Needs to Evolve
COW PROTECTION is something which is held in the highest regard within the ISKCON ranks; yet, often misunderstood in its practical application. One suspect is the lack of understanding of the oxen and cows' place within an agricultural ecosystem. If rural development is to evolve, changes must be made in this regard.
Cows are a beneficial and essential component of sustainable farming. They force a broadening of crops to include grain, hay and pasture – all important constituents of sustainable food production.
The herd’s traditional contributions are milk and draft. Our movement has excelled, at least in the short to medium term, on producing milk. But milk supply is not the only component of cow protection. The challenge encountered -- concerning "protected" milk -- has been with herd size expanding beyond the carrying capacity of available farmland. This has resulted in the eventual dwarfing and demise of many rural projects.
Draft is the unwritten chapter. Somehow or other, cow protection has been disconnected from agriculture and ox-power. This divide needs to be corrected if Srila Prabhupada’s goal of rural independence is to evolve.
In 1975, His Divine Grace toured the New Talavan Farm and left important instructions to his society on cow protection. Sadly, these directives have not yet been widely implemented.
During this tour, Srila Prabhupada noticed that farmland was dominated by the herd. He remarked:
Prabhupāda: They will grow, and they will eat. Rather, they will help you for your eating. The father also eats, but he maintains the family. Therefore the bull is considered as father and the cow as mother. Mother gives milk, and the bull grows food grains for man. Therefore Caitanya Mahāprabhu first challenged that Kazi that “What is your religion, that you eat your father and mother?” Both the bulls and the cows are important because the bull will produce food grain and the cow will give supply milk. They should be utilized properly. That is human intelligence.
Prabhupada’s comment “They will grow, and they will eat” refers to how some non-devotee farmers dedicate their land exclusively to cows since they will eventually slaughter, eat, or sell the animals, an option unacceptable to vaisnavas…
Prabhupāda: So everything is for the animals. Nothing for the man?
Nityānanda: The cows give us milk.
Prabhupāda: That’s all? And you are not growing any food grains? Why?…
Prabhupāda: ...And everything for the cows, but what for the man? They will give everything for cows because they will eat cows, other farmers. But you utilize the animals for growing your food.
Brahmānanda: The idea is we should maintain the animals, but then the animals should provide foodstuffs for the men.
Brahmānanda: And that way there is cooperation.
Prabhupāda: Yes. The animals, bulls, should have helped… instead of that machine. Then it is properly utilized. And others, they cannot utilize these animals. Therefore, what they will do? Naturally they will send to slaughterhouse. But we are not going to send to the slaughterhouse. Then what we will do? They must be utilized. Otherwise simply for growing food that the cows and bulls we engage ourself? You are already feeling burden because there are so many bull calves. You were asking me, “What we shall do with so many bulls?”
Nityānanda: Well, when they grow up we will train them as oxen.
Prabhupāda: No, what the oxen will do?
Nityānanda: Plow the fields.
Prabhupāda: Yes. That is wanted. Transport, plowing fields. That is wanted. And unless our men are trained up, Kṛṣṇa conscious, they will think, “What is the use of taking care of the plows (cows)? Better go to the city, earn money and eat them.”
(New Orleans, August 1, 1975; Walk Around New Tālavana Farm)
Regrettably, there have been unfortunate occurrences regarding the fate of cows and bulls within the history of the movement. One underlying cause is that the cow program is divorced from other aspects of farm development, such as grain culture and ox power.
Part of the dilemma rests in that there is a shortage of farming knowledge within our ranks. Srila Prabhupada teaches that traditionally the knowledge of the vaisya varna is spread primarily from father to son. Farming is very practical and best learned hands-on. Unfortunately, due to lack of farming success within ISKCON, this has been a difficult example to emulate.
So, if we are to advance in this regard, there needs to be a practical understanding of farm ecology, crop rotation, composting, animal husbandry, rotational grazing, soil science, gardening, tillage and Permaculture. In a nutshell, these are vital components of simple living.
Cows, cows, cows is not the answer. They are undeniably an essential cornerstone of a successful agrarian program, but their role must be found within the broader perspective of rural development. The lack of emphasis on oxen and agriculture in ISKCON, has led to the misconception that cow orphanages and pet cows are the sole goals of cow protection.
Oxen-based agriculture is revolutionary, as it rips apart current society’s urban social structure, resulting in a repopulation of the countryside. This, coupled with an inter-dependence of spirituality and Krishna conscious culture, will be a practical example of Srila Prabhupada's genius. Ox-power forces society to slow down and re-evaluate. No longer will 1.5 to 2% of the population be dedicated to mass producing food.
The result will be quality over quantity and spirituality over materialism. In a nutshell, simple living, high thinking.
"Whatever action a great man performs, common men follow. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues."