In 1981, our family (myself, wife Chayadevi, son Baladeva and daughter Lakshmi) moved to the Gita Nagari farm community in Pennsylvania, USA. In the mid-’80s, the farm started a program called “ADOPT-A-COW,” which raised funds to help support the cows. By then, the farm had a herd of 157 cows, which the land could not support. So, Gita-nagari became the 1st ISKCON farm in North America to stop breeding as a commercial dairy. The leaders of Gita-nagari realized that if you are not killing your unproductive cows and male offspring as a commercial dairy does, you lose your economic profit. So, raising funds to pay for the feed that we could not grow on the farm was necessary. My wife and I ran the “ADOPT-A-COW” program from 1988 to 1990. During this time, we also were in charge of the agriculture department on the farm.
During the celebration of Govardhan Puja and Go Puja in 1989, Adwaita Chandra visited us and had an idea he wanted to discuss with us. Each North American ISKCON farm had a cow protection program at that time. There was “ADOPT-A-COW,” “SAVE A COW,” and “MOTHER COW,” each dealing with a specific herd of cows. Adwaita Chandra’s idea was to develop a cow protection program that was universal in application, global, not regional. We talked for many hours over that weekend and came up with the name “INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR COW PROTECTION’ and an essential list of goals that have since evolved into the present-day goals of ISCOWP.
We parted company after the festival, and he said, “Think it over and if you want to go ahead with ISCOWP, go ahead.” He is an idea man, consultant type, not a cowman or farmer. So we decided to organize ISCOWP as a non-profit charitable incorporation. We legalized everything in March 1990.
In the spring of 1990, we started traveling to all the North American Rathayatra festivals, the Earth Day Festival, and other programs. We took a team of oxen and led the Ratha Yatras parades. We had the oxen available to pet, touch, and photograph at the festival sites. The festival visitors were utterly in awe of the beauty and size of the oxen and their calm and friendly nature. We did this for approximately four summers, receiving positive press coverage throughout the USA. In the meantime, we acquired some small acreage (three acres) in North Carolina to establish a small family farm.
In 1990 my wife, Chayadevi, began writing and publishing the ISCOWP quarterly newsletter. Chayadevi does most of the correspondence, fundraising, accounting, curriculum development, and designing of original ISCOWP T-shirts. In 1993, she began the ISKCON COM cow conference with approximately 90 members from about 20 countries. The cow conference formulated cow protection standards that are now ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) Law 507 to prevent mistakes made and repeated in cow protection facilities. Since 2005, we have not been active with the cow conference. Now we have a presence on social networks: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and now just starting Tik-Tok.
On the three-acre North Carolina property we acquired in 1991, we grew wheat, rye, and vegetables with the help of the oxen only, no machines. Eventually, we found this acreage too small for our family, two oxen, and the crops we wanted to grow. A friend of ours had bought a large parcel about two hours away in which there were approximately 20 acres in bottomland. We made an oral contract to cultivate the 20 acres to expand our program. There was no electricity, no water system, and the land was not worked for years. I lived there in our school bus, which we used to travel coast to coast with the oxen, and began cultivating the land with our ox team, Vraja and Gita. We developed a hand water system drawing water from the nearby stream. The living situation was austere. Oil lamps for electricity, hand pumping all water and living in the school bus with no facilities but shelter. We grew extensive vegetable gardens, dry land rice, wheat, and rye here. No machines were used for farming or living on this property.
For approximately three years, we cultivated this land until we received an invitation at the beginning of 1995 to live at New Vrindaban and join Varsana Maharaja’s disciples’ work towards self-sufficiency. The community leaders proposed I teach the younger devotees the skills I knew so they could get established on the land. We were enthused to make the big move to gain energy and association on the path to establishing cow protection as Srila Prabhupada desired.
