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Although cow dung has been used for thousands of years to create fertile soils, it also has another use as a fuel. In many countries from China to Kenya, Guatemala to India, cow dung is often dried and burnt as fuel for cooking. Now in India, small scale farmers are separating methane to be used for cooking appliances and the remaining dung is used as a rich fertiliser.
As technology has advanced in the West, bio-digesters are utilising dung more efficiently to produce biogas. This gas is rich in methane and provides a renewable and stable source of electricity.
The following cases show the direction of travel:
Denmark: Biomass has become an increasingly important energy source in Denmark over the last 25 years. Being a carbon neutral energy source, it has already helped make a significant contribution to the reduction of Danish carbon emissions. The conversion of more biomass at power stations will help Denmark reach its target of 30% renewable energy by 2020. Yet the potential of using biogas has so far been unexploited, especially in the form of livestock manure in the agriculture system. Denmark is well known for its farming industry; approximately 65% of the land is used for agriculture, emitting 18% of all greenhouse gases here, through methane and nitrogen. So farming has an important part to play in the transition to a fossil fuel free society. The Danish government now wants up to 50% of livestock manure to be made into this green energy supply.
USA: Fair Oaks Farm, in Indiana is at the front end of some interesting innovation. The farm harnesses the power of cow dung to run its barns, offices, cheese factory and gift shop. What takes this farm one step ahead of the others is its ability to power its 42 tractor trailers that deliver milk to nearby states with renewable gas that also comes from animal waste. “We’re self-sufficient and we’re lowering our carbon footprint” says Gary Corbett, Fair Oaks Farm CEO.
“We take the manure from the cows and put it into sealed digester vessels, the manure is heated to 100 degrees at which the bacteria produces methane and CO2, which is called biogas. The Biogas is cleaned to remove the CO2, using water and pressure to create biomethane, which is then odorized to create renewable natural gas” explains Mark Stoermann of AMP Americas, an energy company partnering with Fair Oaks Farm to create the fuel.
The cow power concept is also saving the farm millions of dollars a year.
“We were running all these diesel trucks and we began to look at the potential of replacing all that diesel with natural gas. Then we figured out how to create our own natural gas instead of buying the diesel, so it saves us a lot of money, lowers emissions and helps clean up air quality in the cities where the trucks deliver.
“In 2013, we will take personally 2-million gallons of diesel off the road that we used in 2011 to deliver our milk.” He adds: “ the biofuel burns cleanly so it’s better for the environment.
It’s a fuel source not only for the farms but for nearby towns as well. “One cow can power a home,” says Erin Fitzgerald, from The Innovation Center for US Dairy. And since the excess gas can be sold back to the grid “It’s a new source of revenue for dairy farmers” who have been struggling in recent years”, she says.
“Turning farm waste into fuel has amazing potential” says energy technology consultant Brian Dolrein. “I can imagine a time in the near future when homes and factories will be powered by it and our cars will be running on it. It could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and oil”.
Although the above case studies are unlikely to demonstrate the highest level of animal welfare in practice, they do indicate a possible path of reducing our addiction to fossil fuels if both high welfare and technology were suitably integrated.
The Ahimsa Dairy knows only too well the anxiety of waiting for results after our cattle have been tested for Bovine TB. Last year we were biting our finger nails to the bone after the vet came to our Welsh sanctuary to test the herd. The outcome would have been unthinkable had any of them tested positive. We are committed to a no slaughter policy and all of our animals are allowed to live out the whole of their lives until they pass away naturally. We would have been simply distraught.
Thankfully, everyone was clear, but we are still faced with further testing down the line. In short we think the Government’s present policy on Bovine TB is flawed. It’s just all about culling – either cows or poor old badgers and we don’t think the it works. We believe alternatives must be sought.
Even Defra has described the diagnostic test as ‘imperfect’ (Dealing with Bovine TB in your herd, May 2008,p13) and we think it condemns large numbers of healthy animals to death. To some extent we support vaccination, but our solution for cattle is also to identify, isolate and treat individual animals.
The RSPCA point out that after 10 years work the Independent Scientific Group concluded in 2007 that ‘badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.’ So what is to be achieved by destroying what are likely to be perfectly healthy animals when alternatives have not been properly explored?
The current policy is just seeking a quick fix for what is undoubtedly a very distressing situation, but scapegoating badgers is unlikely to take us any further towards solving the problem. And that might start with the Bovine TB tests themselves.
Gandhi once wrote:
“Cow protection takes the human being beyond this species. The cow to me means the entire sub-human world. Man through the cow is enjoined to realise his identity with all that lives. Why the cow was selected for apotheosis is obvious to me. She was the giver of plenty. Not only did she give milk, but she also made agriculture possible”
These words are an inspiration to us at the Ahimsa Dairy Foundation. Not only do we seek the highest standards of welfare for our own cows and young bulls and are committed to enabling them to live out the entirety of their lives before they pass away naturally, but we also care passionately about the environment.
