Travel north outside of London and you will have reached Bhaktivedanta Manor, the sprawling 17-acre Hertfordshire countryside estate that George Harrison purchased in 1973 for the followers of Lord Krishna. Home to the UK chapter of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the campus bustles with the collective hustle of both devotees and visitors to the Radha Krishna temple, occupying much of the ground floor of the Tudor-style building. But while the Bhaktivedanta Manor is famous for its colourful history, not as well-known is its reputation as a model for organic dairy—for its Ahimsa milk standard and the humane treatment of its cow herd.
I visit the Bhaktivedanta Manor a day after the 10th anniversary of Harrison’s death was commemorated on November 29. Garlands of marigold are still strewn about in the memorial garden. I saunter to the large barns that house the community’s 55-strong dairy herd.
On this beautiful late November morning, most of the cows are out grazing; two calves and a group of males are knee-deep in freshly deposited straw cushions. “We have set up the Ahimsa milk standard,” says Ahimsa Dairy Foundation director Sanjay Tanna (or Sitarama Das, as he is known amongst the Krishna devotees), referring not only to the farm’s fully organic products, but also its ‘no-slaughter policy’. Bull calves here are not sold to be killed at abattoirs, but stay and work for a living. This particular morning, four are engaged in pulling the ploughs on what is to become a potato field. On weekends and during festivals, there are bullock cart rides, very popular amongst children.
The cows provide around 40,000 litres of milk a year, a little less than 4,000 litres from each bovine, a third of what conventionally kept high-yield breeds...