Chakra Living

Improving Our Cow Protection Programs

by Hare Krsna devi dasi

Posted January 30, 2003

Abstract: Appalled by modern dairy practices, devotees struggle with the question of whether to be vegetarian or vegan. But neither dietary style -- by itself -- fulfills the needed spiritual dimension of actually protecting cows. For that, both must turn to cow protection programs. But many of these are poorly managed and inadequate. Can donors make a difference? The answer is yes -- by understanding basic cow protection guidelines and linking funding increases to program improvements.

Devotees in the Gaudiya Brahma sampradaya acknowledge Lord Brahma, the first created being in this universe as the head of our line of disciplic succession, thousands of years ago. The very first spiritual instruction that we receive from the founder of our line indicates that the Supreme Lord loves the cows: "Govindam adi purusam," meaning that the Original Person can be called Govinda or "One who pleases the cows." Govinda, of course, is another name for Krsna.

The Supreme Lord loves the cows, and somehow or other He has arranged things so that human beings can progress in their spiritual understanding of Him and in their love of Him by protecting the cows. Srila Prabhupada notes that the bull and cow are father and mother of humanity, "The bull helps in the agricultural process of producing grain, etc., and thus in one sense the bull is the father of humankind, whereas the cow is the mother, for she supplies milk to human society. (Srimad Bhagavatam 3.5.7) Prabhupada calls the protection of the cows and the brahmanas "the two pillars of spiritual advancement." (SB 1.17.20) He states that, "One cannot become spiritually advanced without acquiring the brahminical qualifications and giving protection to cows." (SB 6.18.52)


Thus, all devotees recognize the important role of milk in a natural diet. On the spiritual side, we have the example of the Supreme Lord Himself as a transcendental cowherd boy in Vrndavana, who delights in many milk preparations offered by His mother and Srimati Radharani and the devotees. On the practical side, Srila Prabhupada informs us that, "The body can be maintained by any kind of foodstuff, but cow's milk is particularly essential for developing the finer tissues of the human brain so that one can understand the intricacies of transcendental knowledge." (SB 3.5.7 Purport)

From the point of view of anthropology, there is good reason why we see no examples of vegan society in any historic culture. Nutritionists inform us that nerve cells, including those that make up the brain, require vitamin B12 or cobalimin, which is naturally found only in meat and milk. "In adults typical deficiency symptoms include loss of energy, tingling, numbness, reduced sensitivity to pain or pressure, blurred vision, abnormal gait, sore tongue, poor memory, confusion, hallucinations and personality changes. [These symptoms may take years to develop.] Infants typically show more rapid onset of symptoms than adults. B12 deficiency may lead to loss of energy and appetite and failure to thrive. If not promptly corrected this can progress to coma or death." (Vegan Society website) Thus, from the physiological standpoint, before the modern age, it was not possible to have a vegan society, since its members could not survive for any length of time. The natural diet of any non-violent society, which did not kill animals, would have had to include milk.

However, some devotees nowadays point to the modern dairy industry, whether in the West or in India, and recoil at the violent treatment of cows and bulls. The way we get our milk is no longer natural. On one hand technological advances have created large-scale dairy operations with terrible conditions for cows and bulls, but on the positive side, technological advances have also created advances in the artificial formulation of nutritional supplements, so that the critical vitamin B12 component can now be provided by yeast-based products. Thus, rather than drink milk, some devotees become vegans.

On the other hand, many other devotees, though uncomfortable about the inhumane aspects of both modern and traditional dairies around the world, have made the decision to continue to offer Krsna milk products. They note that Srila Prabhupada allowed devotees to offer commercial milk products to the Deities. In addition, due to their economic or family situation or remoteness from sophisticated urban markets, many find it simply impossible to meet the nutritional needs of their families -- for calcium, proteins, B vitamins, vitamin D, etc. -- without using milk. They avoid the most unhealthy aspects of modern milk products by using products containing less fat, using yogurt and other cultured preparations which do not cause lactose intolerance reaction, and avoiding the use of cold milk, which can be digested only by people of nothern European genetic make-up.

