A note from our regular columnist, Hare Krsna Devi Dasi:
Here is an account of cow protection on a small family farm in India. Because Srila Prabhupada often advocated small family farms with a few cows and a few acres of land, I thought to begin his Centennial year with a description of a devotee family trying to fulfill Prabhupada's vision of simple living and high thinking.
AS I READ Hare Krsna Dasi's description of milking cows at ISKCON's Gita Nagari Farm in Pennsylvania, I thought readers might be interested to hear about a different way of serving Krsna by taking care of cows. Milking our cow Hari Priya on a two-family farm in the South Konkan belt of Maharashtra, India, is quite different from milking cows on a big communal farm in the U.S.
Gita Nagari has big Radha-Krsna Deities Sri Sri Radha-Damodara and Prema Vihvala is a big Brown Swiss cow who at the peak of her production can give twenty liters of milk a day for Radha-Damodara. Our own Sri Sri Radha-Govinda Deities are less than three inches tall, and Hari Priya is a small desi, or native, cow who gives only two liters daily just enough for some milksweets, such as rasagullas or mango or chikoo barfi, and a cup of hot milk for four or five people. Still, we feel great satisfaction taking care of her and offering her milk to Krsna.
An Intimate Milking Scene
You won't find commercial milk industries or milking machines in our area. Cows are milked the same intimate way they always have been. We tie up Hari Priya for milking and bring her calf to her. The calf, Jaya Radhe, sucks eagerly at the mother's udder, tail up in the air, nudging the udder with a hard shove to bring down the milk. Hari Priya licks the calf's body affectionately. After a few minutes, we pull Jaya Radhe away from the udder and hold her.
Indignant at the interruption in the nursing, she struggles while she watches someone else "stealing" her milk. But her mother continues to lick her contentedly, and soon Jaya Radhe starts to munch on hay and grains. By Krsna's arrangement, a cow produces much more milk than her calf needs, and we have to be careful that Jaya Radhe doesn't take too much, or she will get "scours," a kind of diarrhea that can kill young calves.
As soon as the calf is pulled away from the udder, we wash Hari Priya's udder with clean water. We milk her with one hand, holding the milking vessel in the other. Hari Priya's teats, small compared with those of Western cow breeds, are difficult to grasp with the whole hand. Using two fingers and a thumb is the easiest way.
Hari Priya stands patiently as I squat by her flank. The switch of her tail swatting flies falls on my head. The cowshed is quiet, except for the rhythmic squirts of milk. I can feel the udder emptying. Hari Priya, eyes are full of love for her calf, always holds back just enough milk for her. As soon as I'm finished, I release Jaya Radhe, who runs again to drink milk to her full satisfaction.
The whole process with Hari Priya is very simple. Hare Krsna Dasi describes using a strip cup to test for mastitis before each milking. This is a small tin cup with a screen over it. She squirts a bit of milk into the cup before milking and checks the screen for clots of milk that will warn of mastitis. We feel that mastitis isn't much of a danger here, so we don't use a strip cup. For one thing, mastitis more commonly affects cows that give a lot of milk, and Hari Priya is just a small cow, giving a small amount of milk.
Traditional Methods of Cow Care
Another cause of mastitis is that sometimes the udder is not milked completely dry. Jaya Radhe is very conscientious to make sure this is never a problem for Hari Priya. So we don't use a strip cup or any after-milking disinfectant such as iodine, because the threat of mastitis or other diseases is not very great.
Nor do we need bleach to clean our milking pots, because in India milk is traditionally heated rather than cooled, so there is less chance of contamination by bacteria. Once the milk is cooled and made into yogurt, the yogurt bacteria help prevent spoilage by other bacteria. With a simple system like we have, we can avoid artificial disinfectants, which we would regard as pollutants on our pure organic farm.
Nor do I have to wear pants to the milk shed. Since we have only a few small cows to deal with, my sari doesn't get in the way. In fact, here in India women always wear nice saris and ornaments, even to do manual labor. They would never want to be seen in something as unattractive and unfeminine as men's trousers.
In the summer we keep the cows tied up, because the pasture is dry and they would spoil the young mango trees. We bring the cows hay from the long grass we cut and dried slightly green after last year's monsoon, their favorite season, when they enjoy four months of roaming and eating lush green grass.
We also feed them grains, vegetable peelings, rice bran and wheat husk with chopped rice straw mixed in, cakes of peanut and cottonseed-oil, and whatever greens we manage to come up with in the dry season, such as creepers, cornstalks, marigolds, and tree leaves. The cows' big treat is fallen mangoes, which they munch on while the juice drips down their chins. They suck the seed and then spit it out the side of the mouth with a loud "Phat!"
