Can Ahimsa milk ever be completely free of violence?

by Heena Modi on August 13, 2014

There was a lot of talk about Ahimsa milk a year or so ago, because people wanted milk without animals being sent to slaughter. Ahimsa actually means non violence towards living beings. Does Ahimsa milk manage this? I compiled a list of questions to ask the company behind the milk. Here are their responses to the questions I sent.

How do you ensure you have enough milk to meet demand?

We don’t always have enough milk. We have a set number of cows and what we get from them is all we can take, if there is increased demand, we tell people we do not have any. We are very careful not to be demand led as we have to think that each new calf will mean a commitment for another 18 years.

Are there items added to the milk to keep it from going ‘off’? If so, what are they?

Nothing is added. However, milk is pasteurized ie heated to 72 degrees centigrade and then bottled.

Are the cows impregnated if they don’t get pregnant naturally? If so, how?

Some cows become pregnant via a bull and some are impregnated. Because presently we work with a partner farm who look after our cows, we are obliged by their standards. We are working towards a situation where all our cows are impregnated using a bull i.e. naturally.

What happens to the ‘useless’ male calves?

All our animals are kept. None are sent for slaughter, so there is no ‘useless’ animal. They are taken to a separate sanctuary/ farm where they grow and where in time we will train them to work on the land.

What happens to the cows that no longer get pregnant or give milk?

They are termed retired cows and they too go to the sanctuary. They have given all they can and can retire gracefully with no further pressure or obligation.

Are the cows kept pregnant i.e. impregnated soon after giving birth? Thus reducing their life span?

Our policy has been that calving should take place every two years, so that cows are not in a constant cycle of pregnancy, we are looking to extend that in the future so in a lifetime cows have only 3 to 4 calves maximum.

Are the calves kept with their mothers?

This is another area that we are not entirely happy with in relation to our partner farm. Therefore we are looking to set up operation fully under our own management in the near future. Presently, they spend the first 4-5 days with their mother, then they suckle from a surrogate aunt. This may not be in full milk. Our aspiration is that a calf have access to its mother for 6 months, something we are working towards.

Are the calves allowed to suckle from their mothers whenever they want?

Answered above

Once a cow stops producing milk, or produces too little milk, is she transferred to a farm as a herd (with her existing friends/family) or individually?

Presently it is individually or with one or two other calves. Once they are at our sanctuary, they become reunited with old friends. In the future we hope to have the whole family/ herd all together on one farm.

Are there regular checks made on the cows once they have been transferred away to a different farm to see if they are happy, kept comfortable and that the cow’s needs are being met?

The farm they are transferred to is directly under our management. We felt the only way to work this project to the optimum welfare standard is to gradually run under our own standard rather than manage challenges under someone else’s. Time and expense is involved but we are gradually getting there.

It must distress the mother and the calf when the mother is sent away to a different farm and her calf is left behind to produce milk. Is this something that happens to produce Ahimsa milk?

Not entirely as such as the farm we work with has a larger herd of 250. We only have 8/9 milking cows intermingled within these. However, in a smaller size herd I think this would be the case and therefore we are looking to model a small herd operation where closer bonds are maintained. Upon beginning this project, our priority was to demonstrate ‘slaughter-free’ milk, now that has been established we are gradually working on the two other key principles important to us – mother/calf relationship and becoming free of AI. Both of these are very challenging areas on a bigger commercial farm. Our experience has taught us that it is extremely difficult for these to be addressed, we have therefore made a decision to set up our own operation and are fundraising towards it. We are a not-for-profit organisation.

I’d love to know what you think.
Do you think this system is justifiable?
Is it free of violence?
Is it necessary?

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