The Ahimsa team has just been on a fact-finding trip to Hungary where we were investigating slaughter-free dairy farming at a Hare Krishna farm two hours from Budapest.
Hungarian agriculture suffered very badly under Soviet Communism and peasant farmers were persecuted relentlessly. Land was confiscated and they were forced to hand over ever-increasing amounts of produce to the state.
Therefore it was inspiring to see a 600-acre farm flourishing in the countryside today.
Their cows are mainly Hungarian Grey, Swiss Brown and Tyrolean Grey and they have a fine herd of milking cows and working oxen together with a gang of young calves. There is also a Zebu bull rescued from a French zoo.
The oxen, some with horns as long as 18 inches, are gainfully employed to do various jobs around the farm – they operate a mill to chop wood for the wood-burning stoves, plough, harrow and reap the hay. They also pull sleighs through the winter snow.
The cows are milked by hand in their stall in the main cow shed. They produce rich, creamy milk, and it is used raw to make a delicious gouda-type cheese.
Part of the daily routine for the calves and cows is to have their stalls cleaned – they are kept indoors during the bitterly cold winter – and then to be brushed.
Firstly, I climbed into the calves’ pen, armed with a variety of brushes, to give the youngsters their turn. Two of the girls started to eat my trousers; one sinking her teeth into my leg, a young bull decided my cardigan was a great thing to chew, whilst the biggest calf, a boy, went for my jacket. After some negotiation I freed myself and set to work, stopping occasionally to sort out the squabbles engendered by one calf thinking another was getting more attention.
Once the calves were all shiny and clean I went to visit the cows. They loved the fuss and attention and stood patiently while I brushed their coats and tails and milk bags.
I had been warned in halting English that one of the cows didn’t have a peaceful nature. I took this to mean she probably kicked and head-butted people, so I missed her out. However, I became aware that she was watching my every move as I walked up and down the shed.
Whichever way I went, this cow turned her head to look at me and mooed. Eventually, I explained the reason why she had not been brushed, but said if she was a good girl I would oblige. Her big black eyes looked at me kindly and I stepped forward to begin making her beautiful.
We got on famously and as I told her that all ladies like to have their hair done, she proffered her fringe to be combed. It was quite clear that Hungarian cows have the Babel fish, made famous by Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy, in their ears and are quite capable of understanding all other languages.
Lovely cows, lovely oxen and lovely people. I hope we will go back soon.
The herd have been watching us as we have been very busy building new fences and putting up barns and shelters with the funds raised from our appeal last year. It was really heart-warming that so many people loved our project and chipped in to help us bring about a revolution in dairy farming. We have been a bit slow, but everyone’s perks will be going out over the next few days. A huge thank you and several moos once again.
So back to the business of putting in the new infrastructure – the herd knew that one way or another it was about them, but they didn’t like to be too obvious in observing us. So they hung around at a respectable distance, pretending to be doing other things. When curiosity got the better of them – as it always does with our cows – they sent a scout to get the lowdown. As ever this was Primrose, who blatantly stood and watched before heading off to report to the gang.
We also have big plans for growing a variety of vegetables, fertilised by bull and cow manure. We hope to be in a position to sell them later in the year. The first thing we planted was spring cabbage. Unfortunately, the cows attempted a bit of sabotage after breaking into the field, however, we are confident we have rescued most of them. Nimai, who has always been a bit of a wild child, found a gap in the fence the other day and made off into the same field. Sadly for him he was caught red-hooved and had to do the walk of shame as we ushered him back through the gate. The rest of the gang gathered round to watch as he trundled back towards them.
Otherwise spring is really in the air and soon everything will be starting to grow. That will please the cows, who are looking forward to nibbling tasty spring grass and some lush tree leaves. They have more-or-less been outside all winter and have lovely thick coats, but they are now beginning to moult. The ground around their hay-feeders has also got a bit churned-up and there have been some muddy knees – which delighted the young bulls – but it will be nice when the ground is dry again.
So we have a busy time ahead of us. We have been up and down the country and to mainland Europe buying special agricultural equipment for the bulls to pull and this year the older boys will be trained to do ox-work. We are also bringing the milking cows to Leicester, where they will be hand-milked. All new calves will also have access to their mothers for six months.
