Draft Ver. 1.3 –

Pancharatna dasa,  November 13, 2010

There is no getting around it. For dairy farmers to be competitive in today’s market, practically every cow that enters their farm will leave for the slaughterhouse. Only by selling their newborn male calves and older cows (generally around 12 years old – with an average of 8 years left to their lives) to meat producers can they afford to sell milk at current market prices of about $1-2 per gallon wholesale.

In a protected cow farm the cost per gallon of milk would be at least six times the cost of industrial milk (more later on how this is calculated) When we buy industrial milk we should always remember that the price we are paying has been subsidized by the blood of the cows that have produced that milk and their offspring.

What is a devotee of Krishna to do? Of course, the best option would be to only purchase milk and milk products from protected cows. Unfortunately, this is rarely available today even if we are willing to pay the real cost. Another sensible solution is to simply become vegan and forego milk products altogether, except for what we need to offer to Sri Krishna and that daily cup of hot milk Srila Prabhupada recommends. Again, for a variety of reasons, many devotees find this option unsatisfactory.

There is a third option — industrial milk offsets.

These are just like the carbon offsets purchased by environmentally conscious consumers to offset the excess carbon produced by their regular consumption (driving a car, using electricity, etc.). The goal is to neutralize the negative effects of using carbon producing energy by supporting positive carbon reducing activities like planting trees, building windmills, etc.

In the same way, devotees of Krishna can offset the disastrous effects of cow slaughter connected to the milk they purchase by contributing towards cow protection the amount they should have paid for those products had they been produced by protected cows.

For example, a typical vegetarian family will consume nearly 3 gallons per week of milk in the form of both milk and milk products (yogurt, cheese, butter) with a weekly cost of about $20. If all those products were purchased from a protected cow farm, the cost would be nearly $70 (we’ll get to our calculations soon). So, to offset the negative effect of the meat industry’s subsidies, the difference of $50 (in cash or kind) is contributed to a cow protection development program.

The industrial milk offsets system accomplishes two important goals. First industrial milk offsets can enable the development of a viable protected cow products market, by investing in protected cow farms which can replace the commercial products. Secondly, it prepares cow loving consumers to pay the real price of their treasured milk products as they become available from protected cow farms – without paying any more than they are already.

Now for the calculations.

Basically, to keep a guaranteed supply of milk a farm needs to breed one cow every year (well taken care of cows can give milk for several years, but the supply nearly always drops off after the first year). To keep this going the farm needs to maintain 20 animals altogether, breeding each cow no more than two calving cycles (we don’t want the herd to grow unmanageably). Statistically, 10 (50%) will be male, 4 (20%) will be milking cows in different years of lactation, 3 (15%) will be heifers, too young to breed and 3 (15%) will be retired cows. Altogether this family of cows is expected to give about 7 gallons of milk per day.

Currently, in the New Raman Reti Farm in Florida, where I live, it costs about $1000 per year to take care of a cow. This includes hay, grains, minerals, veterinary care, worming, hoof trimming, pasture maintenance (fence repairs, water tanks, fertilization, mowing), tractor maintenance and diesel fuel. This does not include any carrying costs for the land required (about two acres per cow), capital costs for barns, etc., or any payment to the volunteers who look after them. A milking cow would require about $500 a year more for special feed, etc. So, altogether the cost of maintaining 20 cows and milking four of them, in NRR would be $22,000 per year which works out to be about $8.60 per gallon of milk.

In a private farm, where the farmers are supporting themselves through protecting the cows and growing agricultural products, we have to add the land and infrastructure costs and the personal income needs of the farmer while subtracting the value of the manure and income from agricultural products (vegetables, etc.). This is a difficult number to estimate but at a minimum, we should calculate the labor cost at $30 per day for milking and looking after the herd. This adds an additional $4.30 per gallon or just under $13 per gallon total. This is assuming that the rest of the income requirements of the farm are met through agricultural products (products grown with ox power should also fetch a premium amongst the cow loving community).

Naturally, there are many variables that can affect all of these costs. For example, abundant rain would offset the need for purchasing hay as would the growing of fodder crops with ox power. Still, the mathematics is inescapable. If it costs nearly $1 -2 per gallon (current wholesale prices) to produce industrial milk by using factory farming techniques and forgoing the care and protection of 90% of the cows involved than the real cost per gallon, if those same cows were protected, must be in the range of $12-$14 minimum.

Of course, it’s a big step to go from paying an average of $3 to $12 per gallon or from $80 per month to $280 per month. Naturally, protected cow milk products are going to be more valuable and thus less consumed. That’s why, at our New Raman Reti Save the Cow program we recommend starting off contributing whatever you can (and cutting back on industrial dairy products where practical). Contributing to cow protection can, of course, take many forms including a vacation and spending time donating labor at a devotee farm with cows, educating others about milk offsets, etc.

Just imagine if all the members of ISKCON were to adopt a policy of industrial milk offsets. Within a short time, there would be sufficient funding to invest in startup protected cow farms with an already primed and developed market for both their dairy and agricultural products at their real costs.

Just as if everybody went carbon neutral by purchasing carbon offsets it could save our environment, purchasing industrial milk offsets is the most sustainable and progressive way at this time to expand cow protection.