The Importance of Cows

Cows are synonymous with sustainability. Vedic authority crowns the cows with the title “mother,” and refers to bulls as “father.” Moreover, the Vedic texts insist 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 West Virginia’s Marshall County. The head of the family, Rusty, raises chickens for egg production, as well as some vegetable crops. Like most of the small farming operations in this area, the family’s main revenue source is a small herd of about forty beef cattle. Marshall County once touted over 300 dairies owned and operated by local families. That’s all gone now.

Almost everyone here that owns 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 asked.

“Soil’s dead…no energy,” he said. “Hay fields that used to give me forty to fifty bales are giving ten now.”

“And why’s that?” I asked.

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

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

“Everyone had cows. Lots of ‘em,” he said.

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 field was in those days? Two acres! That’s about what we could handle.”

Rusty’s hay fields are demineralized 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, and on and on. 

By contrast, Rusty’s father depended on cow manure to keep his small-scale family farm productive. One living cow, in one year, gives enough manure to enhance three to four acres of cropland or hayfield. Think about that!

A noted Indian author and expert on cow protection, Dr. Sahadeva, writes: “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.”

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Some of our bovine friends here at the farm.