Keeping Cows in the Center: Cow Care in ISKCON

Kenneth R. Valpey

Kenneth R. Valpey O
xford Centre for Hindu Studies


Almost from the beginning of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission in the West, in 1965, he expressed the desire to develop farm communities that featured “cow protection,” or the lifelong care and maintenance of cow and bull bovines. In much of his writing and speaking, he elaborated on his concern for cows (we use the word “cows” in this gender-inclusive sense). As his mission began growing, some of his followers accepted the challenge to develop such communities, and up to the present day the number of them has gradually increased to a hundred. My central question is, What is the current trajectory of cow protection in iskcon, and in what ways might this remarkable feature become a more substantial component of iskcon’s culture and missionizing profile? First, I aim to show that a very gradual progression in some aspects of cow protection has led to a sense of urgency within the international organization to foster a spirit of acceptance of cow protection’s importance in the Vaiṣṇava community and among the wider public. Second, there are indications that concerned iskconmembers are developing a better understanding of the practical requirements for implementing viable cow protection programs. And third, broad changes worldwide (especially mainstream environmentalism and the popularization of veganism) can be more effectively brought to bear and be demonstrably responded to, by iskcon members, for the wider public to pay attention to the Society’s “plain living and high thinking” message.

To frame this discussion, I begin by sketching the historical background to the cow protection efforts before giving a brief history of the practice within iskcon, bringing us to the present- day situation. Next I describe current organizational efforts on the Society’s global level, especially through the Governing Body Commission (gbc) Ministry of Cow Protection and Agriculture. Finally, after considering obstacles to progress, I conclude with hopeful indicators.


Contexts for ISKCON’s cow protection program 

In an early lecture in America, Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “This Krishna consciousness movement is for the protection of brahminical culture and cows.”1 While his brief mission statement calls for unpacking, we may first ask how this idea came about.

From many more comments Prabhupāda made on the topic, it is clear that passages in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, or Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, were foundational. Of particular relevance was the text’s frame-story episode (in Canto 1, Chapters 16 and 17), which involves the torture of a cow and a bull — embodiments of mother earth and father dharma, respectively — by Kali, the personification of the current age of moral decay, Kali-yuga. Prabhupāda also invoked several other scriptural references, especially Krishna’s description of duties for vaiśyas, which include go-rakṣa, the protection of cows (Bhagavad Gītā 18.44). To be sure, for centuries these same texts grounded the teachings of other Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava preceptors, yet — with notable exceptions — these preceptors didn’t call persistent attention to protecting and taking care of cows as a key principle for practicing bhakti-yoga.2 Was there, then, a more immediate impetus for Prabhupāda’s outspokenness on this matter?

I would suggest that India’s prevailing zeitgeist of modernization and industrialization spurred in Prabhupada a sense of urgency 

to launch bhakti-centered and cow-centered agricultural projects beyond India. Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi seems to have been a likely key source of inspiration. Of course, Prabhupāda’s dedication to Gandhi’s Indian independence movement fell away as he wholeheartedly adopted the mission of his spiritual preceptor, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, from the time they met, in 1922. Nevertheless, my hunch is that with respect to economics and its links to technology, as well as concern for animals, especially cows, Gandhi was Prabhupāda’s key source of inspiration. For Gandhi was outspoken about the importance of cow care and protection and sought to demonstrate his convictions by establishing model agrarian communities.3

Another, related hunch is that Prabhupāda experienced deep disappointment when he saw the newly formed independent Indian state pursue economic policies favoring industrialization and urbanization, which constituted an about-face from the village- and farm-centered socio-economic traditions that Gandhi had much championed. In the vision of Jawaharlal Nehru, the new nation’s first prime minister, huge dams were to be modern India’s temples. Traditionalists like Gandhi, however, considered such ideas and policies as rank neglect of the spirituality of her ancient temples and tīrthas (that is, sacred features of the built and natural landscapes). Worse, as state-level legal measures to protect cows were seen as largely compromised and ineffectual, hope that newly independent India would finally realize the dream of establishing cow protection as a national priority was fading.4 Rather, Indian farmers were rapidly adopting mechanization, especially in the form of tractors — thereby making ox-power redundant, and they were accelerating the production of dairy products, consigning increasing numbers of nonproductive cows and bulls to the slaughterhouse to supply a growing overseas market for beef and leather. Such trends seemed to show a continuity and even expansion of a British imperial-style industrialized economy, rather than a recovery of time-tested direct dependence on land and cows — still seen functioning to some extent in villages of post-independence India.

