Tag Archives: home education

Moo-ving on


It must be -10 C 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.


A happy Brown Swiss cow at New Vrindaban.

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 like vintage equipment too!

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!  


A log cabin on site at New Vrindaban, built by one of the original settlers to the area 200ish years ago!

The Children of Men Effect


It’s a bit of a mixed bag here to be honest. There are some great aspects to wwoofing here at New Vrindaban, such as the fantastic Indian food, the diverse wildlife and the fact that Alfie has learned to milk a cow, which he is absolutely thrilled about! Rob is enjoying some basic tree work and we are meeting some lovely interesting people from diverse walks of life. It’s great to be around livestock again and the cows here are lovely gentle creatures.


Rob milking cows at New Vrindaban


Kids helping with wwoof work


Rob climbing

But then there are less good aspects. Namely the lack of welcome for the children. Some people here are delighted to have children around but others are not. I am a fairly heavy critic of my own children, and I’ll admit that their behaviour since we left home has been pretty darn challenging, probably due to feeling a bit displaced. But since we arrived at New Vrindaban they’ve settled right down and actually been really good kids; polite, calm, quiet and generally well behaved. I’ve felt really proud of them and am really enjoying spending so much intense time with them – it fills me with optimism for the rest of the journey.


Orla is all about holding Patrick’s hand at the moment!

But it seems it’s not enough for some of the people here who don’t like any noise at all, not even happy, helpful noise. Yesterday morning I managed to conduct a wwoof task with the children as instructed by the gentleman guiding us and I thought we did a great job watering the plants, we didn’t make any mess or damage any pots or plants, the kids worked co-operatively and got on with the task until it was finished. I was really pleased… others were not. It seems we made too much noise (really? You thought that was loud?) and went just inside an area where children are not allowed (as instructed to in order to fill the watering cans). When I was quietly informed of this at lunch time I felt a mixture of embarrassment for being “told off” and disappointment as I thought we had done a great job. But mainly I felt a sadness for this community.

There is a serious lack of children here and it is stark. Children are vital for a community (and a religion) to thrive and continue… what is the point of this place unless young blood comes through to continue it – it’s not an old peoples home, it’s a religious community. And it hasn’t always been this way. We’ve met people our age who grew up here and have continued to live near by with their own children. The school at one time had 200 pupils… it now has 5. Alfie went along today for the day but Patrick was sadly deemed too young. Until school this morning we hadn’t met any of the 5 other children who live here yet… we never see them despite communal meals. Alfie loved school today but a school classroom is very different to having time to just play with other children.


Boys watching daddy work

I expressed these concerns over lunch, after the “telling off” with some older ladies I am comfortable with and have had children of their own. One of them, who has lived in the community for many years, admitted being nervous of bringing her young grandaughter to visit in case of complaint from others. With worries like that about children visiting for the day it’s unlikely anyone with children would live here for long. Without children how long can any community (or religion) survive?

So what for us? Well we’ve been keeping the children impressively quiet for days now and keep discussing whether or not we should head on. On the one hand it would be easy enough to pack up and press on, but on the other hand we are comfortable, well fed and enjoying aspects of the work and community. We will be sticking it out as the experience we are gaining is greater than the frustrating bits. The nice and interesting people we are meeting make up for the moaners and honestly the food is great!

*ps. One other aspect I am struggling with is that the wifi in the communal area is turned off at 7pm which means I am limited to brief moments of internet on my phone around mealtimes whilst trying to keep the kids quiet in the communal areas. It allows for quickly posting pre-written posts but I’m sorry if I haven’t replied to comments or on Facebook. It’s also making researching and planning our next leg a little tricky!


Spot the baby 🙂


Learning to use binoculars at Attenborough Nature Reserve


It was a proud day for Rob and I – taking our boys to Attenborough Nature Reserve in Nottingham to teach them to use their binoculars and the basics of bird identification.

The last time we visited the reserve was before we got married and long before the children arrived. We used to go to Attenborough often as it is a particularly good reserve for wetland birds and was on our Nottinghamshire doorstep before we moved to Cornwall. We have missed the days of easy bird watching where you can just pick up your coat, binoculars and scope and head on out. Those of you with children will appreciate the mammoth task of simply getting three little ones out the door, let alone being prepared for quiet time in hides and long walks along muddy paths.

Keeping quiet is important and a major reason we haven’t taken them before now. It’s not easy for kids to keep quiet and other bird watchers don’t appreciate it if your kids scare all the birds away! Luckily we didn’t have Orla with us (she was at home with Grannie).

Learning to use binoculars is no easy feat for adults or children as it takes practice to continue to look at the desired bird/animal etc. whilst bringing your binoculars to your eyes. Scanning around with them is even harder. So we were pretty impressed with how easily they both picked it up. I had imagined more frustration for them trying to focus and keeping them still. Patrick successfully focused on a moor hen and identified it from the field guide by looking at the colour on it’s head, bill, legs, wings and tail. Alfie identified a coot. We also saw lovely tufted ducks (pictured above) and great crested grebes as well as cormorants, Egyptian geese, pochard and a redwing amongst plenty more.


Alfie mastering his binoculars at Attenborough Nature Reserve

Although they did well and showed perseverance with the binoculars and prolonged interest in identification, they are just five and three years old and it did occur to us that our wildlife spotting and bird watching are going to be significantly limited to short bursts when we reach the states. An hour is about absolute tops… but that’s fine… we are a family and a team, and a team travels at the pace of it’s slowest member. We can work around the challenges by taking it in turns with one child each and other techniques for dividing and conquering. Mixing activities up helps too… Alfie found some big dog prints and tracked them along the path for a bit!

The visitor centre at Attenborough is really good too. In addition to a shop supplying all your birdwatching needs there is a children’s learning area which is engaging and interesting. The boys enjoyed the interactive activities and we bought activity sheets for them to do as well.


Patrick at one with the geese… I swear he can converse with animals!

Wetland reserves like Attenborough are great places to ignite an interest in nature and wildlife as they are generally accessible with good paths and flat terrain and the birds there are so interesting. Wetland birds are great ones for amateurs to start with as they are all pretty distinctive and interesting looking, easy to spot on the water and a good size. The boys were both full of enthusiasm and chatter about the birds and binoculars on the way back to Derby.

Attenborough Nature Reserve is open daily from 7am until dusk and the visitor centre is open 9am-4pm daily. Parking is £1.50 donation for upkeep and there is good public transport links to the reserve.


Black headed gull (in winter)