In addition, this latter group points to Krsna's liberation of the demoness Putana (SB 10.6; Krsna Book 6). Although her intent was to kill Krsna by offering Him her poisoned breast milk, Krsna accepted the milk and liberated her from all her sinful reactions. Because He accepted her milk, He accepted her as mother. If Krsna could be so merciful to the evil Putana, then surely He cannot fail to be merciful to the cows, who are offering Him their milk with no tinge of animosity.

Which group is right? It is difficult to make a judgement in answer that question. It seems that both groups should be respected. But at this point of the analysis, it is crucial to note that the element that is missing from either group is actual cow protection. Simply to be a vegetarian does not protect cows -- but simply to be a vegan does not protect cows either. And without that element, spiritual growth will be stunted.

In a recent Chakra article, "What Is the Cost of Milk?" Prema Bhakti dasa and his wife Tapati dasi suggest the beginning of a solution of how work towards offering to Krsna milk that comes from protected cows. They propose that devotees who drink milk should observe a self-imposed "cow protection tax" on all the milk they drink. For example, if the cost of milk from protected cows would be $5.00 per gallon, and the milk they buy in the store is $2.00 per gallon. They would use the difference of $3.00 per gallon as a "cow protection tax." If they used 12 gallons of milk per month, they would donate $36.00 per month to the cow protection program of their choice.

This way, when they offer milk to Krsna, they know that despite their awkward circumstances, the Lord can understand that their desire is to protect His cows and to eventually be able to offer Him actual milk from protected cows, as well as grains produced by protected oxen. Coming from their somewhat different perspective, vegan devotees could maintain a similar practice of participation in cow protection programs.

This could be the beginning of a solution to the dilemma of how to offer Krsna milk from protected cows and grains produced by protected oxen, in the modern context.

But, for such a program to be successful, much depends on the integrity and competence of the cow protection program. And, sad to say, around the world, within ISKCON and outside of it, there are numerous so-called cow protection programs, goshallas and pinjrapols (homes for retired cows) where the level of protection is inadequate. One might say that the solution is to support only well-organized programs, and withdraw support from those which are inadequate. But the fact is that very, very few are well organized -- and by withdrawing support from poorly organized programs, it means that the cows there will suffer even more.

So, how can inadequate programs be encouraged to improve? Surprisingly, donors to these programs can play an important role in upgrading the quality of programs. They can do this by showing that the level of donation they give hinges directly on seeing (1)progress in the quality of care provided to cows, (2)conscientious accounting and handling of funds, (3)a commitment to providing good training and fair compensation for cowherds, and (4)opportunities for donor input and participation.

Under the auspices of ISKCON's Ministry for Cow Protection and Agriculture, devotee cowherds around the world have formulated ISKCON's Minimum Standards for Cow Protection. These standards, which are available on the ISCOWP website (also on Chakra), are the basis of ISKCON's Law 507, which provides for the protection of cows and oxen. They contain many specific guidelines for proper care of animals, which can be applied even to organizations outside ISKCON. Donors to any cow protection agency would do well to read over the guidelines, but here are some important ones. After familiarizing themselves with these guidelines, donors can communicate to the cow protection agency their willingness to increase their level of support as different milestones of improvement are certifiably reached.

The word "Cows" in the text below includes cows, bulls, oxen (bullocks) and calves -- unless otherwise indicated. This was Srila Prabhupada's understanding also:

Prabhupada: The duty of the agriculturist is to give very careful protection to the cows especially.
C. Hennis: This doesn't apply to bulls and bullocks and male animals generally, does it?
Prabhupada: No, bullocks also. Cow means bullock also...Cow is feminine, bullock is the masculine, that's all.
C. Hennis: So it's the whole bovine race that's protected, and not just the female cows?
Prabhupada: No, both the male and female. The bullocks are used for so many other purposes. They can till the field. They can be used for transportation, so many other purposes. Or even we are using them to spread Krsna consciousness. During Krsna's time... Krsna was born of a very well to do father, but at that time the bullocks were engaged for transportation from one village to another. (Geneva, 31 May 1974)

Following are guidelines for developing good cow protection.


