Holy Cows


Elizabeth and I went to visit our cow last weekend. Well, she’s ours in the sense that we adopted her a few years ago. Her name is Dwadasi and she lives on a family farm in West Virginia. The couple who own the farm founded an organization dedicated to the protection of cows (ISCOWP); Dwadasi, along with 19 other cows and bulls, will live their entire natural lives there. In fact, not only will they live there, they will be loved there. Most cows are naturally very affectionate. And very big: when a cow wants your attention you definitely know it. A gentle head butt from a cow in motion is hard to ignore.

As we approached the herd, Kalki, another cow, announced our arrival by mooing loudly. We needed our hosts to translate for us, of course; unless you spend time around cows you really can’t understand what they’re talking about. As I’ve learned from our visits to the ISCOWP farm, cows are conversational and if you hang out with them you can pick up on what their talking about. Apparently the conversation between Kalki and the other cows went something like this: “hey everyone, we have guests” – “Yes, I know; I saw them come in” – “Okay, well, let’s check them out” – “you check them out; I’m busy eating.”

Aside from being big, beautiful, affectionate and social creatures, cows are extremely messy. Being licked by a cow is like being assaulted by a big glob of gooey sandpaper, they have giant wet noses and, unlike cats, cows are not predisposed to cleaning themselves. You have to be mindful around them, too, as they will discharge waste indiscriminately. To city slickers like Elizabeth and I it’s a bit foreign and, after a while, seriously icky.

But what’s truly remarkable is how valuable the waste of a cow can be. According to Ayurveda the urine of a cow is full of medicinal properties, particularly the Indian cows with the hump on their backs (there’s something in the hump that processes solar energy into medicinal properties – go figure). Cow dung is also valuable as an exceptionally efficient fertilizer and fuel; in India people keep giant mounds of dung patties for just such purposes.

And while the family that runs the farm maintains a vegan diet when there are no cows with calves (most of the cows are retired and beyond calving age), they accept the milk the cows offer when they do have calves. That’s the only source of milk they will accept because it’s impossible to get cruelty-free milk products any other way; all the dairy products that we find in stores comes from cows who are destined for the slaughterhouse as soon as they aren’t producing milk, and in the vast majority of cases the cows are obliged to produce milk artificially and in unnatural quantities under horrible conditions before they are killed.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be like this. And it shouldn’t. A cow naturally produces way more milk than her calves can or should consume. And if you treat a cow like a member of your family then she will consider you a member of her family; giving milk is one way a cow reciprocates love. And, not so incidentally, cow’s milk contains every nutrient human beings require for physical development, mental health, and spiritual well-being. I’m obliged to admit my own short-comings on this point: my attachment to consuming milk products places me in the category of a low dairy-footprint vegetarian rather than a full-out vegan, but it’s something I’m working on and aspire to until such time as acquiring cruelty-free dairy products is possible. There are a few other spiritual farm communities such as Gita Nagari in Pennsylvania where one can get milk from cows that are loved and protected, but such places are all too rare.

A hardcore vegan activist would probably still object, saying that taking milk from a cow or training oxen to plow a field (instead of using an oil powered, pollution spewing tractor) is exploitation and slavery. I disagree and so does yoga scripture: krsi-go-raksya vaijyam – vaisya-karma svabhava-jam; “The duty of the mercantile community is agriculture and cow protection.” (Bhagavad-gita 18.44). According to Vedas the Cow has a special position within the human society; She has the status of our mother. No society can boast of civilization without proper protection of cows. And protection is not passive; it’s an active occupation based on a relationship of love. And from that relationship all other elements of economic and social stability arise:

“According to Vedic economics, one is considered to be a rich man by the strength of his store of grains and cows. With only these two things, cows and grain, humanity can solve its eating problem. Human society needs only sufficient grain and sufficient cows to solve its economic problems. All other things but these two are artificial necessities created by man to kill his valuable life at the human level and waste his time in things which are not needed.” – A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

One Comment

  1. Tulasi-priya
    Posted June 29, 2010 at 10:18 PM | Permalink | Reply

    One other thing to consider about cows (or rather, bulls): They are the foundation of a non-petroleum-based economy. Without the help of bovines, you can sustain only the most rudimentary agriculture, on the level of the most primitive stages of human evolution. With cows and bulls, you are able to maintain a healthy balance between sustainability and prosperity. Bovine-based economics, or cow protection, allows for the flourishing of culture, art, and sane spirituality, while placing natural limits on consumption and production.

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