Keep in mind that Śrīla Prabhupāda retired to Vrindavan (on and off, starting in the mid-1950s), where he would have appreciated and identified with the local culture’s reverence for cows. Gośālās 

(cow shelters) run by temples, pious householders, or sadhus would have given Prabhupāda a sense that this land of Krishna’s eternal pastimes affirmed Krishna’s presence by virtue of the presence of cared-for cows. Thus, any replication elsewhere of this most sacred land could be successful only if cows would be similarly cared for and protected from harm.

After leaving India in August of 1965, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s first destination in America was the modest-sized industrial town of Butler, Pennsylvania, the home of his official hosts, Gopal and Sally Agarwal. On the bus ride to Butler from New York, once clear of the metropolis and its New Jersey suburbs, Prabhupāda would have noted the verdant rolling-hill landscape of farmland with grazing cows. He may have thought — as many settlers had thought for generations — that America might be just the place for a fresh start. But Prabhupada’s fresh start would be different from that of both previous settlers and latter-day back-to-the-land farmers. The agri-culture he would establish would have at its center the care of cows throughout their natural lives. This was at odds with slaughtering cows and other animals, which many assumed was necessary for sustenance. Americans were open to new ideas, so why wouldn’t they accept this apparently new but actually ancient idea of keeping kine as respected partners in “plain living and high thinking”?5

After a brief stay in Butler, followed by two years of struggling to establish himself with the help of a small band of followers in New York City, Prabhupāda began expressing his desire to develop a country ashram or farm community.6 When a farm in West Virginia was purchased, Prabhupāda expressed eagerness for it to become a place for his followers to practice forgoing most modern conveniences for the ideal of cultivating Krishna consciousness. In June 1968, he wrote to his disciple Hayagrīva:


. . . Better to live there without modern amenities. But to live a natural healthy life for executing Krishna consciousness. It may be an ideal village where the residents will have plain living and high thinking. For plain living we must have sufficient land for raising crops and pasturing grounds for the cows. If there is sufficient grains and production of milk, then the whole economic problem is solved.7


The slogan “sufficient grains and production of milk” became a cornerstone of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s idea for how his followers — and human society — could live simply but well. He insisted that “the whole economic problem is solved” by farming, integral to which would be the care of cows for milk and the engagement of bulls or oxen in draught work. His confidence in this formula inspired some followers to take up his challenge. But with little or no experience in country living, farming, or cowherding practices, the prospect proved to be not as simple as they had hoped.


From early ISKCON cow care to the present—four phases

Kālakaṇṭha Dāsa, the current gbc Minister for Cow Protection and Agriculture, suggests that iskcon’s history of cow protection can be divided into four phases: (a) the pioneering phase (1968–1974), (b) a phase of growing experience (up to 1988), (c) a ten-year setback (1988–98), and (d) a revival and expansion phase of substantial investment in cow protection (1998 to the present).

New Vrindavan, in West Virginia USA, was iskcon’s first farm project. After a slow start on the initial 133 acres — carried out with considerable excitement and enthusiasm, if little or no experience — the devotees allowed the cow population to increase with the aim of having a substantial milk yield. Indeed, at its peak around 1990, New Vrindavan had 160 to 180 bovines, with a yield of some thousand gallons of milk per day. Much was sold to nearby dairy companies. But from several perspectives, this situation proved unsustainable, as became clear by 1992. Beginning much earlier, in 1974, managerial attention shifted away from agriculture and cows toward constructing Prabhupāda’s Palace of Gold, an elaborately ornamental edifice dedicated to iskcon’s founder-ācārya. This shift prompted Paramānanda Dāsa, the manager of the cows, to relocate to a new farm in Pennsylvania (acquired in 1975), a project that Śrīla Prabhupāda named Gita Nagari.8

Gradually, additional farm projects were undertaken,9 but from 1988, compounding challenges in iskcon’s spiritual and managerial leadership led to a ten-year setback in farming and cow protection. Numerous devotees left farm projects as well as urban temples; financial support for farming and cow protection dropped to a minimum; tools and technology for maintaining functional cow care was lacking; and with agriculture and cow care services carrying a low prestige factor, few devotees were inclined to dedicate themselves. (In contrast, book distribution was the high-prestige activity, attracting most devotees).

