 a day to feed him; it’s a lot for our budget,” Smith said. “But his poo is what’s really killing us.”
On a typical day, Danniel can eat 45 pounds of hay, and unload up to 150 pounds of manure on the unfortunate souls that staff the Sequoia Park Zoo.
“That’s a lot of zoo doo,” Smith laughed.
But workers won’t have to shovel Danniel’s record piles of shit for much longer. The steer’s owners, Ken and Ann Farley of Ferndale, are actively working to find Danniel a more permanent home.
Several months ago, Danniel was living at a pasture in Bayside, but the Farleys realized their unusually big steer had outgrown the pen when he began busting up fences and running wild.
“It was all accidental — he’s just a big pet,” Ken Farley said. “There was a neighborhood backed up to the pasture there, where he might see a fruit tree or something he wanted to eat. So he would start leaning on the fence, and soon enough the fence bends over, he steps over it, and we get phone calls.”
That’s when Farley contacted Sequoia Park Zoo Manager Gretchen Ziegler.
“We said we’d give [housing Danniel] a try, but we were pretty sure we didn’t have the pasture size for him either,” Ziegler said. “Our fences are fine, but once it starts to rain, we just don’t have the space or the grass capacity to feed a big guy like that.”
Because of Danniel’s size, he churns up the ground and makes it impossible for zoo staff to grow fodder in his current pasture. To make matters worse, the six-and-a-half-year-old steer could be seriously injured during the rainy season when his dirt pen fills with mud.
As a result, the Farley has been shopping Danniel around to interested caretakers.
“There’s a couple of sanctuaries that are really interested, as well as private landowners,” Farley said. “But what we want, is for kids to be able see him. And the thing with private landowners, is they’re just going to put him out to pasture, so they’re out.”
A variety of local and out-of-state businesses have also shown interest in Danniel, including a a Texas freak show. But Farley said the best home for Danniel may be right here in Humboldt County.
“My wife and I are narrowing it down to Lost Coast Hay. They’re good local people and they’re at the top of the list,” Farley said. “But we also love him being at the zoo. They’re taking great care of him, he’s put on weight, looks great, and he loves people.”
Farley said that if Danniel goes, he will be on a permanent loan, like a work of art. So the new caretakers would be able to keep him, but wouldn’t be able to sell him off to anyone else.
“If he could go out to Lost Coast Hay for nine months of the year, and then go to the zoo in the summer months, that would be ideal,” Farley said. “He’s easy to trailer, he loads up with a loaf of bread no problem.”
Lost Coast Hay Manager Tom Parker said the Eureka business wants to fence of a one-acre pasture on its property and make Danniel the official Lost Coast Hay mascot.
“We plan to fence off the pasture here and spoil him rotten,” Parker said.
Although zookeeper Lucinda Smith said 3 to 5 acres is a more ideal space for the steer, Parker said the business also has access to an 81-acre ranch in Kneeland where Danniel can roam free during the rainy winter months.
“When it’s really nasty, well move him to higher grounds so he won’t have to stay in a stall here,” Parker said. “The rest of the year, people can stop by and see him any time they want, feed him some grain, take pictures and pat him on the head.”