The Ox-Power & Cow-Protection Project
Bhaktivedanta Manor (temple), Hertfordshire, England, UK
The following is an interview with the manager of this project, Shyamasundara Das. Shyamasundara was in the Royal Marines before joining the Bhaktivedanta community in 1782. He is now married with three children and lives in Hertfordshire.
Please note that the project is open for schools groups, as a feature of visits to the temple.
1. When did the programme begin and how?
The Cow protection project has been running at Bhaktivedanta Manor since1973. It was started under the inspiration and direction of Srila Prabhupada, the Society’s founder. At that time, he requested the devotees to have 150 cows and to purchase the required land to sustain that size of herd. Bhaktivedanta Manor was Europe’s first Cow-Protection Project.
2. How long have you been involved, and what is your role?
I have been the Cow-Protection Project Manager since 1993
3. What changes have you seen over the years?
One of the striking contrasts between 2003 and 1973 is the amount of land available for the cows. In 1973, we owned 17 acres, of which only 7 acres was available for the cows. Now in 2003 the total land holding is 77 acres, of which 60 acres are used for the cattle
The number of buildings housing the cows, oxen and equipment has increased. We now have one large cowshed, a hay barn and an equipment shed. We are also in the process of planning a wonderful new Cow-Protection facility that will intertwine the needs for a working farm and the needs for an educational presentation area. Guests will be able to observe the animals without disturbing the life of the cows. The facility will be able to accommodate 60 animals and take care of all their ancillary foods and equipment.
Since 1973, we have acquired a vast array of ox-powered farm machinery to support the working of our oxen. There are ox ploughs, tilling equipment, seed drills, hay mowers, hay tenders, carts, wagons, as well as other ox-dependant machinery. At the centre of this equipment is an ox-powered treadmill for milling flour and for crushing cow food. This machine was purpose-built at Bhaktivedanta Manor.
4. How many cows and oxen do you now have?
15 cows and 14 oxen
5. What do you use the bulls for?
– Pulling a visitor’s wagon for school children and other members of the public
– Ploughing and cultivation of the land
– Grassland management
– Hay making
– Manure and compost transportation and spreading
– General farm transportation
6. What do you use the cows for (e.g. where does the milk go)?
– The milk goes to the temple kitchens. One of the main uses is to prepare milk-sweets offered daily in the deity worship. Milk is also used in cooking for the community residents (mainly trainee priests).
7. Some people say that milk is bad for us. How do you respond to this?
– I guess the answer to this depends on whom you listen to. I recently heard a radio programme where it was mentioning that milk products help us to lose weight. Our founder Srila Prabhupada mentioned that milk contains all vitamins needed in a balanced diet. It may well be that people with a particular constitution have difficulty with milk products, though I think that these will be in the minority. That some people have difficulty does not confirm that milk is a poor food – merely that there is a diverse range of body types and constitutions, and in health and diet issues these need to be considered.
In a vegetarian diet milk is far less likely to contribute to health problems than in a diet high in meat and the corresponding fats. In fact, milk is a non-violent way of ingesting many animal fats ‘normally’ found in meat.
– The vast array of evidence will fully support and encourage us to consume milk daily as part of our diet. ‘Building healthy teeth and bones’ is a common
expression regarding milk.
8. Some also say that milking cows is a form of exploitation? Do you think they are correct?
We as theists appreciate that God has created a balanced world were there are many interdependencies. We accept that God has made a symbiotic relationship between cows and man. Cows are protected by man (or at least they should be) and in return the cows give milk and bulls give their power. It is common understanding between those who care for cows that the cow will produce more milk than the calf will need. This is an indication that by nature’s arrangement cows milk is not solely for the calf but also for humans.
When a person takes all the milk from the cow and doesn’t give any to the calf, then I would describe that as exploitation. Cows appreciate genuine care and protection, and those who take care of cows enjoy taking care of them. There is mutual benefit for both the milk-giver and the milk-receiver.
Now, if a cow, having given her milk, is no longer cared for but, on the contrary, is sent to the slaughterhouse, then that is exploitation. But when a person cares for the cow for her or his whole life, even after they ceased lactating, then this is a sign of appreciation and reciprocation.
9. Is using cows and bulls financially viable in today’s society?
It is viable if people appreciate its value and what it takes to produce milk or food grown by oxen. There would be economic challenges for society to pay the real price for real food grown naturally by harnessing the ox. Previously persons would pay 45% or more of their income on food and now persons may only pay a fraction of that. In reality, for persons to have naturally produced food they would have to pay significantly more for it. This, I believe, is more a reflection on post-modern values, than on the actual viability of using cows and bulls; it reflects a society where finance, material comfort and the ‘right’ to sensual indulgence determine many of our values and priorities. In a more natural society, cow protection is not only viable, but also highly sustainable. That it is no longer viable may be symptomatic of a self-defeating society, a fool’s paradise.