The year 1998 marks a major change in this story, which shifted from the U.S.A. to Europe, India, and Australia as loci for new agricultural communities in which cow care held a prominent place. A matured concern for sustainability prevailed, driving careful management and substantial investment.10 Of particular note in Europe is New Vraja Dhama (nvd), in southwestern Hungary, a 280-hectare farm community (the land was acquired in 1993). nvd has developed with considerable planning and organizational structuring, with a strong priority to realize the ideal of integrating cow protection and care with agriculture. The managers keep the modest-size herd of some fifty cows and bulls to a total of sixty bovines, calculated as the maximum sustainable number on the available land.11 Some forty liters of milk per day goes mainly for food preparations offered daily to the temple’s presiding deities, Rādhā-Śyāmasundara. Three trained pairs of oxen are currently engaged in draught activities for food production.


Assessing ISKCON’s current cow care programs

Over the fifty-plus years of iskcon’s expansion, the ideal of agricultural activity with cows persisted, with a modest number of such communities being established outside India and significantly more in India. As of 2020, there are practically a hundred projects maintaining cows: 60 in India, 17 in Europe, 8 in North America, 5 in Asia, 3 in Latin America, 3 in Australia, 2 in Africa, and 1 in Russia. Most projects have only between five and ten cows. Gita Nagari in Pennsylvania has almost 100. In India, Mayapur’s cow sanctuary (gośālā) has about 360 cows, and Tirupati has the highest number of cows worldwide, some 500 in three separate gośālās. The total number of cows worldwide is an estimated 5,000 — about 4,000 of them in India.

Of course, these numbers tell little about the quality of cow care, nor do they reveal the economics of the projects and the trajectory of further cow care activities. One may ask what relation these activities have to iskcon’s preaching, and how and to what extent cow care is enhancing it. Does cow protection have a role in attracting people to practicing Krishna consciousness? And in practical terms, do people see iskcon’s cow care activities as a viable model for nonviolent agrarian life that could be learned from and successfully imitated? We may answer these questions positively, but only with considerable qualifications.

To assess current iskcon cow care and protection in all its aspects, it may be helpful to apply an analogy of a building, with its foundation, structure, and roof.12 The foundation is the principle that all cows and their offspring are to be protected for their entire natural lives. The structure of this activity is lifelong quality care for the cows — indicated by whether the cows are given ample nourishment and freedom of movement in the open; whether the calves are given sufficient time with their mothers and sufficient nursing; whether bulls and oxen are being properly (gently) trained and engaged in work; whether proper medical care is given; and the extent to which these animals receive affection from human community members. The roof is the cows’ and bulls’ positive contribution to the community, both in tangible and intangible products and results. Milk, dung, and urine are the main tangible products; work (hauling, plowing, energy generation) are the oxen’s tangible products; and inspiration, health and well-being, and a positive impact on the public are less tangible results.

Each individual project would have to be assessed with respect to each of these three components to accurately build a broad picture, but we may be able to make some general and preliminary observations. As expected, the foundational dimension — protecting cows lifelong — is practiced in all projects, and this can safely be called a non-negotiable principle. The second principle, care, is sure to vary considerably from project to project. A general theme does seem to prevail in most projects, indicating shortcomings: the lack of sufficient and qualified staff. Cowherding and farming generally are low-prestige occupations in iskcon, typically on the opposite end of the prestige enjoyed in “front-line preaching” such as book distribution and public speaking and kīrtana engagements — the sort of activities that new recruits are initially exposed to and would have been attracted to take part in. Further, even in rural iskcon communities, many residents may not be particularly inspired by the simple-living paradigm, and something that is not a strong community value can become discouraging for the new recruits to pursue. Moreover, the few dedicated and qualified cowherds and farmers tend to be relatively invisible, making their services less attractive to potential recruits. Also, with managers concerned to maintain properties and expand the international mission, cow care and farming may hold a lesser priority in terms of attention and funding, or the tendency may be to keep expenses for these activities to a minimum — what is deemed sufficient for basic maintenance and the ability to show the public, and especially donors, that cow protection is being done.