The existing herd in Leicester have been joined by young bulls Harry and Henry and Seymour’s mother Tilly, who is having a holiday, joined them a few months ago together with her friends Kamala and Rosie. It is very rewarding to see them all together and see the relationships and bonds they have with each other. This is something that so many cows in today’s dairy industry never have a chance of – so thank you all customers and friends for helping to make this possible.
The Ahimsa Dairy is delighted to welcome our new farm manager Govindananda Das, a European expert in working with bulls
Govinda, aged 39, worked on a large ox-working farm in Hungary for 15 years where he trained countless long-horned Hungarian Grey and Tirolean bulls to do agricultural jobs.
He is also experienced in hand-milking, and will be using his skills on the Ahimsa cows as we move from using machinery to traditional methods.
Govinda will be based at our farm in Leicester and his first task will be to get our older boys, who have been enjoying a life of leisure, to go to work.
They will be yoked together in pairs, trained to respond to basic commands and begin to do agricultural jobs around the farm such as ploughing.
Govinda, who is married, with two young sons, says to do this work is in ‘his nature,’ although he notes his grandfather was an ambassador and the rest of his family are computer technicians from the city.
“I am very much looking forward to the challenge of working with the cows and bulls at the Ahimsa Dairy. This is a unique project for the UK and I was pleased to be asked to come and help it develop.
I have been assessing the oxen to look at their strengths, such as their legs and am keen to start introducing them to the idea of work. Some might be quite quick to train, but some of the others could be a bit resistant just like humans really.
I love this work. It is in my nature.”
Ahimsa Director, Sanjay Tanna said :
“We are absolutely delighted that Govinda has joined our revolutionary dairy and is already getting to know the herd. It is fantastic that we have got someone with his talent on board.
- The Ahimsa dairy is Britain’s first slaughter-free dairy where no cow or bull calf is ever killed
- We have been working with Commonwork, a large organic farm in Kent for three years and they have bred all of our cattle
- We are very grateful to have been associated with them during this time but we now want to move even closer to our revolutionary vision for dairy farming in Britain
- Our unique system of dairy farming is not possible within the Commonwork framework as their objectives are different
(within Commonwork framework)
(to be implemented in Leicester)
|Cows in calf
||Previously every two years,
|Every 3-4 years
|5 days with no further access
||Continual access until 6 months
||Bull for first pregnancy followed by
artificial insemination (AI) for
|Natural insemination by bull
||Mainly by hand
||Debudding of milking cows
||All animals keep horns
||Carrots and other vegetables
|Total herd size
- We now have land in Leicester where we can establish a dairy farm run entirely to our own principles. A key aspect will be meaningful employment of bulls, this being the key to the sustainable success of the project, bulls cannot simply do nothing and be maintained by income generated from the sale of milk / milk products
- We have secured an excellent project manager, one of the top in Europe, he is both a hand-milker and ox-driver. He has over 15 years of experience running and developing a successful smallholding in Hungary. We therefore wish to shortly relocate our entire operation to Leicester.
- Our envisaged system and herd size is entirely manageable and sustainable both in the short term and for the future
- We can establish a holistic mixed farming system growing a variety of crops and employing bulls (oxen) for farm-work and running a dairy alongside. We will continue to work within an organic system using no chemical inputs and managing the land optimally for wildlife and the environment
- Every day we receive messages of support from people who are full of praise for what we are trying to achieve but we know we are not fully there yet
- We now have this wonderful opportunity to realise all of our ambitions and would ask you to help us in making our vision a reality
|Our Vision is for a sustainable organic dairy where no cow or bull calf is ever killed and all can live out their lives until their natural end.
