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by the same author Hinduism and Ecology Ramayana: A Journey Vedic Ecology Prince of Dharma: the Buddha Mahavira: Prince of Peace Hinduism Bhagavad Gita: talks between the soul and God When the Sun Shines

COWS AND THE EARTH A story of kinder dairy farming

RANCHOR PRIME ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals’ Mohandas K Gandhi

Fitzrovia Press

Contents Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vii Preface by Chrissie Hynde . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vii Foreword by Patrick Holden. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . viii

1. 2. 3. 4.

Part One: Forgotten stories A small patch of meadow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Why protect cows? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 The tradition. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Four principles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26

Part Two: A story of today 5. Bhaktivedanta Manor Farm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 6. Life on the farm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 7. Guide to the Goshala . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65

8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

Part Three: Lessons For the Future The real price of milk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73 Animal welfare . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91 Caring for the planet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101 The global challenge. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121 Closing words . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127

Bibliography. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130 List of tables, Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131


Miracle cow Kalindi, who died at Bhaktivedanta Manor in 1994, gave eight litres of milk a day for ten years, despite never having borne a calf.


A small patch of meadow


growing up in Sussex, I drank milk delivered daily, fresh from cows on the local farm. With my sisters I ran through the fields without fear of the languid beasts that grazed all around us. The meadows, rich with cowslips and yellow celandine, were scattered with their cowpats. The cows were part of the earth. Their smell, their mooing, the swish of their tails as they waved away the flies, mingled with the dense foliage of trees and hedgerows alive with the song of birds and the buzz of insects. If the earth were to rise S A CHILD



up and take living form, it would have been a cow, whose steamy breath carried the warmth of the sun, whose mouth and rasping tongue savoured the pasture, whose dung merged with the soil under our feet, and whose creamy milk fed us each morning. The cows took no notice of us as we ran among them. Only once were we taken by surprise, when the farmer put a lone bull in the field at the bottom of our garden. That field curved away over the brow of our hill into the valley beyond, and it was our favourite place to play. The bull appeared unexpectedly over our horizon and advanced toward us. We fled for the gate, and in my haste to scale the five bars I fell and cut my cheek. A tiny scar remains to this day beneath my right eye, evidence that nature can be threatening as well as benign. Now I live in the heart of one of the world’s busiest cities and my milk comes from Sainsbury’s. Here my contact with nature is in my tiny garden. As I write in my studio, I can watch robins and blackbirds visit my cherry tree and imagine myself far from the city. When I shop in my local supermarket, however, I am reminded of how unsustainable my lifestyle now is compared to fifty years ago. Half the food on my table comes from across the sea, making me vulnerable to a host of distant influences. I have lost that immediate relationship I once had with the earth beneath my feet. On the corner of my street is a reminder of a bygone age. A faded sign above a café reads ‘J.Evans, Dairy Farmer’ in gold letters. It is all that remains of one of dozens of Welsh dairies,



One of dozens of Welsh dairies opened in London a hundred years ago, now a cafĂŠ in Fitzrovia.

opened in London a hundred years ago to market dairy produce that arrived early each morning by train from Wales. Milk was ladled from churns into the customer’s own jug, along with butter, cream and cheese. A generation before that, farmers set up dairies in the midst of the city and sold milk direct from the cow. In those days, all the produce eaten in London came from the surrounding countryside. Now London’s supply lines radiate across continents, bringing food that depends on industrial machinery, air freight, fossil fuels, factory processing, a web of trade alliances and millions of factory farm animals. We have come a long way since



the days of the city dairies. Our food is abundant as never before. Perhaps now, we are ready to come full circle. Once again we could produce our food locally and sustainably, only this time in a way that is kind to animals. Twenty miles north from here is a small patch of Hertfordshire that is home to a community who are trying to do just that. The village of Letchmore Heath grew up in the 12th century around a small lake called Letchmere, ‘muddy pond’, beside the ancient Piggotts Manor. In 1973 the Manor and its adjoining meadows were bought by George Harrison, with help from the proceeds of his Material World album, and presented to the London Hare Krishna devotees, of whom I was then a member. The Manor’s name was changed to Bhaktivedanta Manor, and it became the first rural Krishna ashram in Europe. As well as a temple and a home for Krishna devotees, it became the shelter for a herd of dairy cows. I used to escape from the city when I could to visit the Manor. I took a train to Radlett, and from there walked over a low ridge, passing between wide open fields, following an old sunken way called Common Lane, overhung with holly, hazel, oak and sycamore, which led me to Letchmore Heath village green. There, beside the duckpond, a driveway opened into the wooded grounds of Bhaktivedanta Manor. Going through those gates I felt I was entering a different world. The Manor was a place of peace, where nature’s dream



