An ugly acronym – HACCP – is just as unpleasant when it is spelt out.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point is a formal and systematic food safety system that is used to control risks in the food industry and it is blighting our lives.
We fully accept the need for safe procedures when producing and processing our milk, but from being a micro-dairy we are now in the hell of micro-management of our entire operation by the beast of HACCP.
We must get approval for our new mobile dairy before we can resume our milk deliveries, but we are lost in a sea of rules and regulations that never seem to diminish no matter how hard we try.
Environmental health is insisting we are a manufacturing unit, despite having only seven milking cows, and they must apply the same rules to us as they would to any other manufacturing business.
So if we were a mega dairy with a thousand cows locked up in a hot house we would have the funds to bring in the consultants and the finance to do whatever was required. As it is we are a small dairy dedicated to the welfare of cows and we are being strangled by red tape and tick boxes.
The fact that we have to jump through the same hoops as a big, established enterprise is what is killing small businesses across Britain. As they go to the wall it leaves the field open to multi-nationals to rule the roost.
When we first planned our move from the organic farm we worked with in Kent we had no idea that we would be facing this predicament in trying to get approval for our new mobile dairy. That in itself has swallowed up a considerable amount of our finances. We took advice from our colleagues there and from other farmers and were told it would be simple to transfer our operations.
We didn’t bank on HACCP, through which the absolute minutiae of our small dairy would be scrutinised in a bid to find fault and potential risk.
We have even been told that one of our cheese makers, who is award-winning and sells his prized products throughout London, is a risk and we might have to stop using him.
In fact we have found that in the entire Leicester region there is no longer a single small dairy operation running their own milk-pasteurisation facility. They all now send their milk to the big boys. This is not something we would want to do, so if over the next few weeks we remain unable to secure the approvals we need, we might starting looking at raw-milk production as a more problem-free route. We are already having conversations with people who produce raw-milk. Let us see
So apologies for the delay. We are having a very difficult time. We have to win through for the benefit of our cows, but it is tough.
It has been a challenging end to 2015 for the Ahimsa Dairy and oxen.
For a long time we have been planning to move our milking cows from the Kent Commonwork Farm to our Groby (Leicestershire) neighbour’s farm, where we would set up our mobile milking unit. Our Groby site land is without electricity – which we need for the processing of milk – so the arrangement with our neighbour had solved that problem for us … THEN, as with best laid plans of men and cows, things began to go wrong a month or so ago. One of our neighbour’s cows reacted positively to a routine bovine TB test. This meant their farm effectively went into lock-down … no animals allowed to enter or leave for a 60 day period.
Groby Resident Ahimsa Cows
It seemed the only option open to us was to move our milking cows onto our own site – in with the rest of the Ahimsa herd. This would mean we have the electricity problem, and we would also need to get our trailer approved by both the local authority and Food Standards Authority.
But then disaster hit us directly. Rosie, one of our resident cows also reacted to the TB test. Poor Rosie, who is such a sociable cow, she has had to go into quarantine and wait for a new test. We are desperately hoping she will be okay.
Rosie – happier times
The diagnostic test for TB is hopelessly unreliable, but vets have been instructed by the Government to interpret results severely. Their stock answer is always to kill rather than to find humane solutions.
So like with our neighbour’s farm, now we could also not bring our milking cows onto our own site.
But with our Commonwork Farm (Kent) partnership over, we have to move our cows before the end of this year. Kind friends on Facebook gave us ideas and encouragement, and one man even suggested we share his five-acre field with some sheep. But he was located far from Leicester – where both our trailer and the man who does our milking are based.
Temporary ‘cow tent’ at neighbour’s farm for our milking cows
So over the past weeks we been desperately approaching other farms in the Leicester area. Just a few days ago a farmer said yes. Last Friday we put up a tent, filled it with straw, and bedded down our six milking cows and three year-old calves. Phew! Unfortunately this farmer does not run an organic farmer, so we will lose our Soil Association badge for a while, but needs must. And indeed, we are extremely grateful.