We sold our 3 acres, our trailer home, and made numerous trucking trips long distances to move all the ox equipment and household to New Vrindaban. We trained approximately 10 teamsters and 20 oxen from the New Vrindaban herd during the first year. Unfortunately, due to the financial difficulties of the New Vrindaban administration, our project could no longer receive strong support from New Vrindaban. At this point, we had the opportunity to purchase land from New Vrindaban as they were selling land to minimize their financial pressures and attain funds for expenses. In 1996, we acquired a 57-acre parcel, the heart of an old family farm. The devotees had worked it about 15 years ago. Some buildings were still standing, but most were not in good repair. Numerous springs, a stream, pastures, and a forest were some of the features that attracted us to purchase the property.
In 1998, I was appointed the ISKCON Minister for Cow Protection and Agriculture to advise and instruct ISKCON centers and devotees protecting cows. I traveled to various ISKCON centers and cow protection projects worldwide to establish these standards and distribute cow protection knowledge. It was also my pleasure to acquire knowledge through these travels. Unfortunately, in 2012, I resigned from this position due to ongoing, unresolved health problems.
For 20 years, we worked to establish ourselves on the ISCOWP Farm in West Virginia. We built two modified earth shelter homes, one cabin for trainees, a new barn adjoining the old barn, and refurbished the old standing barn. In addition, we built a hay barn, an old barn, and an equipment storage/workshop building, installed new fencing and a new water system, reclaimed the pastures from rose bush weeds, and removed truckloads of garbage. In a beautiful environment, we protected and loved twenty-four cows and oxen (primarily rescues). We eventually acquired two adjoining parcels and another parcel that made the land holding 165 acres.
We grew much of our food and preserved it by canning and drying. Unfortunately, a big deer and groundhog population tried to eat much of the garden. A very important resident, the dog Rudra, guarded the garden and successfully scared off the wild animals. Because the deer became so profuse we built a 9-foot fence around the 1-acre garden with the help of our donors.
We started seriously rescuing cows in 2011 when we took home a dairy cow. In 2012 we rescued two bull calves from a dairy, and in 2014, eight calves from an auction barn. Because of these rescues, we became acutely aware of the cows’ horrid living conditions in the meat and dairy industries. Their stories and much of our history can be read in our newsletters and e-newsletters and viewed on our YouTube channel.
In 2015 we made a massive move to Florida primarily due to my ongoing health challenges. Due to the rough, hilly terrain, our farm in West Virginia was labor-intensive. If I couldn’t do most of the labor I had done in the past 20 years, we would have to pay more than one person to help maintain the herd. We figured flat land in a warm climate would lessen the labor load. We moved all the herd and much of the equipment and belongings. In 2016 we moved into our new headquarters in Gainesville, Florida. The move-in date was May 5.
The move significantly decreased our labor load, and I was able to get excellent medical attention. Then Covid came, and all our plans were put on hold. So in some ways, it gave us time to reevaluate our priorities.
The happiness of the cows and bulls is our first priority. We feel our bottom line is to give the cows as well as the bulls (oxen) the best care we can. Training oxen is not the top priority as the practice can be misused, and the oxen become abused and unhappy. I do feel that both the cow and bull can learn voice commands which makes for more human and safe handling in situations like medical care and transport.
We have also realized that no matter how many cows we rescue, save and care for, there will be millions more suffering and in need of love. This phenomenon is because the meat and commercial dairy industries profit from exploiting the cow, her brothers, and her children.
Suppose you become a vegan or a vegetarian and do not take milk from the commercial dairy industry. In that case, you are lessening the demand for meat and dairy products: the less demand, the less the supply, and the less suffering for Mother Cow.
That is why we feel education is so important to saving more cows. So many people do not realize the correlation between diet change and saving cows. So our goal is to not only protect the ISCOWP herd to show an example of cow protection but also to spread information about diet change and how your diet affects cows everywhere.
We are looking forward to hearing from you at: [email protected] and please feel free to explore this website.
Written By :
William E. Dove (Balabhadra das)