Bhaktivedanta Manor, pilgrimage place for Hindus, was presented to the Hare Krishna community by George Harrison in 1973

seemed undisturbed by human exploitation, and the call of peacocks (who lived in the gardens) and the sound of chanting were never far away. On my way in I sometimes encountered the cows being led by one of their cowherds back to the meadow following their morning milking session. In the succeeding years, after the departure of the founder in 1977, the Manor went through a period of growth and adjustment. As the Manor community grew, increasing numbers of visitors brought pressures on relations with the village. The community had to find ways to maintain themselves and pay the costs of upkeep, and for more than a decade the cows



were not a priority. The demands of a farm where cows lived to old age without producing much milk competed with the other needs of the community. Meanwhile, the community matured and its emphasis changed. The missionary zeal of the early days of Krishna consciousness gave way to a more long-term approach to spiritual life, as second and third generations of Krishna devotees grew up. In London I was going through my own changes: I set up my own home and started a family. I began working on environmental projects in India, and spending time in Britain building relationships in the evolving interfaith network. In the course of my environmental work, it became important for me to relate the principles I had absorbed from my Krishna practice – being a vegetarian, living a simple life, cultivating a spirit of compassion – to the issues of survival that face all of us living on this planet. When I looked at the prospect of global warming and the projected increase in world population – six billion by the year 2000 – it seemed obvious to me that a vegetarian diet, so long the preserve of Eastern religions, had much to offer the world. With its more efficient use of the earth’s resources and its low energy costs it would need to be widely adopted, if only for reasons of economic security. The principles I learned about simplicity took on a wider relevance, so I began writing about Hinduism and ecology, and about lessons the world could learn from Hindu traditions.


Come with me to a patch of Hertfordshire where the oxen tramp the fields and the pace of life is steady and slow‌


By the 1990s the community at Bhaktivedanta Manor were ready to refocus on their farm project and learn to practise authentic cow protection, including reliance on ox-power. An essential condition of cow protection is that animals are never killed. This follows the philosophy of ahimsa taught in the Bhagavad Gita, the essential Sanskrit text of Krishna’s teachings, which teaches that all living things, human or animal, are essentially spiritual beings, and should be allowed to live free from harm or exploitation. In an ideal world, some would say, this philosophy would require us all to follow a vegan diet, and entirely avoid eating any animal foods, including dairy products. That would put an end to farm animals and liberate them from all possible exploitation. However, for most people, even to become a vegetarian would seem a difficult challenge.

Ahimsa The philosophy is of ahimsa, or non-violence, is based on kindness toward all living beings. This spirit of compassion lies at the heart of the Hindu attitude to animals. It was the creed that Mahatma Gandhi lived by, and includes the understanding that suffering given to another will return as suffering to oneself.



This short book is about a third possibility: the way of dairy farming that is kind to the earth and to the cows. In it I will ask whether human beings can keep cows and bulls in a sustainable relationship of mutual care and benevolence. In the light of the challenges we face on this crowded planet in the twenty-first century, here is the previously untold story of a dairy farm that has grown up over the last thirty-five years on a small patch of Hertfordshire, where no animal has ever been deliberately harmed.





Why protect cows?


EFORE WE DO ANYTHING ELSE , we must feed ourselves.

Only then can we consider civilisation, culture and the meaning of life. The act of feeding ourselves is not something we can do alone, we must do it in collaboration with nature. Early humans depended solely on hunting and gathering, then they learned to grow their own food. They cultivated vegetables and root crops, planted cereals, husbanded cows in return for milk, and began to use fire for cooking. The centrality of food made it a focus for ritual and



festivals that celebrated nature’s bounty. Food was so essential, people thought, that it should be at the heart of their beliefs and ceremonies. It seemed obvious to them that, because their survival depended on powers beyond their control, those powers had in some way to be recognised and thanked. In modern times, we may feel we have outgrown such superstitions, and dispensed with the humility and gratitude they embody. We no longer regard our food as a gift from nature. Instead, food is a commodity to be traded and exploited, as are the animals who help us produce it, and even the earth itself. I would argue that when early humans began to organise their food supply by learning agriculture, they recognised that by doing so they were making a sacred pact. In return for nature’s cooperation they had to honour the divine provider who stood behind nature. In Christian tradition this gave rise to such prayers as, ‘give us this day our daily bread.’ In Hinduism it produced the institution of prasada, food sanctified in the temple, then distributed to the people. In all faith traditions, food became the focus of prayer. So, from the production of food, and the beliefs associated with it, began culture and civilisation itself. Our recognition that food was sacred is what marked us out as human.

