The Generosity of the Cow

I have always been an animal person. In my youth I wanted to be a naturalist or a veterinarian. For years, I used our set of encyclopedias and the library to study one animal after another. One animal I had little interest in at that time was the cow. I guess I thought cows were boring and unimportant because it looked to me like all they did was stand around in pastures. However, my ideas about cows changed dramatically two years ago when our first family cow came to live with us. Now I understand that cows are one of the key animals supporting human civilization.

Cross posted at Pockets of the Future

Cross posted at dkos

The cow’s generosity is one of Nature’s special gifts to humanity. She embodies the Divine Mother’s gracious qualities of generosity, patience nurturance, tolerance and grounding. Cows have a very earthy quality that gives you a sense of security when you are around them. All of us here experience a great sense of wellbeing during milking times, no matter what state we are in when we start out. Through spending so much time with them, the cow has become for me the Earth Mother’s representative. I feel blessed to some living with me on my property. Here is an interesting essay about the attributes and the value of cows from a Hindu perspective. While we are not Hindu, we have discovered the truth of some of what is written here through personal experience.

I notice that how a culture treats its cows reflects in some way how it treats its women and how it relates with the feminine principle in general. In our society we generally disrespect and exploit our cows in spite of how many of them we have. In the corporate mentality that now dominates the world and reigns supreme here in America, cows are treated as a commodity. Agribusiness has focused exclusively on a select few breeds as the corporate the ideal for serving the modern marketplace. Many of the remaining heritage breeds carefully developed over hundreds of years are disappearing so rapidly that they are now categorized as rare breeds. (Please see the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy for more information.)

The industry ideal these days for the beef cow appears to be the Black Angus while the ideal for the dairy industry is the Holstein. The Holstein is a tall cow with a slim frame and long legs and an over developed mammary system. She gives an enormous amount of lower quality milk as much as eight gallons a day when they first calve. Due to their being over-bred and cared for in unnatural ways, the Holstein is prone to disease and doesn’t carry a parasite load well. As is generally the case in the cattle industry, Holsteins and other corporate favored breeds are routinely injected with health-stealing antibioticsand hormones. Just as within human bodies, the harmful bacteria and viruses are becoming resistant to the antibiotics. The majority of corporate cows are not given access to the pasture which provides their natural food but are kept in small feedlots where they are fed grains, usually corn, which they are not equipped to digest. Their inefficient digestion of the grain leads to increased disease as well as excess burping up of the methane gas which contributes to global warming. Their enforced grain diet and cramped quarters also increases the incidence of harmful e coli bacteria. Both beef and dairy cows are a cog in the corporate assembly line for slaughter and milk extraction respectively. The cow which has been respected and celebrated worldwide for thousands of years is now treated as an exploitable commodity. Just like nature, the earth and woman herself, the cow is considered an object, something that you mold the way you want, from which you take what you want when you want it and then thrown away when the one exploited/desired quality diminishes with maltreatment and age. This attitude of ingratitude will be the downfall of our civilization.

For us as a family, our cows came to us through the various efforts of both the progressive and conservative communities where we were living. My wife, Leslie, had researched for years about the benefits of raw milk so a family cows was a definite part of our general plan for building a homestead. Leslie joined a food co-op and picked our orders up at a very nice, conservative Mennonite woman’s house. The woman told Leslie about a family that was practically giving away raw milk because they had far more than they could use. Leslie contacted them right away and began to get delicious milk from them by the gallon. Months later they decided they wanted to sell their milk cow and figured we were likely candidates for taking her on. They gave us a few options for trying out milking her ourselves and seeing if we wanted to buy her.

At the time we had just seen the excellent PBS Nature episode entitled Holy Cow which tells the story of how the cow has domesticated human beings. I had also recently gone on a trip to India. At an ashram there, I noticed a cow that was living with no available pasture and was lying on a cement slab when I saw her. I walked up to her. We looked at each other and had some sort of a moment; there was a subtle exchange. At that moment I knew we were going to purchase the cow.

Needing a second cow a year later, we went to the Twin Oaks intentional community nearby our home. This progressive community was where our cow, Pezra, originally came from and where we ended up purchasing her older sister, Phoebe. Ironically the Mennonite woman and Twin Oaks were both are on the same road, only several miles apart. Both of the parties we purchased the cows from were helpful in setting up our homestead and getting us adjusted to our new duties. So for us the cows were “uniters” as they created a convergence of two otherwise polarized communities.

We are still milking our two cows, Phoebe and Pezra, twice a day. Since their arrival we have learned how to make butter, mozzarella, panir, ghee, kefir, kefir cheese, kefir mascarpone, feta and a few other things with their wholesome milk. We switched our cows over to being grass-fed only with the sole addition of an excellent mineral mix Our cows are the rare Dutch Belted or Lakenvelder breed that has only 200 registered in the United States. Ours are not pure bred and are not registered but they are wonderful nevertheless and give delicious, easily digested milk.

There is a part of this experience that is difficult to translate into words but I think it has to do with the fact that people and cows have been together for centuries. In many ways, for us having cows has been like coming home. There is something familiar and nourishing about being with them. This goes beyond food or anything else that the cows physically provide. It has more to do with the fact that they have a presence, a condition, a vibrational quality that is very beneficial to the human experience. I have nothing but gratitude for these cows and their heifers coming into our lives.

Attached is the first in a series of 12 videos of “A Day in the Life of Our Cows”

and a link to our channel for the last nine.

27 comments

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  1. link that wouldn’t take in the essay.

    • RiaD on November 30, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    Hopefully soon we will be returning to our farm & I’m hoping a cow is in my future 🙂

    I’ve milked since I was a girl and have sorely missed those early morning peaceful times…a wonderful way to start the day!

    Thank you for sharing your lifestyle here. I am very envious right now.

  2. It was lovely to read about the gentle cow with my coffee this a.m.  I like cows – they are very peaceful.  I used to collect cow stuff so I identify with them in some way.    

    Thanks for sharing this PotF.  

    • Tigana on November 30, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    🙂

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