Gita Govinda Dasi is talking about the retirees that she cares for at an old-age home in north-eastern NSW.
“We check them every day,” she says. “They have aches and pains, often rheumatoid arthritis among other aging problems.”
The retirement home at Australia’s largest Hare Krishna community in Murwillumbah NSW is an old-age home of a different kind.
As one that is solely dedicated to residents of a bovine kind, it runs a protection-cum-retirement program for aging cows and bullocks who cannot work anymore.
At the ISKCON New Govardhana farm in north-eastern NSW, aged cattle are taken care of almost like human retirees.
In Hare Krishna philosophy, bovine lives are sacred, just like human lives.
“We’re a community that practices spiritual life,” Ajita Cozzi, the director of the project, tells Indian Link. “Non-violence doesn’t just mean protecting the animals, but also being aware of their right to keep on living.”
He adds, “The animals have worked for you their entire lives and once they are done with their working period they are retired. It is our duty not to interfere with their right to exist.”
The cattle, raised to work in dairy, farming, and breeding, serve the community as much as they can, and in turn, the devotees serve the animals in their old age.
The concept might resonate well with Australian Hindus: in contemporary India, a visit to the ‘goshala’ (cow shelter) seems to have become just as common as a visit to the local temple.
The program at New Govardhana farm ensures specificities befitting older cattle like improving their pasture, putting up proper fencing so they can graze methodically, and building them shelters. Veterinary services of course are close at hand.
What’s a typical day like for carer Gita?
“I do a headcount of the cows every day, checking them for cuts, scratches, or limping,” Gita explains. “Keeping track of the herd is important, as they tend to accidentally hurt themselves or wander and fall into ditches. I run my eye over every single one of them. The oldies, I give them their morning medication and then check them again in the evening before putting them to bed.”
An animal lover and sworn “servant of the cows”, Gita views these animals as God’s children, particularly cows as mothers who provide. She believes they need love and care just like any other sentient animal, especially older cattle who need closer monitoring as compared to their younger counterparts.
A vast majority of the herd come to the farm from devotees who started up their own projects and whose older cattle find homes here, but many others have diverse backgrounds. Some are donated, and some are life-long pets brought over by folks moving into nursing homes themselves.
Gita also describes how different histories can bring in a variety of temperaments that require special attention.
“One cow, the first time I saw her, was in a barbed wire fence and had been chewed on by dogs. She’s never going to trust me. I feed her every day but I can’t touch her, and even that took about ten years before I could feed her out of my hands.”
The farm of course has just come off a season of terrible drought and bushfires, during which fresh feed was hard to come by.
“There was no pasture, we had to buy feed and hand-feed the animals every day,” Ajita remembers. “It was very difficult to do and costly, but it was part of our service.”
While devotees are committed to serving these aging animals till their last breaths, Hare Krishna director Ajita Cozzi mentions other ways in which people help the community to care for the animals. “Some people sponsor cows for $35 a month. They call us or pick a particular cow or bullock online and help provide for their care.”
Say hello to the cows and visit the organic farms at ISKCON New Govardhana farm, 525 Tyalgum Road, Eungella NSW
To donate or to sponsor a cow, visit here
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