Traditional farming The simple acts of domestication, preparing food, and crop rotation, when first discovered, were a revolutionary



achievement that has been hard to surpass. Human societies who practised agriculture were more secure than those who relied upon hunting and gathering. Organised farming started about 10,000 years ago according to most studies. Early sites were the Nile valley, the Danube basin, the Indus valley and the Yangtze delta. Dairy farming in Europe dates back about 8,000 years according to the human gene record, which shows that domestic cows and human dietary habits evolved side by side in a symbiotic relationship. Milk’s nutritional value gave an advantage to human societies who were able to assimilate it into their diet. Cows gave double value. They provided the soil with essential nutrients, and they gave milk, rich in calcium and fatty

Milk: A miracle food? Ingredient



development and maintenance of healthy bones


tissue growth and repair


growth and repair, and also a source of energy

Vitamin B12

required for blood cells and nerve function

Vitamin B2

releases energy from carbohydrates and protein

Vitamin A

growth, development and eyesight Source: British Nutrition Foundation, 2008



acids, from which came ghee, completing human dietary needs. This was the farming cycle since civilisation began. Today’s intensive food production methods supply an industry that reaps huge profits by encouraging people to eat processed foods and plenty of meat, more than staples such as bread, milk and vegetables. The processing of food and industrial-scale livestock farming have become global industries, but they have not improved upon the simplicity and economy of traditional farming and cooking. Throughout history, farmers depended on crop rotation and animal husbandry to regenerate the earth. They planted legumes to re-nitrate the soil after it was depleted by cereals, and also found that the rotation of cereals and legumes was ideal for human nutrition. This was because the proteins and amino acids found in cereals and legumes, when combined, perfectly complimented each other. Thus it was no accident that together

Ghee: The most valuable dairy product? When butter is slowly heated and the proteins removed, it becomes ghee, or clarified butter – rich in anti-oxidants, easy-to-digest short chain fatty acids and vitamins A, D, E and K. Ayurveda, the Indian system of healthcare, praises ghee as beneficial for almost every ailment.



they became the basis of the world’s great culinary traditions: rice and dahl; chapattis and chickpeas; rice and tofu; tortillas and beans; and hundreds of other favourite dishes, all the way down to the humble baked beans on toast.

Ideal food combinations: cereal/legume dishes India

Rice/chapatti with dhal

flat wholemeal bread, lentil soup and vegetable curry


Gallo Pinto

spiced rice, onions, and red or black beans



beans and pasta soup, served with bread


Soup and bread

Lentil soup with diced vegetables served with bread

South-East Asia

Soy bean curd with rice

stir-fried tofu with vegetables and rice


Tacos, burritos, tostadas

maize and wheat breads, with bean fillings

with Middle East Falafel salad


Moin moin

fried chickpea or fava bean balls, on pita bread steamed bean pudding with rice and stew



Cows give double value by nourishing us with milk and nourishing the soil with manure

The other universal source of nitrates to replenish the soil was animal manure. As they grazed, ruminants such as cows and sheep deposited nitrogen-rich manure on the soil, which was absorbed throughout the year. In the winter, when the animals were indoors, their manure was collected and spread as fertiliser on vegetable beds or ploughed into the fields before sowing cereals.

Industrialisation Chemical fertilisers fundamentally changed the whole balance of farming. As with many scientific advances, the catalyst for



change was war, in this case the need for explosives to aid the German war effort. In 1908 the chemist Fritz Haber found a way to capture nitrogen from the atmosphere by combining it with hydrogen to make ammonia. Five years on, Carl Bosch scaled up the experiment to an industrial level, using ammonia as the key ingredient to make TNT. The Haber-Bosch process for making ammonia bequeathed to the world’s farmers a new way of restoring nitrogen to the soil, by spraying it with ammonia. Over the next sixty years this revolutionised world agriculture, enabling yields to be multiplied many times over. In the early nineteenth century Thomas Malthus had calculated that the world population could not rise much above one billion because the limits to food production were already being reached. But now all that had changed. Between 1900 and 2000 human population increased from 1.65 billion to over 6 billion, fed by an ever-rising supply of grains. There were, however, two significant drawbacks to the manufacture and use of nitrogen fertiliser. One was that it was

‘Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.’