We see our cattle as more than commodities and want to respect and engage with them as
Our Appeal – How You Can Help Support Us
- Our goal is to raise £135,573 towards setting up and first year transition costs after which the farm will be self-sustaining (A full breakdown of costs can be found below)
- We are looking to secure the initial £54,000 towards this goal within this month – we would like to invite you to select one of the options below and join us on the achieving the next step:
- 15 people to give £100 a month for 1 year = £18,000
- 30 people to give £50 a month for 1 year = £18,000
- 40 people to give £25 a month for 1 year = £12,000
- 50 people to give £10 a month for 1 year = £6,000
Total = £54,000
- And over the summer, from Jude, Gopi and friends (our team of young Ahimsa fundraising champions) – £6,000
Grand Total = £60,000
Please consider being a part of the future of a more compassionate approach to dairy farming, go to the home page and follow the link for the Appeal For New Revolutionary Dairy
Words of Support
||‘if cows are treated according to the high ethical principles of cow protection, where no cows are slaughtered, their milk provides unlimited benefits for human health and I am delighted to support Ahimsa Milk …’
Chrissie Hynde - (The Pretenders)
||‘ALL YOU WHO CARE ABOUT WELFARE of COWS must see this. It IS Possible to produce slaughter-free milk. Follow these guys!’
Brian May (Queen guitarist)
||‘This wonderful initiative represents the pinnacle of animal welfare and a shift towards recognising the importance of being nonviolent to nature and to animals in the production of food’
Patrick Holden , Director of Sustainable Food Trust (Former Director of the Soil Association)
||‘I am full of admiration for the Ahimsa project.’
Satish Kumar, Editor-in-Chief of Resurgence & Ecologist Magazine
By Holly Cheever, DVM, reprinted from Action for Animals (USA)
I would like to tell you a story that is as true as it is heart-breaking. When I first graduated from Cornell’s School of Veterinary Medicine, I went into a busy dairy practice in Cortland County. I became a very popular practitioner due to my gentle handling of the dairy cows. One of my clients called me one day with a puzzling mystery: his Brown Swiss cow, having delivered her fifth calf naturally on pasture the night before, brought the new baby to the barn and was put into the milking line, while her calf was once again removed from her. Her udder, though, was completely empty, and remained so for several days.
As a new mother, she would normally be producing close to one hundred pounds (12.5 gallons) of milk daily; yet, despite the fact that she was glowing with health, her udder remained empty. She went out to pasture every morning after the first milking, returned for milking in the evening, and again was let out to pasture for the night — this was back in the days when cattle were permitted a modicum of pleasure and natural behaviours in their lives — but never was her udder swollen with the large quantities of milk that are the hallmark of a recently-calved cow.
I was called to check this mystery cow two times during the first week after her delivery and could find no solution to this puzzle. Finally, on the eleventh day post calving, the farmer called me with the solution: he had followed the cow out to her pasture after her morning milking, and discovered the cause: she had delivered twins, and in a bovine’s “Sophie’s Choice,” she had brought one to the farmer and kept one hidden in the woods at the edge of her pasture, so that every day and every night, she stayed with her baby — the first she had been able to nurture FINALLY—and her calf nursed her dry with gusto.
Though I pleaded for the farmer to keep her and her bull calf together, she lost this baby, too—off to the hell of the veal crate.
Think for a moment of the complex reasoning this mama exhibited: first, she had memory — memory of her four previous losses, in which bringing her new calf to the barn resulted in her never seeing him/her again (heart-breaking for any mammalian mother). Second, she could formulate and then execute a plan: if bringing a calf to the farmer meant that she would inevitably lose him/her, then she would keep her calf hidden, as deer do, by keeping her baby in the woods lying still till she returned. Third — and I do not know what to make of this myself — instead of hiding both, which would have aroused the farmer’s suspicion (pregnant cow leaves the barn in the evening, unpregnant cow comes back the next morning without offspring), she gave him one and kept one herself. I cannot tell you how she knew to do this—it would seem more likely that a desperate mother would hide both.
All I know is this: there is a lot more going on behind those beautiful eyes than we humans have ever given them credit for, and as a mother who was able to nurse all four of my babies and did not have to suffer the agonies of losing my beloved offspring, I feel her pain.
Holly Cheever, DVM
The way to a sustainable, people-centred agriculture lies in agroecology – farming based on ecological principles, taking account of the interdependence of all living things.
Global grains surpluses are now so great that half of them are fed wastefully to livestock, with an increasing amount turned into biofuels.