Weathering the Storm
We are not out of the woods yet. We still have to get a raft of approvals before we can actually sell our milk. In the meantime we are faced with the prospect of throwing away our cows’ precious milk – at least until we get a green light from the council. On top this, there we are anyway living with continuing uncertainty from our land owner regards the long term tenure of the land we are using at Groby.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Violet being milked – Hand milking – one of the advantages of relocating to Leicester
Because of the question over long term use of the Groby land, we are now looking at three separate sites with the aim of securing our own land, trying to assess which will be ideal for our vision and which will be within our means – more details to come on that soon.
The support from our friends in 2015 has been heart-warming. Without it our struggles would have been all the more difficult. Let’s hope that 2016 brings us better luck.
Our Swedish Red/Holstein cow Tilly has just rather unexpectedly given birth to a beautiful little black calf, who we have called Bala – meaning great strength.
We only found out that she was pregnant at around six months and the young bull still arrived a bit earlier than we expected. It took him a while to get the hang of drinking his mother’s milk and we had to show him how to go about it.
That first milk contains colostrum and is vitally important for a young calf as it contains antibodies from his mum’s immune system. The fact he wasn’t eating made him feel all blocked up inside and his dung was rather hard, so we called the vet to check him over.
The vet gave him and injection, but said there was nothing to worry about and by this time Bala had worked out how to drink from his mother. He went from strength to strength and is now running around the field like a little motorcycle.
His older brother is Gautam, the wisest, oldest and gentlest of our bulls. Gautam spent an entire afternoon studying young Bala and wondering what to make of him. His other brother is Seymour, who really couldn’t care less about the new arrival, even though their colouring is exactly the same.
But what a clever girl Tilly is. She has now produced three fine bulls, all of whom will have long and we hope happy lives with us. That is not the fate for most dairy bull-calves who are often destroyed at around three days of age as a by-product of the industry. They might get a few months longer if they are destined for the dinner table and their flesh consumed by humans as veal.
Happily all of our boys will have productive lives as working oxen, helping us to farm our land. Gautam has already started and we think he has really enjoyed himself learning to obey basic commands and pull farm implements such as a harrow.
It is important, just as with people, that bulls are occupied in meaningful work. It builds their muscles and physique and stops them getting bored. There are also many jobs around the farm that are far better suited to bull-power as they are places a tractor could never reach. Nor of course do oxen use fossil fuels, which are wrecking our climate.
So we are happy that we have a new addition to the Ahimsa family and that it is a little black bull called Bala. Maybe in time Seymour will develop some brotherly love.
In most dairies cows rarely get treats. Farmers believe giving them anything beyond a routine diet eats into profits and wastes vegetables that could be sold at market. So the team at Ahimsa are often regarded rather oddly when we attempt to please our cows with tasty titbits.
It is true, sometimes we are a little indulgent as we clear Waitrose shelves of organic carrots grown by Prince Charles, but actually it gives us as much pleasure as it does the cows and young oxen.
Sometimes though ennui sets it and they turn their noses up at boring carrots. They want parsnips, or bananas or even chopped up apples and the occasional rich-tea biscuit has been a favourite for most of them since they were little.
But most of our milking cows were not used to such delicacies having come from the large organic dairy we have been working with, nor were they used to being fed by hand.
Once they came to our Groby farm some took their time to take advantage of what was on offer, whilst others got the idea really quickly. Rosie for example thought all of her birthdays had come at once and would eat anything. She once managed to steal a whole bag on parsnips and carrots while we were feeding the other cows. One little parsnip covered in slobber was left was when caught her.
Champa on the other hand wasn’t in the least interested in snacks and would head-but us when we tried giving her something. She came to be known as Mrs Grumpy – as opposed to Rosie who is Mrs Greedy -. Then one day she had an epiphany and realised she was missing out on good things that all the others were getting. Her nature changed, she became sweet and pleasant and covered our hands with cow slobber as she gobbled up what ever she was offered.
There is still a very strict pecking order though and apart from Harry and Henry, who are both greedy and naughty, every cows or ox waits their turn whilst the older ones dig in first.