The Rest of our Cow Family
Another of our cows is Laksmi. She is carrying her third calf. She has her second calf, a little bull named Bhim, and has just stopped milking. Her first calf was taken away by a tiger at her previous residence, fifteen miles deeper into the interior. Her behavior was wild when we first got her. It took five days of her kicking us and trying to butt us with her horns before she would let us milk her.
Then there is Lalita, a golden Jersey heifer (an immature cow) with beautiful lotus-petal eyes who came to us as a gift at six months and is now just old enough to be bred. She seems able to tolerate Indian conditions well. In general, local breeds are hardier and more resistant to disease. They also require less food and water than the Taurean breeds from Europe and North America.
We have only one bull calf. We will probably have enough work for only two bullocks, but we expect to have more calves, since we have enough land to feed them. This is also different from a farm like Gita Nagari, a communal farm in a cold climate. Devotees there have to be careful not to produce more animals than they can feed on the land, especially since their animals can't graze in the winter. As Prabhupada wrote in a letter, "We must be able to grow our own fodder for the cows. We don't want to have to purchase food for cows outside from some other party. That will run into great expense."
Enough Grazing Land
That's why the larger European breeds can be useful at a place like Gita Nagari. It takes far fewer animals to produce the same amount of milk. A cow like Prema Vihvala gives a lot of milk and can produce for two years every time she has a calf. A small cow like Hari Priya is easier to handle and takes less feed and water, which is good for a dry climate like India. But she also gives less milk and has to have a calf more often than a larger cow to keep milking. Luckily, we have enough land, so a few more animals are not a burden for us.
Having enough land to feed the animals is important for cow protection, especially with bulls. If feeding them costs too much, people want to sell them, and more so if they're not working. Unfortunately, this is often the case with bull calves born in the cities in India. They have little economic value since they can't do their natural work of plowing, and their food has to be purchased. So people in the cities often sell them.
In the states of West Bengal and Kerala, cow slaughter is legal, and in fact it goes on clandestinely everywhere, for a price. Animals are forced to travel long distances without food or water. They are jammed into big trucks, one on top of another, and shipped to the slaughterhouse. The methods used to kill them are too cruel to discuss here. Such hellish practices certainly create misfortune for all the parties involved, as the Lord is witness to the barbaric slaughter of the best of animals.
Cow Dung A Treasure
We consider ourselves fortunate that our animals will never be subjected to such a fate. We're lucky to have plenty of land to grow their feed. We'll never have to compromise the cows' security because we can't afford to buy feed. And even a bull calf that doesn't work is valuable to us because he provides dung and urine, a great treasure to us for growing healthy trees, flowers, and vegetables. We can also process cow manure in our biogas plant to provide gas for cooking and lighting, and a rich slurry to fertilize our garden and trees.
And here's a natural fertilizer and pesticide the cows and bulls can help produce. Take a liter of cow urine and a liter of dung, mix them in a bucket with 350 grams of jagri (raw sugar) or molasses. Let the mixture sit in a bucket for a week. This makes an excellent fertilizer. If you filter it and mix it with ten parts of water, you can spray it on plants as a pesticide.
Protecting Cows, Thinking of Krsna
In our simple life, we appreciate more and more the value of the cows. When we see what goes on in the cities, we're thankful to be in a rural area, which is much more favorable to cow protection. Srila Prabhupada taught devotees that high technology won't make us happy. The cities, for all their technology, are just a haven for cow slaughter, meat-eating, and other sinful activities.
Instead, Prabhupada wanted us to practice simple living and high thinking. And protecting cows is a central part of a simple Krsna conscious life. They provide us with everything we need, and at the same time they remind us of Krsna. Prabhupada said,
In villages surrounding Vrndavana, villagers live happily simply by giving protection to the cow. They keep the dung carefully and dry it to use as fuel. They keep a sufficient stock of grains, and because of giving protection to the cows they have sufficient milk and milk products to solve all economic problems. Simply by giving protection to the cow, the villagers live so peacefully. Even the stool and urine of cows have medicinal value.
Mother Yasoda and Rohini and the elderly gopis waved about the switch of a cow to give full protection to the child Krsna, and they washed Him with cow urine and applied tilaka made of cow dung on different parts of His body.
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.6.16), Srila Prabhupada writes, "[Krsna's] first business is to give all comfort to the cows and the brahmanas. In fact, comfort for the brahmanas is secondary, and comfort for the cows is His first concern." We find that living on a small farm in the country, with our small herd of family cows, we can have a peaceful and happy life following the example Krsna has given.
Lavangalatika Devi Dasi is an early disciple of Srila Prabhupada's. She distributed Prabhupada's books for many years, a service she still loves to do when she's not at home milking the family cow.