I raised the issue of the ethics of dairy farming in the last post. I came down in favour of farms like Gazegill near Clitheroe, but as several respondents pointed out, there is still some practice which might be better avoided if possible. So, how about slaughter free dairy farming? Ahimsa Dairy Foundation is an operation set up to achieve such by Nicola Pazdzierska and Sanjay Tanna.
The inspiration behind the Foundation comes from the farm at Bhaktivedanta Manor, UK home of the Hare Krishna movement and which runs a unique experiment into what happens when dairy cows and their offspring are allowed to live productive lives instead of being exploited and sacrificed in the name of cheap milk. The mission at Ahimsa is to make slaughter-free milk a reality and establish such dairy farms, in Britain, which give people a real ethical choice.
No cow, calf or bull in our herd is ever be killed and all are allowed to live out their lives in their natural span. Cows are retired to sanctuaries when they are too old to milk and the bulls at present lead a life of leisure eating grass – though Ahimsa is looking at a variety of ways of working with bulls such as ploughing the land, producing electricity or milling flour.
The protocol for the operation involves having the cows pregnant every two to four years, but managing the milking – which is done by hand – so that the cows are maintained in lactation for the whole of that period. With the life span of a cow of around 20 years, this protocol does provide the basis for stable herd numbers – providing the average ratio of male to female calves is achieved – with eventually an equilibrium being reached where each new calf fills a gap made by one which has died at the natural span of its life.
It is an extraordinary ambitious project, though I have to admit to personally being somewhat queasy with the idea of drinking milk from a cow that had been kept lactating even though not pregnant for up to four years. Don’t know why. Seems a bizarre response when at the same time the bar for compassionate dairy farming has been raised so significantly. Complex issues, complex minds!
At the time of my visit the girls bit of the operation, which produces around 23,000 of litres of milk a year, was based in Kent from where Ahimsa distribute to the door in North West London and parts of Hertfordshire. However, the Foundation has plans to move north to Leicester and my visit to Ahimsa was to a Leicester site where I received a guided tour and an introduction to the boys from Govinda Das, the herdsman who had moved over from Hungary where he ran a slaughter free dairy herd! Take a look at the pictures, Govinda is a burly guy, a good six foot high, but he struggles to rest his arm across the back of several of the guys! Quite an experience walking through a field with not one bull in but a whole herd…and being able to look each one in the eye!!
PS At the time of writing the girls bit of the operation had moved from Kent to a temporary site further north and the Foundation hopes to move both boys and girls all on to a permanent site later in the year.
To see more about Ahimsa Dairy Foundation see the Foundation website
Interesting although as a former dairy farmer I am struggling with some of the ideas! why don’t the cows have a calf every year as cows naturally do? or is it because they don’t have room for all the calves?
Are the bulls castrated? (bulls and cows Walter!!)
How much is the milk sold for?
Are the workers all volunteers or are wages paid?
10 years doesn’t seem old for a natural life span, half my herd is older than that with the oldest at 20 in calf again.
At some point they are going to run out of homes for them to retire to cows aren’t cheap to keep.
Ten years is an error. It should read 20. Oxen are castrated. Workers are paid, although we hope to have some volunteers to help with some tasks. Pregnancies are every two to four years to put less stress on the cow and manage herd size. Milk sell for £2:25 a litre, although this is likely to rise
* Typo of ’10’ now corrected to ’20’! Apologies