With respect to the third principle, the cows’ positive contribution to the community, again, this will vary greatly among the various projects. To generalize, it must surely be said that the economics of cow care in iskcon is far from what one would like it to be. On the positive side, one could point to the Gita Nagari farm in Pennsylvania where, since 2013, the community has become an example of a moderate success in terms of milk production. Milk is professionally processed and legally sold to iskcon restaurants, temples, and devotee families in cities in nearby states (as was specifically advised by Śrīla Prabhupāda).13 Gita Nagari residents have also noted remarkable changes in attitude among visitors, especially students, after interacting with the cows. This points to the intangible benefits of cows in relation to iskcon’s mission.

One could also consider New Vraja Dhama in Hungary, where careful sustainability monitoring and detailed calculations are made. The estimate is that the cow department runs at 50% sustainability, against an over-all sustainability index for the project standing at 33%.14 The Hungarian project can also be appreciated for its prioritizing bull training and engagement in farm-related work.

Another project, New Govardhan, in eastern Australia, deserves mention as a promising model, with its highly successful engagement of young volunteers through its Krishna Village program, along with its efforts to implement syntropic farming techniques.

Surely the most challenging aspect for iskcon farm projects is the engagement of bulls and oxen in productive work. The need for qualified and dedicated teamsters is strongly felt, even if a given project has sufficient land to meaningfully engage the bulls. Devotees are acutely aware of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s warning that if the bulls are not engaged, the tendency will be to see them as a burden.15


Transcending cultural inertia

The challenges of maintaining and engaging bulls or oxen call attention to a broader question with respect to cow protection and cow care in iskcon, revolving around what must be seen as the necessity for radical changes in economic models. In turn, to entertain the idea that radical changes are necessary raises the question to what extent it is even possible to establish practices of self-sufficiency and sustainability with cows and bulls in the present-day social, political, and economic conditions.16 Prabhupāda generally showed firm confidence that radical changes are possible and necessary, given the utter frailty of the current economy and extractive, fossil fuel-based technology. Yet to translate Prabhupāda’s confidence into enduring, successful agriculture-and-cow-based practice is a challenge that seems to be a long way from being met and embraced in iskcon.

No doubt there is a deep-seated resistance to change within iskcon, owing to the prevailing economic system’s apparent continuing success. Modern Vaiṣṇavas are deeply habituated to enjoying the seeming comforts and conveniences of an extractive techno-economy, with little sense of urgency to make fundamental lifestyle changes.17 As much as they value austerity in principle, in practice they are quite happy to limit austerity largely to the observance of the “regulative principles of freedom.”18 Nonetheless, in recent years the increasing volume of mass-media attention to human negative environmental impact has awakened a growing concern within iskcon to make more consequential efforts to work toward the ideal. A significant (if still little known among rank-and-file iskcon members) indicator of this concern is the extent to which organizational work is being undertaken in the last five years by the iskcon-gbc Ministry of Cow Protection and Agriculture (imcpa).

Specifically, the imcpa has been organizing annual farming conferences on a rotating basis on each continent, gradually calling attention to the need to generate more attention to this program, assessing present practices and facilities, pooling knowledge, and developing resources for an expansion of existing projects and the initiation of new projects. The Ministry is currently preparing a series of courses, addressing the need for practical skills such as cow management and syntropic farming. Furthermore, a high-quality resource center is being planned that will offer information — especially in digital form — for researchers. This center will also serve as a hub for receiving personalized guidance in all areas related to sustainable agriculture and cow care.19


Trends and issues: vegans, ahimsa milk, “balancing” industrial milk use

To close out this sketch of cow protection, I should mention that another trend has been having an impact within iskcon: veganism, the dietary practice of avoiding all animal and dairy products.

It has become increasingly clear that industrial dairy practices are fully implicated in cow slaughter, since bulls birthed by milk cows have no economic value and are therefore sold for eventual slaughter, and since milk cows are sold for slaughter when their milk production reduces. So increasing numbers of Vaiṣṇavas question whether it is right to purchase industrial (or even small-scale) dairy. The status-quo argument is made that by offering such dairy to Krishna, the cows receive benefit, possibly such that they become elevated at least to human life subsequent to the present life. One version of this position argues for “ahimsa balancing,” which has suggested that industrial dairy consumption need not be reduced, so long as one donates equivalent monetary amounts spent on such consumption for one or another cow protection program.20