We do not see ourselves or a cow in isolation from the wider environment. When we look after our cattle, we also think about the health of the soil and the grass, about wild flowers and the bees and other insects that benefit from them, indeed the entire web of life. We believe all is interconnected in this and if one species suffers adversity then there will be an effect on all others.
Modern farming methods have wreaked much harm and violence on nature and again as Gandhi said – there is enough for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed. Eventually the earth may grow tired and withdraw her resources from us.
Chemical fertilisers and pesticides damage the earth and poison pollinators such as bees and other beneficial insects. Farmers are caught in a cycle of hell having to pay more and more for agrochemicals to keep the land productive, whilst all of the time it and the life it supports is dying. Meanwhile the multinational input suppliers grow ever richer.
Instead of being out in the meadows grazing as nature intended, improving the quality of the grassland with their activities and encouraging wild plants to grow, so many cows, along with other animals are imprisoned in hothouses. They rarely if ever see the fields; they are fed unnatural diets, and suffer the brutality of the abattoir at the end of often very short lives.
In urban environments there are adults and children who have never even seen a real live cow. Their knowledge of the animal that made human civilisation possible is confined to picture books and the abstracted lump of meat wrapped in plastic on the supermarket shelves, together with the carton of milk disingenuously labelled fresh, but hiding an industry largely based on cruelty and slaughter.
When we respect the cow the world is in order. We don’t want to do harm to her or any other living creature. We want our fields to be teeming with life and our hedgerows to provide a habitat for a rich diversity of creatures. We care about the rivers and the trees and the quality of the air we breathe.
So we are already three weeks into the New Year. In the UK everyone is back at work and struggling with colds, commuting and of course the seasonally snowy weather.
The Ahimsa herd are tucked up in their respective barns in Kent and Wales, where our sanctuary for retired cows and bull calves is. They had a bit of fresh air when the sun came out (does anyone remember what it looks like?), but are generally inside for the winter munching on silage (pickled grass) and hay.
Although our cattle all have thick coats, the wind can be pretty mean and the rain makes everyone miserable too (not just the humans) so it is best that they are inside in the warmth. The chief reason though for them coming in in the winter is to save the grass. Too many hooves ploughing it up in the wet could destroy it and nothing would grow in the spring.
So, last year was a bit of a roller-coaster for us. We retired Draupadi and Daisy, two of our milking cows to Wales, and two new calves Horatio and Seymour were born. Horatio is now down in Wales and is being looked after by Daisy.
Last year we also took our milk deliveries in-house, which made our deliveries far more reliable. The Foundation also has a fabulous team of volunteers, who do a tremendous amount to support us. Last year they took part in a sponsored walk, cycle, run around eight London Bridges and helped raise enough for us to buy our first delivery van.
During the year it was also heart-warming that many people came forward to sponsor our cows and young bulls and also took the time to send us messages of support. Our slaughter-free journey has not always been easy, but these good wishes have really encouraged us.
2012 also saw the launch of our soft-cheese. We hope this year to become more established with that as well as developing a hard cheese and other milk products. While we can see the big picture, the steps to get there can be challenging, especially as we have so few paid staff.
We are very reliant on goodwill, for which we are eternally grateful, and our friends who share our vision of a slaughter-free dairy future where no cow or bull calf is ever killed for profit. All of our cattle will live out the entirety of their lives before they pass away naturally.
Finally, there is a great furore in Britain at present after horsemeat was discovered in some supermarket burgers. People are horrified and there is certainly the issue of knowing exactly what you are buying. However, we do not see cow or bull meat as being any more acceptable than horse.
All of our cows and bulls are sentient beings with their own individual personalities and likes and dislikes. Sometimes they can be kind, sometimes they can be naughty (especially Primrose who likes to head-but those who don’t let here have her own way!) and they can be very affectionate.
Regarding these animals as food for the table is just plain wrong. A cow gives us many things and is worth far more alive than dead. As for bulls, it is potty that in Britain far more are not used to work the land. Doing so would provide employment for people and stop the use of fossil fuels, which are doing so much to harm the environment.
The methane argument is spurious as cows and bulls living as nature intended, on natural diets and in natural environments, produce negligible amounts of methane. However, crammed into sheds where they are never allowed to graze in the fields and fed junk, they are blamed for something of which they are only tragic victims.
Let’s hope 2013 sees the Ahimsa milk revolution becoming a force to be reckoned with in the dairy industry and in the minds of consumers.