Draupadi and the ever present Rosie are normally first in line together with Horatio. In fact Draupadi generally lets Horatio do the initial tasting before she has anything – just to ensure it is palatable. Dharma always has a sniff, but unusually for an ox he can’t be enticed with food, which is a bit of a nuisance when we are trying to work him.
A certain amount of pushing and shoving then ensues, with Nimai and Nitai getting in on the act and then Padma, ever graceful follows up behind. Primrose, who is a bit of a princess, has to be fed separately and as for poor-old Seymour, he is so polite he doesn’t get a look in and we have to keep stuff in reserve for him. His mum Tilly also lets grass grow under her feet and doesn’t like the rough and tumble of competing with the others, so we have to save nibbles for her too.
All in all treats keep our cows happy and feeding them is a treat for us too.
– by our ox trainer Syamasundara Das, who has 20 years’ experience persuading young oxen to go to work.
There they are lying on the grass ruminating the days grazing, each with their place in relation to the others. The two oxen Dharma and Gautama were destined for work….. well that was the plan. The herd of 19 cows and oxen were sitting at the farthest end of the Ahimsa farm in Leicester.
Better get started. Come Ooon, Come ooON. Positioning myself behind the herd I gradualy coaxed them up and back to their holding area and the place where training was to begin. No way would the two work candidates Dharma and Gautama be herded by themselves so the whole herd had to move to position these two.
Stage one. They needed to recognize the harnessing area as a place of fun and pleasure. After segregating Dharma and Gautama from the rest of the herd I walked them around and down through a narrow corridor for cows (race) and a holding frame (for medical attention), out the other end and then around again a few times.
Stage Two. Today when Dharma and then Gautama entered the race we stopped them going forward and reversing and then gave them a nice brush all over so they identified this type of work activity with some muscle massage. Once brushed a rope was placed around their horns and they were gently coaxed to move forward to the harnessing area. This place was prepared so that there would be access to the oxen during yoking and a safe area for the ox trainer. With some gentle calls and gentle tugs on the horn ropes Dharma and later Gautama moved along the high fence line to the place they were tied on short reins. Once they were side by side they were left for a bit to get used to each other’s close proximity.
Stage Three. Each day the oxen were moved in the same way, herding into their segregation, coaxing down the race, brushing, placing a lead rope around their horns, taking them to the yoking area. Today, once they had settled after moving, I placed the yoke on their shoulders and secured the U bars. Wow this seems very straight forward! They were very calm. Perhaps we can try walking them around the pen. Quickly Dharma remembered that he was a posing Ox, the head of the herd and was not really inclined to training with the probable outcome of working around the farm. He had somehow heard that if you flip the yoke the training had to stop…. He gave it a go, the pin came out the U bar dropped and that was the end of the training session. It was apparent that Dharma was very nervous and preferred to hide in the shed or run around the holding pen rather than consider working. As there was only a week dedicated for training it was considered that we should team Horatio (he was taking a keen interest in the training and watched closely the proceedings) with Gautama.
Stage Four Gautama yoked with Horatio and little movement around the pen. Not much, just a few steps, plenty of calming words, everything to reduce anxiety in the oxen. “Why am I so close to the ox next to me who would like to poke his horn in my side? Why is there a piece of laminated plywood shaped like a yoke on my shoulder (not sure if the oxen know all the intricacies of yoke making though). Why is there some metal U bars keeping the yoke on my shoulder? Why is there a rope harnessed to me and nudging me to slow or reverse……… such are the many questions that traverse the mind of an ox in training”
Stage Five. Segregated, groomed, yoked and moved…….Gate open….. here we go, better to give them space to walk rather than the small space of the 30m pen. Oh my!, Oh my! this is amazing they were walking side by side. Not sure of each other, not sure exactly how they should walk together, not sure exactly what they should do but they walked to the end of the land, a big turn round and back to the pen. Stopping form time to time, wow, wow, (In low reassuring tones). Plenty of petting, plenty of thankful scratching. Walk a bit stop and thank. Enough for the day, a great success.