Albert Einstein



produced using methane, found in natural gas, which was in ever shorter supply, or coal-gas, which was highly polluting to produce. Both of these were expensive and their production contributed to global warming. The other serious disadvantage was that continually fed with artificial fertiliser the soil lost its ability to restore itself naturally and became depleted. Plants growing in depleted soils were weakened by dependence on nitrogen and lost their regenerative abilities. New strains of wheat, rice and corn, bred for ever greater yields, replaced traditional crops. The result was that we lost biodiversity. The land was left with a diminishing variety of highly specialised crops hooked on chemicals, growing in soil which was essentially dead.

New agricultural model The industrialisation of agriculture has reduced the abundance of nature, and the tapestry of wildlife habitats of which humans are a part, to a conveyor belt whose purpose is to feed us in order to make profit for the global corporations and commodity markets that dominate world agriculture. In this process vast numbers of people have been exiled from the land. Societies who for hundreds of generations fed themselves by small-scale agriculture have been dispossessed of their livelihoods and forced into reliance upon cash crops and fragile food markets, or enslaved in the urban economy. Philosophers throughout history told us of the value of working



Working the soil by hand, in harmony with nature and the plough, heals the body and mind

the land, with hands in the soil or on the plough, yet in the space of a hundred years such work has become a distant memory. As nitrogen fertiliser became established, a second great change occurred in agriculture: mechanisation. The traditional source of power had been oxpower or horsepower. In Britain mechanisation began in the eighteenth century, but it wasn’t until after 1945 that the last heavy horses were replaced by tractors, monoculture replaced crop rotation, animals were kept indoors and fed intensively, hedgerows were ripped up, and fertilisers, insecticides and herbicides were sprayed on the land. Where a thousand acres once sustained an entire village


‌where the powerful ox is not bored, for he is trained and active, guided by his trusted drivers‌


they now give employment for only a few hard-pressed workers. The results, despite a doubling in yields, are plain to see: wasted soil, deserted countryside, and a great loss of flowers, insects and birds. This transition to modern agriculture has already deprived millions of people in the developed world of meaningful work. Now it is the model that the rest of the world is following. At the time of writing, India and China, the last great preserves of traditional small-scale agriculture, are rapidly transforming themselves into modern industrial economies. The impact of these changes is felt particularly hard by animals, whose involuntary sacrifice becomes ever greater with the rising industrialisation of agriculture: they are deprived of their freedom and contact with the fresh air to become machines for large-scale intensive farming.

Cows should be treated as sacred Domestic cows, as their name implies, have lived with humans since agriculture began. This long shared history has meant that people and cows have become interdependent: they need each other and benefit from one another’s company. The cow is one of humanity’s most precious resources, as is obvious from the quantity of milk we consume in the modern world. Unfortunately, once people start exploiting a resource, there is no end to how far they will go in pursuit of profit. Cows have been exploited and slaughtered throughout history, not only for



Cows and humans have lived together for thousands of years, we need each other and benefit from one another’s companionship

their milk, but also for the products of the slaughterhouse. Just because this has been practised in the past, as if humans had a divine right to own and exploit cows and other animals, it does not have to remain so today. The time will surely come when this assumption of ownership and rights by humans over higher animals such as cows will no longer be taken for granted. Humans have the tendency to exploit one another, and because of this civilized societies have codes of behaviour to protect their citizens from one another. Why should the same protection not be given to animals? Protection should begin with the innocent creatures who live beside humans in mutual dependence.


This calf named Puspa, watched over by her mother Jatayu, arrived in Spring 2009


Long ago Hindus adopted such measures. They drew a line, declaring the cow and bull as sacred. In so doing they protected them from abuse. Declaring cows to be sacred is therefore far from being superstitious or the mark of a backward society – it is an advanced strategy for survival. This strategy should be the sign of any progressive civilisation. An understanding of the sanctity of all life, not just human life is essential for human survival. What we do to nature and to animals we do to ourselves, because we are all part of the web of life on earth. At no time in human history has there been such a need to reassess the way we feed ourselves and how we treat our animals, especially our cattle. This is the background for my story of the farm at Bhaktivedanta Manor, which began in the 1970s as a vision of an alternative way of living and farming.


Cows and the Earth  

by Ranchor Prime A story of dairy farming What does your milk really cost?