1. The entire herd should be counted daily. This principle was established by Lord Krsna Himself. Srila Jiva Gosvami recounts, "When Krsna calls out 'Hey Dhavali (the name of a white cow),' a whole group of white cows come forward, and when He calls 'Hamsi, Candani, Ganga, Mukta and so on, the twenty-four other groups of white cows come... Thus being called by name, the cows are coming forward, and Krsna, thinking that when it is time to bring them back from the forest none should be forgotten, is counting them on His jewel-beads." (cited Srimad Bhagavatam 10.35.18-19) Daily counting is a safeguard to protect cows that may be lost, injured or even stolen.

2. Every cow should have a name. This principle was also established by Krsna. As Srila Prabhupada describes, "The cows, oh, as soon as they see Krsna, they become... They lick up His face and body, and every cow has got a different name. As soon as He will call, the cow will come immediately and dropping milk." (Lecture - New York, 5 Dec 1966) Unless every cow has a name, it will not be possible to be sure they are all cared for properly.

3. Records should be kept with the name, sex, date of birth of each cow. When a cow or calf dies, the cause of death and date of death should be recorded. Annual records should be provided to members each year.

4. Calf mortality should be less than 10%. In the absence of proper records, this can be determined retroactively by seeing how many cows have been milking in the last 2 3 years and determining how many of their calves are still alive.

5. Analyzed by sex, the herd should be approximately 50% cows, 50% bulls or oxen. If there are far more females than males, it is usually a sign of a discrepancy - either in the organization's incomplete understanding of cow protection, or in substandard protection for bull calves.

6. Any cow who has taken shelter on Krsna's land or in Krsna's temple should never be subsequently sold, traded, given away or killed. A cow protection program should not participate in grazing beef cows destined for slaughter on its land. No temple should practice "borrowing" a bull calf from a commercial dairy and then returning it after a ceremony (such as Govardhana Puja), since that means the animal will eventually be killed.


7. No cow should be bred for milk production alone, without plans for the resulting calf. No cow should be bred unless there is a clear and concrete plan for the care of the calf for its entire life, which may be 10-20 years. This means there must be adequate land, adequate funding and adequate trained personnel to care for the resulting calf.

8. Cows should not be acquired based on sentiment alone. A goshalla should not allow itself to be exploited by those who "donate" animals with mixed motives. Teijas dasa recounted that Srila Prabhupada did not want devotees to accept cows just because someone wanted to give them away, "Prabhupada told us not to take any more donations of cows unless the person gave a donation of 5,000 rupees to cover the maintenance of the cow. He said, 'Our business is not to take old cows.' You know, they have a good sentiment plus an ulterior motive mixed together. Sentiment plus some motive. So it doesn't come out to be the varnasrama system." (ISKCON Farm Newsletter Vol. 2, No. 1, 1983) A responsible goshalla should not accept more animals than it can care for, simply out of sentiment.

9. Milking should be a pleasurable experience for the cow. "The milk bag was so fatty and full with milk. Why? Muda - they were so happy. They were so happy. So if you keep the cows happy, then cow will supply large quantity of milk. " (Lecture SB 1.10.4, London 25 Nov 1973) No painful or unhealthy method should be used to stimulate milk production.

10. Milk production should not be developed primarily as a profit-making venture. "You say we must have a gosala trust, that is our real purpose. krsi-goraksya-vanijyam vaisya karma svabhava-jam, [Bg 18.44]. Where there is agriculture there must be cows. That is our mission: Cow protection and agriculture and if there is excess, trade. This is a no-profit scheme. For the agriculture we want to produce our own food and we want to keep cows for our own milk. The whole idea is that we are Iskcon, a community to be independent from outside help. This farm project is especially for the devotees to grow their own food. Cotton also, to make their own clothes. And keeping cows for milk and fatty products. Our mission is to protect our devotees from unnecessary heavy work to save time for advancing in Krsna consciousness. This is our mission. So there is no question of profit, but if easily there are surplus products, then we can think of trading. Otherwise we have no such intention. " (Letter to Yasomatinandana -- Vrindavan 28 Nov 1976)


11. In general, all bull calves should be trained to work. As Srila Prabhupada stated to Teijas dasa at ISKCON's Hyderbad farm in the 1970's, "If you do not use the bulls for plowing, one day you will say, let us cut their throats." (ISKCON Farm Newsletter Vol. 2, No. 1, 1983)

12. No ox should be overworked or worked by force only. Overworking and working by force develops when there is no obvious personal relationship between the ox and the teamster. Excessive use of whips, beating, rough treatment, and violence to the oxen are not acceptable. A properly treated ox will not shy away from his master. Rather he will approach the master, expecting kind treatment and affection. Examples of instructions for relationship-based training of oxen are available at ISCOWP's website.

