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.
Article from the Ecologist: http://www.theecologist.org/
The health of our soils is more important now than ever, says the Soil Association’s Helen Browning – especially with the challenges that climate change will bring …
We are destroying soils worldwide ten times faster than nature can restore them.
As a farmer, my foremost responsibility is to protect and enhance the soil in my care. It can take more than 500 years to generate an inch of soil, yet our farming activity can erode or degrade it in a decade or two if we are not careful.
Even as an organic farmer, where the system is designed to protect and build soils, I’m aware that the move to bigger machinery, the need to cultivate and plough to control weeds, and our seemingly ever more volatile weather can put soils at risk.
At agricultural college, we were taught much more about the chemistry and physics of soils than we were about the biology, and given scientists have recently admitted that they know about maybe only around 20% of the soil’s microbial population, that’s probably still true today.
But soil always fascinated me, and as a research student on the first Government funded project on organic farming in 1984, it quickly became clear to me that the yield and health of plants was determined by soil biological factors as much or more than by theoretical nutrient availability.
I remember one field, same soil type, rotation and variety of wheat, where there was a distinct line across the field, one side of which the crop was thriving and yields were much higher than the other.
The only difference was that at the time of conversion to organic, a number of years earlier, a light dose of composted manure had been applied to the higher yielding side. In my view, that ‘inoculation’ of beneficial microorganisms must have kick started soil activity that was allowing plants to be better fed and possibly protected from disease years later.
As I converted my own farm, I always ensured that as a field started its move from chemical dependency to a biological, organic life, we helped it recover its vitality with some well-rotted manure. A few small applications are often better than one big one, as a ‘dead’ soil cannot digest manure and organic matter easily.
For me, one of the signs that our soils are in good heart are that cow pats, or applied manures, vanish quickly, as the earthworms, beetles and microbes gobble it up, incorporating it rapidly into the body of the soil. Just like a well-functioning human or animal digestive system, which, like the soil, and equally often ignored, is primarily a vat of micro-organisms upon which we and our health depends.
The first president of the Soil Association, Lady Eve Balfour first stated that: “The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.” The founders of the Soil Association recognised the potential and actual problems facing soil over sixty years ago. Their response was to develop what was then, and still is now, a radical, yet practical and workable method of farming which protects and nurtures the soil and the life within it by putting it at the centre of the farming system.
The need for us farmers and growers to understand and protect our soils has never been greater. We are destroying soils worldwide ten times faster than nature can restore them, and in the last 40 years, human activity has degraded 2 billion hectares of soil -over 15% of our land.
Given that only 15% of land globally is suitable for growing food, which must be most of it. Even in the UK, where our temperate climate reduces erosion risk, it’s estimated that we lose 2 million tonnes of soil a year, valued at £150 to £250 million. And across Europe, we lose 250ha / day to development.
How we put a value on this is not clear to me; our soils are invaluable. They store 10 times more carbon than the forests do; they are the fundamental resource on which human life depends. If we want to have more healthy people on the planet, then we need more healthy soil to sustain them.
So, as farmers, what should we do? Here are some personal thoughts on the kind of things we need to get moving on, here and worldwide …
- Trees are incredibly important when it comes to protecting soil, which means that we need to stop clear felling old growth forest. Instead, develop more agroforestry systems (mixtures of productive trees or shrubs and crops), so we have the yield, biodiversity and soil protection benefits of many more trees in our landscape.
- Learn from one another’s experiences when it comes to building up organic matter – and act on it – quickly! A project in Sekem, Egypt, has shown how even desert can be turned into productive farmland, and ‘mob stocking’ (where a large herd of livestock is confined to an area to intensively graze it) has also been shown to build organic matter very fast.
- More research needs to go into how different chemicals and fertilisers affect soil biology. All farmers need to know whether and how severely their inputs are hampering soil health, so they can choose less damaging ones.
- We need to stop doing certain things, like using big tractors over vast areas of land, building houses on precious grade 1 and 2 agricultural land, sending our straw away for power generation, and farming maize to such a huge extent as it can leave soil at risk of erosion.
- We also need to start doing more of other things, such as experimenting with growing perennial crops and trees, and recycling sewage sludge safely back to soils. We are not allowed to do this as organic farmers due to EU regulations, but we should be as long as it is uncontaminated, and in some parts of the country that may mean separating industrial from household waste systems. The phosphate in sewage is invaluable – another precious resource the world is running out of too.