The same approach could be taken as a transitional approach, which aims for eventual transition to pure ahimsa-milk use, by encouraging its expansion and ultimately eliminating patronage for the former. Other Vaiṣṇavas find these positions less than satisfying, given that the goal is to offer milk to Krishna that has been given by cows who are protected and cared for, such cows being seen as specifically dear to Krishna and therefore giving the best milk. Those identifying with this latter position see it as imperative for Vaiṣṇavas to accelerate the process of making ahimsa-milk sufficiently available by themselves restricting their own diets with respect to dairy products, to only consuming ahimsa-milk. With respect to this last position, one concern is that some immature adherents of this view will make it their mission to preach against the use of milk by devotees altogether, which could be particularly problematic for the health of children and youth.

As an initiative to encourage iskcon temples to move toward making arrangements for at least the temple deities to receive offerings with dairy only from protected cows, from the 2019 annual general meeting of the gbc came a guideline urging temples to have a plan in place to implement this standard by Lord Krishna’s appearance festival in 2022.21


Summary reflections

Almost since its inception in the mid-1960s, iskcon has had a mandate from its founder-ācārya to establish farms where male and female cows have an integral role in the communities’ economic and spiritual life. Since 1968, the attempts to realize his vision met with limited success on relatively small scales. The challenge is to go beyond what might be called symbolic cow protection to actual engagement and integration of cows in truly productive farming that serves to sustain the physical nourishment of Vaiṣṇava communities, with radically reduced dependence on the fossil-fuel–based technoeconomy worldwide. The aim is to establish farming communities that can also serve as models for emulation by members of the wider Vaiṣṇava community and people in the wider society, because they fully function in practical terms. Intentional community building has a long history — mainly one of short-lived enthusiasm followed by internal conflicts and final breakdown. Can iskcon farm community projects demonstrate the sort of intentional living that can function long-term, in actually sustainable ways, in which cow protection and cow care are an integral component? The Vaiṣṇava tradition, rooted in remembering and celebrating Lord Krishna as the divine cowherd, says that it is both possible and necessary. Much work is before us to realize this. Much of the work to be done is well defined, while much is yet to be further understood to turn the vision into a reality. With up to five decades of experience in iskcon’s efforts to establish agricultural communities with cows, several members of iskcon are helping these communities, as can a wide variety of alternative farming experts. Prabhupāda wrote (in an early letter), “I do not know whether these ideals can be given practical shape,” suggesting the experimental nature of trying to implement the vision. Vaiṣṇavas cherish the hope that it is possible, given the simple reality that there is no change to the fact that our sustenance comes from the earth, farming is the systematic cultivation of our sustenance, and cows have a special relationship to the earth that is critically valuable to humans and the earth, if the cows are properly cared for throughout their natural lives.



Prabhupāda, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. The Complete Teachings of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda. Vedabase CD-ROM Version 2017.2, Sandy Ridge, NC: Bhaktivedanta Archives.

Turner, Fred, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and Digital Utopianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Valpey, Kenneth R. [Krishna Kshetra Swami], forthcoming: In the service of all that lives: Gandhi’s vision of engaged nonviolent animal care. In Animal Theologians, Oxford University Press.

———. Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics, Cham, Switzerland: Springer

Nature / Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.



1 December 4, 1968, Los Angeles. And in a lecture in Vrindavan (November 10, 1976), Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “Kṛṣṇa is first of all interested to see whether the brāhmaṇa and the cow are properly respected in society. Namo brāhmaṇya-devāya go-brāhmaṇahitāya ca. His first business is to see that the brāhmaṇa and cow are being properly honored. Then jagad-dhitāya [Viṣṇu Purāṇa 1.19.65] — automatically the whole world will be peaceful. This secret of success, people now do not know. Nobody is prepared to become a brāhmaṇa, and cow protection is in oblivion. This is the whole world’s position. Therefore the world is in a chaotic condition. It must be, because it is just an animal society when these two things are neglected, and then other animal qualities and paraphernalia follow.”

2 Research could perhaps tell us whether it was a common practice among Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava householders to own cows and to what extent Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura’s Gauḍīya Math institutions maintained cows. “Notable exceptions” include mentions of concern for cows in the sacred biographies of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Typically, though not exclusively, these appear in the context of reported exchanges between Mahāprabhu and local Muslim leaders.