Of all creatures, the cow is given a special place in Hindu Indian religious tradition: ‘I speak to those who are aware: do not harm the cow, for in so doing, you are harming the earth and the whole of humanity.’ Rig Veda 8.101.15
Despite the veneration bestowed on the cow, there is no formal worship of a ‘cow-goddess’ in Hindu temples. Rather the cow is respected in her own right as one of humankind’s seven mothers as she offers her milk as does one’s natural mother. Gandhi himself had the highest regard for cows: ‘To me, the cow is the embodiment of the whole infra-human world; she enables the believer to grasp his unity with all that lives…to protect her is to protect all the creatures of God’s creation.’
Traditionally, the cow is considered dear to the Hindu God Krishna. Indeed, Krishna is often known as ‘Gopal’ – sustainer of cows or ‘Govinda’ – protector of cows, names which refer to his loving feeling for cows. The very names of Krishna’s holy land of Braj (‘pasture’) and his spiritual abode Goloka (‘cow-world’), reveal his intimate connection with bovine creatures . Krishna’s love for the cow is celebrated throughout the Vedic literature. It is no wonder that we find in the Vedas, a great emphasis on ahimsa, or harmlessness to all sentient beings, and especially on cow protection.
(Extract from ‘The Hidden Glory of India’ – Steven Rosen)
Gopashtami is a celebration of Braj culture. Krishna was named “Govinda” after he protected the cows and the villagers of Braj from a deluge of rain by holding Mount Govardhan on his little finger for seven days. On the eight day Indra – a proud and arrogant demigod, abandoned his ego and apologised to Lord Krishna. After that, he was named Govinda and this day is celebrated as Gopashtami every year.
Gopastami is also that day when Krishna came of age to take out cows to pasture, whereas previously when younger, he was only responsible for looking after calves.
Ancient peoples linked cattle, fertility and abundance. This was reflected in their spiritual practices, and in many parts of the world people worshipped a Cow Goddess or a goddess who protected cows.
Hathor, the Egyptian Goddess, was known as the gentle cow of heaven. She was said to give a plentiful supply of milk to the baby Pharaoh thus making him into a divine being. She was depicted as the winged cow of creation who gave birth to the universe.
She is shown with a cow’s head or with horns on her head between which there was a sun disk. She embodied the Milky Way upon which the Sun God Ra and the king sailed. She was a fertility goddess and was also associated with the flooding of the life-giving waters of the Nile and the breaking of waters before birth.
She later became identified with Bata, another cow goddess, who was connected with Ba, an aspect of the soul and came to be associated with the afterlife greeting the dead as they began their journey from the world of the living.
In Ireland there were several ancient cow goddesses, some like Dil and Damona, who both ruled over fertility, but about whom little is known today.
Then there is Bo Find, who manifested as a white cow. She transformed Ireland from a barren land into a green and fertile one. She came from the Western Sea with her sisters Bo Ruadh, the red cow goddess and the black cow goddess, Bo Dhu. Their different colours represented the different phases of the moon.
The sisters all went to different parts of the island. Bo Find went to the centre where she gave birth to a male and female calf. These twins were to provide food for the people by giving milk and ploughing the earth. Their work done, the cow sisters then departed back to the sea.
Another goddess was Anu who was a guardian of cattle and health. Fires were lit for her in midsummer and her priestesses sang the dying to sleep.
Brigit was a Celtic mother goddess to many European tribes. Some suggest her name came from the Sanskrit word brihati, an epithet of the divine. She was a goddess of regeneration and abundance and her protection was said to be very great. She was seen with a pair of oxen called Fea and Feimhean.
As Christianity began to grow Brigit, also known as Bride, was transformed into a popular saint. Legend says her mother was carrying a pitcher of milk when she was born and the infant was bathed in it. She was unable to eat ordinary food and was reared on the milk of a white, red-eared cow. This was a special animal with links to the otherworld in Celtic mythology. The companion animal of the adult saint was said to be a cow, who gave her all the milk she required.
When she became an abbess she miraculously increased the milk and butter yield of the abbey. Some say there was a lake of milk three times a day and one churning filled hundreds of baskets with butter. After her death her skull was stolen from the abbey by soldiers who took it to Portugal and every year cattle were driven past it in a spring festival.
Today, in the Western part of the world the great cow goddesses of the past have faded into history. The cow is rarely venerated now and her gifts together with those of the bull and the oxen are plundered, like those of mother earth, without recompense. They are seen solely in economic terms as objects for exploitation and nothing is given back. Indeed they are killed when they have outlived their usefulness.
It would serve us well to remember that domesticated cattle were the foundation of human civilisation. The way we treat them may symbolize much about how corrupted our relationship with nature has become. When we respect the cow and enter into a symbiotic relationship with her, we are respecting the entire natural world and celebrating abundance.