13. In general, bull calves should be castrated by the time they are 1 year old, or whatever age is appropriate for that breed. This can be done with minimum discomfort by using a bloodless emasculator or burdizzo, which only pinches the semen tubes to achieve sterilization. The presence of a bull often leads unplanned breeding, expanding the herd beyond the carrying capacity of the land, and beyond the ability of the manpower to care for it. A bull can also create unexpected danger to the public or inexperienced cowherds. A bull should be kept only where there is a willing and experienced cowherd, of proven stability, with ample funding, time and facility to care for him properly.


14. The cows' living conditions should be clean and comfortable. Animals can be brushed so their coat is clean and healthy. "Krsna's pastimes in Gokula, His dhama, are always favorable to the brahmanas and the cows. His first business is to give all comfort to the cows and the brahmanas. In fact, comfort for the brahmanas is secondary, and comfort for the cows is His first concern." (SB 10.8.16 Purport)

"While engaged in talking about New Vrindaban during Prabhupada's massage yesterday, I mentioned how we used to do cow aratis. At that point Prabhupada frowned. I asked if they were okay to do, and he said no. I asked if there was anything special to do for the cows. He said keep them clean, brush them nicely, bathe them, and also you can polish their horns and hooves." (Prabhupada Nectar, Vol. 4, by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, p. 11, excerpt from a letter from Srutakirti dasa to Kirtananda Swami, September 27, 1972)

15. All cows should have adequate shelter. Adequate shelter (not overcrowded) with fresh air and access to sunlight should be available to all cows. In hot weather, cows should be provided with shade and adequate water. "Thereafter, all the cows entered their different sheds and began mooing loudly, calling for their respective calves. When the calves arrived, the mothers began licking the calves' bodies again and again and profusely feeding them with the milk flowing from their milk bags. " (SB 10.13.24)

16. Adequate fencing should be maintained. Krsna and Balarama personally supervised Their cows throughout the day. But if such constant supervision is not available, it is essential to provide fencing for the cows. Well maintained fencing is necessary to keep cows away from areas where they could be injured or lost or even captured and sold to slaughter. Good fencing prevents unplanned breeding with neighbors' bulls. Krsna and Balarama took Their cows to a new pasture every day. Similarly, by using suitably designed temporary fencing, it is possible to improve pasture quality and nutrition by implementing rotational grazing (as described on the Hare Krsna Rural Life website ).

17. Cows must be provided sufficient grazing opportunity. And, as stated by Bhismadeva in the Mahabharata, no cow should be kept always tethered.

18. The program should maintain adequate pasture for animals. Generally the minimum would be at least 1/2 acre (1/4 hectare) per animal, preferably 1 acre per animal. Ideally this land should be protected by a goshalla trust so it cannot be sold for so-called "development." Prabhupada emphasized the importance of adequate grazing ground, "For the proper pursuit of human happiness, there must be arrangements for the protection of cows. This means that there must be forests and adequate pasturing grounds full of grass and water." (SB 10.5.26) Not only are the cows made happy by such arrangements, but the minds of human beings are pacified simply by living in such environment.