3 Valpey, Kenneth R. [Krishna Kshetra Swami], forthcoming: “In the service of all that lives: Gandhi’s vision of engaged nonviolent animal care”. In Animal Theologians, Oxford University Press. Valpey 2020 Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics, Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature / Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 63–7. Digital copy available through Open Access: gb/book/9783030284077 Further: the “simple living, high thinking” motto seemed to be championed by Gandhi, though Paramahamsa Yogananda is also credited with the phrase: www. (accessed 16-11-19).

4 See Valpey, Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), pp. 55–6 and notes 4 and 5; pp. 100–1; and pp. 236–38 for a brief elaboration on state and legal dimensions of cow protection in modern India.

5 A story yet to be written is how Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission coincided with and departed from the American communalist and back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and 1970s, as a response to Cold War anxieties. This account would need to look further back ideologically to the American Transcendentalists of Boston in the 1840s, who derived substantial inspiration from recent English translations of Sanskrit sacred literature. For a relevant analysis of the American communalist movement, see, for example, Turner, Fred, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and Digital Utopianism (University of Chicago Press, 2006), especially pp. 73–9.

6 A further note about influences on Prabhupāda’s thinking related to country living: During his first months in New York, his interactions with Dr. Ramamurti S. Mishra (later Shri Brahmananda Saraswati) included occasional visits to Ananda Ashram, the latter’s quite charming country retreat center in Monroe, north of New York City.

7 In the same year, Prabhupāda wrote about his vision for New Vrindavan in West Virginia, making a connection between the “bona fide divisions of society” (the varṇāśrama system) and agrarian life that would include cow care: “Vrindaban conception is that of a transcendental village, without any of the botheration of the modern industrial atmosphere. My idea of developing New Vrindaban is to create an atmosphere of spiritual life where people in the bona fide divisions of society—namely, Brahmacharies [celibate students], Grihasthas [householders], Vanaprasthas [the retired], and Sannyasis [renounced holy men] will live independently, completely depending on agricultural produce and milk from the cows” (8/17/68). With concern for New Vrindavan’s orientation toward cow protection, Prabhupāda wrote: “We must have sufficient pasturing ground to feed the animals all round. We have to maintain the animals throughout their lives. We must not make any program for selling them to the slaughterhouses. This is the way of cow protection. Krishna by His practical example taught us to give all protection to the cows, and that should be the main business of New Vrindaban. Vrindaban is also known as Gokula. Go means cows, and Kula means congregation. Therefore the special feature of New Vrindaban will be cow protection, and by doing so, we shall not be the losers. . . . The 71 whole idea is that people residing in New Vrindaban may not have to search for work outside. Arrangements should be such that the residents will be self-satisfied. That will make an ideal ashram. I do not know whether these ideals can be given practical shape, but I think like that, that people may be happy in any place with land and cow, without endeavoring for the so-called amenities of modern life — which simply increase anxieties for maintenance and proper equipment. The less we are anxious for maintaining our body, the more we become favorable for advancing in Krishna consciousness.” (6/14/68).

8 Gita Nagari was intended to provide the New York City temple with farm products, including dairy from cows. Substantial quantities were produced from early on. Gita Nagari also included a sawmill and engaged bulls in bringing wood from the forest — everything Prabhupāda had wanted in New Vrindavan. Another “trend” took place (1974–76), according to Rohit Dāsa, who cared for cows for more than two decades at the New Talavan farm in Mississippi: A few small cow protection initiatives in America closed within two years and sent their cows to New Talavan.

9 Some projects undertaken in the 1970s were New Talavan, Mississippi; New Mayapur, France; Krsnuv Dvur, Czech Republic; Bhaktivedanta Manor, outside London; and farms near Secundarabad, India, and Mayapur, West Bengal. In the 1980s, four farms were begun: in Australia, Sweden, Germany, and Brazil.

10 In 1998, Bhaktivedanta Manor increased its herd to 24 cows and bulls and the cows gave 12,254 liters of milk, much of which was cooked by Kulāṇganā Dāsī into highly artistic and tasty milk sweets offered daily to Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Gokulānanda, the temple deities.

11 This calculation is based on a reckoning of one hectare (2.47 acres) of land per cow or bull, sufficient for both grazing and winter fodder. With the average cow’s life expectancy at fifteen years, the managers allow four cows per year to become pregnant (so that any cow may bear a calf twice in her life). See note 3, Valpey 2020, pp. 218–24.