Another dimension of the answer to the question is whether farming today is financially viable in any case. It may be that without subsidisation farming in the UK would probably fold. A significant amount of a farmer’s income comes from subsidy, raised through taxes. In other words, people are already paying more for their food than they think. It costs far more than it says on the price ticket, with the difference inconspicuously coming out of our wages or salary.
Just as modern farming needs subsidising in the current world financial environment, then in today’s world natural farming will also require subsidising.
10. Many text-books write that “Hindu people worship cows”. Is this true?
When a person does something honorific for somebody that is a type of worship. Offering your chair to a senior person is also a type of worship. To be respectful to a benevolent person is also a type of worship. In the same way to give all comforts to the cow and to care for its needs is an expression of worship. This relationship between cows and humans is very important, to mankind and also to Krishna. The cow is so important that its treatment can attract good and bad fortune. Those from
the Hindu tradition understand this connection between Krishna, cows and man and thus they will be reverential to the cow not only for all the blessed practical things the cow brings but also because of the sacred connection with Krishna.
“Love me love my dog” is the expression and here we have the cow which is of so much value to the society. Certainly Krishna is equal to all his children in the form of different living things; however there is a special status for cows and those who work within that understanding will attend to the needs of the cow with special attention.
In a practical sense the most significant act of worship of a cow is to feed it and care for it with care and affection.
In Hinduism, the cow is considered as mother. The lack of respect generally shown to cows may parallel the decrease in value given to the feminine and to motherhood.
11. What equipment do you have at your farm (e.g. is it old or modern)?
The equipment is generally modern because we have found that the older (antique) tools are not easy to replace or repair and for that reason we have tried to purchase suitable and sustainable modern equipment. There are still many companies that manufacture for Africa and elsewhere where animal draft machinery is still much relied upon. In America, there are some Christian farm communities that are dependent on the horse and we have found that their equipment is suitable for our needs.
12. What is the philosophy (concepts and values) behind your project?
The project is an aspect of the devotional atmosphere of the temple and the lordship and ownership of the presiding deities. We want to produce our own milk and food for the pleasure of the deities as well as the residents and visitors.
In terms of mechanisation we will avoid any machinery that directly competes with the working of the oxen. We are not against machinery in our farm if it enhances the lives of the working oxen. An example would be the purchase of a Skidsteer loader bucket which while being a modern commercial machine its work does not take away from the oxen but makes the work of the ox-driver significantly easier. We would use the skidsteer loader for filling a manure spreader and then we would use the oxen to pull and spread the manure.
The cows will be cared for throughout their whole life. We will never consider selling any cow or bull and neither will be give one away unless there was an absolute understanding that they would be care for in the same way as the Manor. The treatment of cows and bulls is an example of the core Hindu value of ahimsa (non-violence).
Calves are allowed to drink milk directly from their mothers until their weaning age of around 5 to 7 months.
Cows are hand milked
We want to grow as much of our own food as possible
13. How is your project connected with education?
On average there are 4 or 5 schools per week visiting Bhaktivedanta Manor to learn
about Hinduism. Part of there experience is to tour the farm by ox-cart. The schools are taught about the importance of the cow to Hindus and have opportunity see some of the cows.
There are also many part-time and casual adult courses taught at Bhaktivedanta Manor, which is also a theological college for full-time residential studies. Many students get hands-on experience of working with the cows and oxen
There is also a nursery and primary school at Bhaktivedanta Manor, both benefited by the proximity to the farm. The connection to the farm enhances the learning environment and promotes appreciation of nature and of the hand of God in our everyday lives.
14. What do you envision as the future of your project, and what are your plans?
Over the next year or so, we are planning for a completely new facility. This proposed complex will demonstrate our esteem for the cows and will probably astound our guests at to how much we invest in our animals. There will be many presentation areas, along with a whole wing dedicated to education. Guests will be able to move in the cow spaces without infringing on the needs of the cows. There will definitely be a substantial ‘Wow factor’ for the visitors.
We want to develop the agricultural wing of the farm so there is more produce grown for use on worship and for residents, guests and animals. This year we are growing 1 acre of potatoes and 1 acre of vegetables by ox power.
In the near future we are planning to increase the land holding so that we are able to increase the amount of home-grown food. In particular we want to grow wheat by ox power, mill the grain into flour, then bake it and sell the bread in a farm shop dedicated to supporting the Cow Protection Project.
Over the coming years the herd will grow to meet an initial target of 60, and eventually up to 150. Gradually, we hope to acquire more land up to about 450 acres.
We would like to establish more livelihoods for the ox workers, especially those involved in food production and catering to guests and visitors.
15. If you had to sum up what you are trying to do in just one sentence, what would you say?
We are trying to set up a system of Cow Protection that is financially sound, animal friendly and spiritually uplifting – and which fully utilises the milk of the cows and the working potential of the oxen.