- Think long term solutions: we might put most of our land into restorative grassland for the next 20 years, and get our soils into the best possible condition to face the challenges ahead and in doing so, sequester a whole load of carbon in the meantime. (If that seems too extreme for some, at least encourage mixed and organic farming!)
‘Peak soil’ may be upon us, yet we know enough to start reversing the damage. With the right research and the further development of ecological farming systems, we could rebuild our soils, lock up carbon, protect our water courses, and improve our resilience to drought and flood.
In the process we would create a more beautiful and biodiverse countryside, with more jobs, improved access for people to walk and play, more trees and more grazing animals.
As they say: what’s not to like?
Seymour is a bull who was born on 13th December 2012. He is Tilly’s son and it virtually all black apart from a little white tuft on his head and on his underbelly. He is very shy, but also very handsome.
Once Seymour had been weaned off milk at about 3 months, he went through a difficult period when he got ringworm. Dermatophytosis or ringworm is a clinical condition caused by fungal infection of the skin, leaving lesions all over the body. The term “ringworm” is a misnomer, since the condition is caused by fungi of several different species and not by parasitic worms.
After several months of infection, he recovered and in July 2013, he went from the Commonwork farm - where he was born - to Spitalfields City Farm in East London.
Seymour – Life at Spitalfields
Home to sheep, goats, donkeys, pigs, poultry and small animals, Spitalfields City Farm is one of two London city farms that have adopted a non-slaughter policy and aspires to be an educational resource which can teach respect for animal life and explain where food comes from without breeding animals for consumption.
In March 2013 “CowFest” was launched, a fundraising event to help raise funds to bring cows back to Spitalfields. It was here that Spitalfields farm formed a partnership with the Ahimsa Dairy Foundation and a collaboration began.
After 7 bovine-less years, Spitalfields Farm welcomed cows back to Shoreditch by fostering Seymour, the 7-month old, dairy male calf.
Seymour was an instant hit with visitors, schools and corporate groups alike and has enabled the farm to raise awareness of the welfare concerns within the dairy industry as well as helping to promote Ahimsa as an ethical milk choice
“I had no idea mega-dairies existed, cows should see grass and sunshine not be kept in factory farms!” SCF Volunteer
For many children a cow is the first animal they expect to see at a farm and with Seymour’s arrival the farm immediately feels more complete.
School groups enjoy the opportunity to closely observe Seymour and comment on his shiny coat, the way he likes to stand in the shade and how he uses his tail to flick off flies.
For teachers bringing their pupils to the farm, Seymour is a valuable asset to support learning in all areas of the curriculum from literacy, to art, to science topics. Having a cow at the farm invites discussions with children about where food comes from and helps children make the connection between the food they eat and the world around them.
Seymour is curious boy and adores company from any species; people pass by to say a quick hello but often end up for quite a time giving him a chin scratch!
Many visitors have commented on how well Seymour looks. Farmyard co-ordinator, Jenny Bettenson, admits “he is quite spoilt here; we try to achieve organic animal welfare standards so it has been an interesting experience for staff and volunteers to learn about cattle care.” Flies are a nuisance for many cattle and can cause health problems if not kept under control – Seymour has had the luxury of garlic granules in his feed, Neem oil rubbed on target areas and mint chandeliers hung in his stable to help deter the flies and keep him as comfortable as possible.
One of the lovely aspects of this partnership is telling people of Seymour’s journey to come. Male calves in conventional dairy farms are often killed or raised for meat but the Ahimsa Dairy Foundation are exploring innovative ways of working with bulls and it is hoped that when he is fully grown Seymour can be trained as a working oxen. Part of this training has already begun at Spitalfields as Seymour is walked on a head-collar and lead from the stable to his exercise paddock each day. “We have used positive-reward based training to build a bond with Seymour.” says Jenny, “He’s such a character – a slow thinker so you need to give him time to process a situation but he loves his food so this has helped us teach him to target objects and overcome fears of cattle handling equipment.”
Seymour will be missed when he returns to the Ahimsa’s cow sanctuary but we look forward to following his lifelong progress and continuing to welcome more foster cows in the future.