It must be -10 ᵒC here at the moment. My legs were getting colder and colder on my brisk early morning walk to the cow shed, despite base layers and thick flannel lined jeans. I knew I’d warm up shortly when I snuggled into the side of Jamuna, the Brown Swiss cow I would be hand milking this morning.
They have six milking cows here at New Vrindaban and they are beautiful, healthy and happy cows. The couple who care for them have only been doing it for a year or so now and we’ve been pleased to be able to share knowledge with them from our experiences over the last few years. I surprised myself with how much I knew about health matters and calving issues, albeit a lot of theory. I’m also very interested in their dairy management as I harbour an ambition to be self sufficient for our own dairy products one day in the future, when the children are quite a bit older.
The calves are allowed to feed from the mothers for six months but are restricted to a quarter (of her udder) twice a day and the remaining milk is taken for human consumption. They pasteurise the milk and make yoghurt, butter and other dairy products from them. As dairy consumption goes this really is as good as it gets. There is of course still the little matter of the off spring.
The International Society for Cow Protection is based here also and in many ways this is contrary to the production of any dairy for human consumption. They rescue dairy cows who are considered under par for production figures and they also take calves who would otherwise be culled. The cows are then allowed to live out calm, happy lives at the sanctuary. They train steers (castrated males) to work on the land, pulling equipment and so on showing the uses of cattle beyond milk and meat. It’s a fantastic use for strong cattle like these but obviously wouldn’t be a sustainable or effective use for standard dairy cattle offspring, bred purely for big udders.
Rob and I were very interested in the cleverly designed barn system for the cows during the winter. Built on a hill, the human entrance onto elevated platforms allows for the rolling out of a big bale of hay right in front of the cows without any big equipment for handling the bales (If you’re not of a farming background you may well be a little lost by now… sorry about that – we love a good barn, particularly those designed for maximum efficiency).
We will be moving on from New Vrindaban today and, much to the disappointment of many of our friends back home, we have not converted to Krishna Consciousness and will not become vegetarians just yet – we remain meat eating atheists. But we have gained a wonderful insight into this fascinating culture and peaceful lifestyle as well as the dynamics of community living and working. The food here has been fantastic and we will certainly be eating far less meat on our travels then we do at home. Our time here has however reconnected us with why we got into farming and the appeal for us to eat only our home produced products and wild meats. Long term I would like to avoid the dairy industry and have my own cow for milk, the calves would become meat though as I feel that this is a by product that dairy consumers need to understand and accept. A “ethically motivated” vegetarian diet consuming dairy products surely has to be the most hypocritical of all diets on any scale other than this – meat is inevitable where there is dairy. Personally, if I gave up meat I would have also to also give up dairy and I am not ready to do that just yet – I will endeavour to reduce my dairy consumption though.
Alfie spent three days at the school here and loved it. We felt so proud of him going on into a brand new classroom with children he’s never met before. As Rob said “I wouldn’t have done that at his age… I’d have just cried!”. Alfie just walked on in, found a spot in the circle of children, picked up an instrument and joined in the morning chanting. This experience will have far surpassed any sort of classroom based religious education he could have got back at home and has given him insight into another culture and lifestyle.
The wildlife watching here is easy and enjoyable for the children too as deer are wandering peacefully along the roads. We even spotted the local white deer yesterday.
But it’s time to move on now. We are not sure where we are going just yet as a lack of internet access has meant we can’t plan anything but we are going to head towards the Shenandoah National Park and hopefully find a cabin where we can have campfires and chill out for a few days.
I would just like to take a moment to big up our local vets back home… I hadn’t quite appreciated just how valuable it is to have such excellent vets so close to hand. The farm here has NO large animal vet in the area – the herdsmen are all on their own. Pelyn Vets (now Kernow Farm & Equine Vets) have always been so helpful for us and taken time so I could learn from them about any problems we’ve had. Without them so close to hand I’m not sure my nerves could have coped with the responsibility of farming, particularly when learning on the job! They have run excellent training courses for smallholders in the area and have always come quickly in emergencies. I’ve learned a lot from books I’ve read, my own experience and from other farmers but by far the most I have learned has been from the vets at Pelyn. I hadn’t realised quite how much I knew and it was great that I was able to share some of that with the couple here, from discussing worm burdens to manipulating a mal-presenting calf as well as the importance of the colostrum for ruminants, appropriate antibiotic use after calving and lots more. Amy Jones and Cathal O’Sé… you’d have been proud of me!