Stage six. Yoked and walked to the farthest pond and back. Once done a spring harrow was connected to their yoke. This would be a bit scary for them. Something following, something noisy, some ropes touching their legs from time to time. Off we went.. sure a bit nervous they were… should they run or should they stop… yes the rope startled them the first time it touched their legs. Calming words, steady reins, plenty of stops, plenty of petting. A full circuit of the pasture grounds two oxen who only days before sat and chewed cud and watched cars and pedestrians go by are now pulling farm tools. Amazing oxen. Training oxen is natural, it’s as though they are hardwired for it.
Stage seven. Yoked and walked around the pastures. Today a step up again. A platform was placed on the harrow and with the driver sat on it the oxen coaxed forward…….” Hang on this is heavier than yesterday rushed through their minds…… so after a few metres they stopped and looked wondering”. After walking half the route with the oxen only pulling an empty harrow the driver again mounted the makeshift sledge and tapped them on again. This time they pulled into it and with a bit of wondering who was to blame for the extra weight they walked and pulled the sledge around the whole pasturing ground. Amazing oxen made for work and they can still pose and chew cud the rest of the day.
And there it is. Two oxen yoked together semi-trained and farm machinery pulled. What remains now is regular light farm work and gradually increasing the loads they pull. Working oxen now at the ahimsa farm in Leicester.
These two oxen don’t yet know how strong they are but with steady and reassuring work they will develop their powerful physique and display power and majestic grace.
The world is on the brink of runaway climate change. It is real, it is happening and the consequences of irreversible climate change will be catastrophic. As the earth warms up the polar ice caps will melt and no longer reflect the sun’s harmful rays back into space, instead they will absorb heat. The frozen Siberian tundra will also melt releasing vast quantities of methane into the atmosphere.
Drought, hurricanes, floods, millions of refugees, wars and around 50 per cent species extinction will follow.
We still have a small window of opportunity to stop this, but our addiction to fossil fuels for energy needs to be broken. Already we have heard that big oil is likely to get 20 percent of the seats at the UN climate talks in Paris unless we can stop them: http://action.sumofus.org/a/big-polluters-out-of-cop/?sub=taf It is plain wrong that the polluters should have a say in ours and the planet’s future.
Cows are also blamed for methane production, but it does not make sense that nature has created an animal out of synch with the environment.
It is humans who have put themselves at odds with nature, believing that human culture is superior and this process has accelerated since the industrial revolution. But what sort of superiority is it that can jeopardise our very existence?
It is true that cattle reared intensively, fed unnatural diets and locked up indoors all year wrong do produce methane, but they are not living as nature intended. It is also unconscionable that an obsession with meat-eating as evidence of development leads to the mass clearance of land to graze animals for beef. Cows are tragic victims of this brutal regime, they shouldn’t be blamed for man’s greed and stupidity.
At the same time hundreds of thousands of bull calves are slaughtered every year as a by-product of the dairy industry. What a waste when working oxen have been key to agriculture for millennia and still are in some parts of the world.
For thousands of years they have been put to work productively ploughing and harrowing the land and helping to build some of the wonders of the ancient world through their toil.
Theirs is clean energy. They don’t use fossil fuels and work in harmony with the earth. Their manure feeds the soil with rich, organic fertiliser, not the harmful chemicals from agri-business that degrade the earth even killing worms.
Bulls don’t compress the soil like tractors, their tracks draw water down deep into earth, they don’t get stuck in the mud and there are many places they can reach, which would be impossible for a tractor. They are also much more amiable a companion than a machine run and built by fossil fuels.
Ghandi once said that the earth had enough for everyone’s need, not everyone’s greed. To be sure we can breed fewer cows, we can raise them kindly and non-intensively, we can reduce our demand for meat, and we can value milk more and use it more thoughtfully.
However, fundamentally we need to be thinking clean, green energy. We need to be creating climate jobs, whether that is people to work with bulls or harnessing the power of the waves and wind, otherwise all bets are off and the planet faces a bleak future.