The Independent -- 11 December 2010
A good life makes for happy cows at Hare Krishna farm
Milked by hand, allowed to breed naturally and free from the
threat of slaughter, the cows at Gokul farm near London could
be possibly the happiest in Britain. The 44 animals are owned
by a community of Hare Krishnas, who live on the site at
Aldenham bequeathed by Beatles guitarist George Harrison.
As believers of a branch of Hinduism, the Hare Krishnas view
cows as sacred and treat them with respect, milking them by
hand for the animals' comfort and allowing them to calve less
intensively than in industrial farms. Crucially, the community
members are also vegetarian, guaranteeing that the cows are at
no risk of slaughter.
"They are very sensitive animals. It's like if you have a dog
- how you feel, the dog senses that," said Shyamasundara Das,
the head of the farm at Aldenham. Here, because we have an
atmosphere of cow care, the animals themselves are a lot more
peaceful and tranquil, and maybe it's also because there is no
sense that they are going to be killed by us."
Despite occasional massages, careful milking twice a day, and
the spacious living quarters - the community has recently
installed new cowsheds in French oak - the farm is not the
bovine equivalent of a five-star hotel. The cattle pay their
way by pulling carts to take groups of school children or
young families around the farm, as well as powering a
traditional mill to grind the cereal that feeds the cows.
The farm is built next to the Bhaktivedanta Manor, which
Harrison donated to the Hare Krishna movement in the early
1970s and is now their British base. The presence of the
sacred cows adds a spiritual element and brings the community
closer to the Hindu ideal of a simple life in harmony with
"Krishna is always seen surrounded by cows. He was a cow herd
boy 5,000 years ago in India," said Kripamoya Das, a Hare
Krishna priest. There is also a more practical link between
the believers and the cows. The flowers used to decorate
statues in the temple next to the manor, where barefoot
believers pray morning, noon and night, are fed to the cows
once they begin to droop, as a thank you for all their hard
Although their humane approach means that calves are allowed
to continue suckling their mothers' milk for far longer than
in industrial farms, the cows at Gokul still produce a large
amount of milk. At the moment this is drunk only by the
community at Aldenham, but Shyamasundara Das is keen to begin
selling it the world outside.
However, the cost of such a feel-good product is a barrier.
The milk currently costs about three pounds (3.5 euros, 4.7
dollars) a litre and, pending the approval of regulators,
would be sold at a hefty 3.5 pounds a litre, making it perhaps
the most expensive cow's milk in Europe. And is it any better
than normal milk?
Mark Gardener, a vet who regularly visits Gokul farm, won't
say either way - although he is confident that the cows here
are likely to be happier. "Normally in a dairy farm each cow
has to justify his position" by having calves every few months
or producing sufficient milk, and if they don't they will be
sent to slaughter, he said. "Whereas here the cows aren't
under that pressure."