19. Cows should be sufficiently well fed. "Vaisya's business is to give protection to the cows, not to send them to the slaughterhouse - to see the cows are very well-fed, they are fatty, strong, that they must be given food, sufficient food. " (Bhagavad-gita 4.2 lecture - Bombay 22 March 1974)

20. Ideally, feed for the cows should be grown on site, not purchased from outside. Srila Prabhupada stated, "We must be able to grow our own fodder for the cows. We don't want to have to purchase food for the cows outside from some other party. That will run into a great expense. Cow protection is the business of the vaisyas and along with our preaching, this is the most important work." (Letter to Hasyakari -Honolulu 26 May 1975)


21. The goshalla should have an accurate and clear method of keeping accounts, and members should be presented with an annual statement of accounts. Prabhupada noted, "Bookkeeping is the most important item. As you are growing in stature, our accounting system should become very perfect. We have to publish now a short statement of accounts. As we increase our life membership number, we must submit our audited accounts and that will convince the public of our stability." (Letter to Karandhara -- Bombay 18 March 1971)

22. Ideally, funds collected for a goshalla or cow protection program should be kept separate from other accounts, such as that of a temple or community facility. Funds should not be invested in any speculative business enterprise.


23. Cowherds should be recognized as important members in the spiritual community. Prabhupada states, "For the cowherd men and the cows, Krsna is the supreme friend. Therefore He is worshiped by the prayer namo brahmanya-devaya go-brahmana-hitaya ca." (SB 10.8.16 Purport)

24. Ideally, the goshalla should maintain a well designed program for training cowherds and ox-power farmers.

Visnujana: For example, in New Vrindaban we have brahmanas that are very expert at tilling the soil and taking care of cows. They could travel around and teach others how to do that as well.
Prabhupada: Yes. That's right. He is brahmana, but he's teaching how to take care of the cows and ploughing. (Morning Walk "Varnasrama College" -- 14 March 1974, Vrndavana)

25. Cowherds should be facilitated and supported so they can have a decent, if simple, standard of living and so that they have time to participate in the community's spiritual program. Cow herding should not be considered a "lower" service. People who are treated as inferiors will inevitably leave. On the other hand, it is a sign of a healthy program if the spiritual leaders of a community acknowledge the contribution and instructive experiences of the cowherds in Bhagavatam classes and other occasions.

In the long term, cowherds should be able see a future for themselves and their families, working the land with oxen and taking care of cows, because only in this way can long-term cow protection -- together with its concomitant spiritual dimension -- be established in a community. Without proper training, facility and care of its cowherds, a cow protection program is threatened by constant turnover of staff and may eventually collapse.


26. A goshalla should use its cow protection program as a means of attracting the public to Krsna consciousness. When people have a chance to see cows, oxen and calves being well cared for and productively engaged, and to pet the animals and interact with them, their hearts naturally become softened and receptive to hearing about the Krsna's pastimes.

27. Activities of the cow protection program should be highlighted on community websites and during religious holidays and festivals such as Gaura Purnima, Janmastami, Govardhana Puja and Ratha Yatra. The Deities can be read accounts of the activities of the year, not only how much milk or burfi was produced, but also how many oxen were trained, how much area they plowed, how much wood they hauled, how many bushels of vegetables they produced, etc -- showcasing the offerings of the animals to the Lord and highlighting their value as contributors to self-sufficiency and gentler environmental practices. Members should participate not only as guests, but should also be given a chance to help organize and present activities in glorification of Krsna's cows and oxen.

28. A cow protection program should provide opportunity for members' input and participation. This can be achieved through questionnaires, newsletters, workshops, and pre-festival meetings.


Thus, by knowing what to look for in a cow protection program, members can let organizers know that they are willing to give a certain amount per month and that they plan to increase the amount based on different milestones of improvement. Several simple but important practices, such as daily counting of cows and naming of cows, cost nothing to implement. Other aspects, such as providing a well-developed training program for cowherd and ox workers are the sign of a first-class cow protection program, and will take longer to develop. Yet, with the confidence from having many committed donors, a goshalla can gradually attain such goals.

Other practices, such as giving greater prominence to cow protection activities during religious holidays and festivals, will benefit not only the cows and the members, but the whole community. In this way, by steadily increasing their funding, many small cow protection programs can be developed and gradually lead to a more peaceful, spiritual way of life. Thus more and more people can participate first-hand in cow protection, to provide the very best products to offer to the Lord with love and devotion.

"For protecting the cows and brahminical culture, the Lord, who is very kind to the cow and the brahmanas (go-brahmana-hitaya), will be pleased with us and will bestow upon us real peace." SB 1.17.9