12 Credit for this analogy goes to Aṣṭottaraśata Dāsa, the son of Hare Kṛṣṇa Dāsī, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s American disciple who wrote a column on the value of cow protection for Back to Godhead magazine in the 1990s and compiled a book of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions on instituting the Vedic social order.

13 Gita Nagari, despite charging a high premium on its milk, has found that this price does not entirely cover the expenses of production. Nevertheless, as an example of a csa — community supported agriculture — project, since recently diversifying into organic vegetable production, Gita Nagari offers a model that could be followed. Another initiative is the private project of Sītārāma Dāsa, with his Ahimsa Milk farm, near Leicester, U.K. He notes that the demand for his cows’ milk far exceeds the supply. This shows that people are willing to pay a considerable premium on the milk, knowing that the cows are being cared for and protected throughout their lives.

14 The 33% calculation is an average based on wide-ranging factors drawn from some fifty different departments of activity in relation to the project. On one side, the managers informed me that the hope is to increase the sustainability percentage to 80% for the cow department, seen as a maximum possibility. On another side, in case of a general economic collapse in the wider society, managers see the project as being able to transform immediately into a 100% self-sustaining project. That said, it was also noted that a significant challenge to the project is social sustainability — the ability of the community to foster and maintain a strong spirit of resolve to remain there lifelong and bring up children and grandchildren with similar resolve.

15 Balabhadra Dāsa, in his concern especially for the care and training of bulls, established his own project, the International Society for Cow Protection, now located near Alachua, Florida. He offers courses — in person, online, and when invited to iskcon farms worldwide — on how to train bulls with voice commands, thereby minimizing or eliminating physical force in the control of bulls or oxen.

16 Śyāmasundara Dāsa, former iskcon Global Minister for Cow Protection and Agriculture, has emphasized the need to identify a viable economic model for sustainable cow care, one that can bring monetary profit to those who would take up the responsibility of cow care. This means, for example, selling milk for at least the actual cost of producing the milk — a cost that is considerably higher than (subsidized) commercial dairy. 73 While recently visiting Gita Nagari farm, when Śyāmasundara was told by the gośālā manager that its price for one gallon of milk is $16.00, but that it costs $20.00 to produce that one gallon, Śyāmasundara concluded, “So this is not economically viable.” (I was present during this exchange.) See also note 13. Several factors determined by local conditions will necessary make for varied economic conditions for cow care. iskcon’s challenge is to understand how to engage with these factors to make the practice of cow protection and cow care practically functional.

17 One might also see a fundamental tension between the missionary thrust of iskcon and the demands of farming and cow care. In contrast to, for example, the Amish tradition, which minimizes travel by several restrictions, iskcon members tend to be mobile to an extreme, as is considered necessary to expand the Society’s mission.

18 I am referring here to the four “regulative principles” that Śrīla Prabhupāda identified as essential prerequisites for substantial progress in spiritual life, namely, abstention from illicit sexual activity, from gambling, from all intoxicants, and from eating meat, fish, and eggs.

19 Other projects and plans of the imcpa: It has largely completed an assessment of the current status of cow protection and agriculture in worldwide iskcon. It is considering a five-year plan to increase the number of cows worldwide from 5,000 to 10,000 (along with acquisition of the additional land required to properly maintain and care for them). It is organizing teams of devotees on each continent to oversee cow care and agriculture activities. The aim is to register every cow, with a system of tracking their conditions at all times. And it is developing a Certification of Readiness for new projects to be permitted to have cows, along with a system for certifying gośālās. See also https://mcpa.iskcon. org and

20 For a recent representation of this argument, see,6833/ (accessed December 20, 2019).

21 Resolution 406.2 (Guideline): By Janmaṣṭami 2022, all iskcon centers should develop a plan whereby all milk and milk products — butter, ghee, yogurt, etc. — offered to the deities are procured from protected cows. The centers may approach the International Ministry of Cow Protection for assistance.


KENNETH R. VALPEY (Kṛṣṇa Kṣetra Swami), a disciple of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda since 1972, completed a doctoral study on Vaiṣṇava temple ritual at the University of Oxford in 2004. He is currently Dean of Studies at Bhaktivedanta College (Belgium), a research fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, and a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. His most recent publication is Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).