The Importance of Cows

Cows are synonymous with sustainability, Vedic authority crowns the bovine species with the loving title “mother,” and moreover, insists that the fate of mankind is inextricably linked to the well being and protection of cows.  How cows are linked to human destiny and sustainable farm culture is illustrated in a story as narrated by one of our Small Farm Training Center apprentices:

Last Summer I visited a local farm here in Marshall County. The head of the family, Rusty, raises chickens for egg production as well as some vegetable crops like pumpkins. Like most of the small farming operations in the hills, the family’s main revenue source is a small herd of about 40 beef cattle. Marshall County West Virginia once touted 300 plus family owned and operated dairies. That’s all gone now.

Virtually everyone owning farmland raises hay for cattle. Besides the proverbial kitchen garden, no one grows grains or row crop vegetables for human consumption. Everyone is focused on beef. Beef is what makes money at the sale barn.

Rusty pointed to a hay wagon stacked with round bales. “Ya see that hay?” he complained, “It’s worthless!”

“Why?” I questioned.

“Soil’s dead….no energy,” he explained, “Hay fields that used to give me 40-50 bales are giving 10 now.”

“Why?” I asked, innocently. 

“Can’t afford the chemicals, the lime or the trucking costs,” he moaned. 

Knowing that Rusty was a third generation farmer who grew-up farming with his dad and grandfather, I queried, “What did people around here do before there was chemical fertilizer?”

“Everyone had cows, lots of ‘em,” he replied.

Rusty went on to explain that he and his brother used to pitch cow manure from the back of a horse driven wagon before the family could afford a manure spreader. Sensing my appreciation for local farm history, he added, “Do ya know how big a good sized corn fields was in those days? Two acres! That’s about what we could handle.”

Rusty’s hay fields are de-mineralized and dead. Every time he spreads  pelletized ammonium-nitrate fertilizer he hastens the biological death of his soil. So, he’s locked-in. He must poison the soil to grow enough hay to feed his cattle to get more money to buy chemical inputs to raise more hay to slaughter more cows to get more money to raise more hay, etc etc. 

By contrast, Rusty’s father depended on cow manure to keep his small scale family farm productive. One living cow in a year gives enough manure to enhance 3-4 acres of cropland or hayfield.  Think about it.

A noted Indian author and expert on cow protection, Dr. Sahadeva, “We’re finally going to get the bill for the Industrial Age. At the dawn of the Industrial Age two hundred years ago, humanity took a wrong turn when it started living on nature’s capital instead of nature’s income. It started gorging on resources that took  millions of years to create and which were saved up according to its own plan of functioning.

This senseless exploitation of resources can not go on forever. This is where the cow comes into the picture. Living with a cow is living on nature’s income instead of squandering her capital.