In early January, Colin Tudge and Graham Harvey launched the ‘Manifesto for a new agriculture’ at the Oxford Real Farming Conference 2014.
A key theme was ‘agro-ecology’ – farming that takes its lead from nature. It conceives each farm as a mini-ecosystem, and agriculture as a whole as a key player in the global biosphere.
Physiology is a vital science in agroecology – how plants and animals function – and psychology too in the case of livestock, for farm animals are sentient and to keep them without cruelty we need to understand what keeps them content.
Overall, though, we need ecology – often still seen as a woolly pursuit but in truth the most intricate and the most ‘modern’ of all biological sciences.
‘Conventional’ farming is industrial chemistry
By contrast, what is now anomalously called ‘conventional’ agriculture is, in essence, field-scale industrial chemistry – bench-top chemistry on a grand scale. Bench-top chemistry belongs conceptually to the 19th century.
GMOs are now seen as hyper-modern, and indeed to represent “the future”. But although ‘genetic engineering’ is immensely clever, it too belongs to an earlier conceptual age – a time when scientists assumed that each gene had one specific function and that living creatures could be re-designed to order just by adding and subtracting genes.
But modern genetics recognises that the relationship between the genes and the phenotype – the finished creature – is ‘non-linear’. There is no simple and therefore no entirely predictable relationship between the gene and the outcome.
Ecologists acknowledge that nature as a whole is non-linear and far too complex to be comprehensively understood. We can reasonably hope only to understand enough of nature to find accommodation with it; to live alongside and within it, with luck to our common benefit.
Learning from Nature
For centuries peoples around the globe have found their own ways of doing this. Agroecology pursues these same principles.
In practice, if we are to feed everyone well for all time – without wrecking the planet – we need farming that is productive, sustainable, resilient – and regenerative: able to restore fertility and life to land that seems damaged beyond redemption.
We cannot slavishly follow nature, but we can certainly learn its principal lessons. For nature has been productive without interruption for the past 3.8 billion years, while the continents have spun and migrated over the globe and the climate has veered from pole-to-pole ice to pole-to-pole tropics and back again.
Nature is not maximally productive. Natural selection does not favour maximum production from entire ecosystems. It demands survival of individual lineages, and that is quite different.
But – contrary to the mantra of politicians – we don’t need our agriculture to be maximally productive either.
Our food production could feed 14 billion people
It’s true that today a billion of our present 7 billion are undernourished (according to the UN) and world numbers are on course to reach 9.5 billion by 2050. People worldwide are eating more meat, which by present methods uses a lot of resources.
With such stats in mind Sir John Beddington in his ‘Foresight’ report on The Future of Food and Farming in 2011  said that we would need to produce 50% more food by 2050.
Politicians and industrialists have since have taken this as gospel. Industrial agriculture above all is geared more and more to maximum production.
There is also competition from biofuel (and indeed from cities and golf-courses) so we need to produce more from less land. And so, we’re told, we need “sustainable intensification”, which, it’s assumed, means more high tech.
But other authorities, including Professor Hans Herren of the Millennium Institute, Washington (co-chair of the IAASTD), point out that the world already produces enough macro-nutrient (energy and protein) to support 14 billion people – twice the present population.
Production is not the issue
The UN demographers say that while human numbers continue to rise, the percentage rate of increase is reducing and will be down to zero by 2050. The population will stabilise, then start to fall. So 9.5 billion is as many as we will ever have to provide for.
We already produce 50% more food than will be needed. People go hungry because the wrong foods are grown in the wrong places by the wrong methods. And about half of what is produced is subsequently wasted.
Production is not the issue. The powers-that-be are demanding more because it’ll generate profits, mostly for large corporations. Global grains surpluses are now so great that half of them are fed wastefully to livestock, with an increasing amount turned into biofuels.
Not more, but better
We recognise that farms in general need to be more fertile than most wild land in order to raise output – at least of the things we like to eat. But the plea for 50% more is pure hype, commercial and political.
The real task is to grow as much as we do now (or perhaps less) but to a higher standard, more humanely, and with less damage to the wider environment. We need farming that is more sustainable and resilient, and here nature clearly has much to teach us.