– 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.
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