Driving north on Highway 1 to Iowa City, I watch the cows grazing on rolling green pastures and think how nice their life must be, so quiet and contented.
But cows raised on pastures are a rare minority. According to the Humane Society, most dairy cows in the U.S. are confined to factory farms, kept indoors or on dirt feedlots, without access to any grassland.
“Farm animal cruelty and the collapse of the natural world are rooted in a fundamental disconnect between humanity and nature,” writes Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming. “By turning living, sentient creatures into animal machines on factory farms, we have created both the biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet and a major driver of wildlife declines worldwide.”
While organizations such as Compassion in World Farming, the Humane Society, PETA, and others are working to help animals confined in factory farms, cruelty to cows persists. Fortunately, in Fairfield, Katherine Doak founded The Cows Foundation, which is dedicated to making a difference. Katherine is also responsible for a cow sanctuary in Upstate New York.
We spoke to Katherine last month to find out more about the foundation and its work.
What is your vision for the cows, Katherine?
The Cows Foundation wants to create a significant transformation for the treatment of cows by raising awareness of their sensitive, intelligent, and loving nature. We are promoting the humane care of cows by providing knowledge and practical support according to the following four principles: allowing cows to live out their full span of life, nurturing them with respect and kindness, allowing cows to nurse their calves for at least four to six months, and giving them free access to organic pastures.
In considering all the species on earth, most mothers stay with their offspring. Mankind, however, has chosen to make cows an exception and to separate calves from their mothers at birth. This is hard on the mothers and calves. A few family dairy farms still allow their cows to graze on pastures and let calves stay with their mothers. We are grateful to sanctuaries and farmers who allow cows and bulls to live full life spans and keep the mothers and calves together, but we need to see that all animals have this natural right.
What is your plan to change the plight of cows?
We are raising funds to support farmers in adopting the four principles of The Cows Foundation. We also promote our message by networking with animal rights groups and sanctuaries to find ways we can work together. We can help support existing sanctuaries so they can take additional cows or create new sanctuaries, as needed, so cows and bulls can live their full span of life with dignity and respect.
In time we hope the principle of “ahimsa” will be the model for farms. Ahimsa means nonviolence or non-injury. When you realize you are not separate from the world, the wish to not injure springs up automatically. Consumer data trends show that people are moving away from meat consumption. While many people won’t consume dairy products because of how cows are treated, many state that they would if they knew the cows were raised in a humane environment.
Cows are sentient beings, sensitive and aware of everyone in their herd, the human beings around them, and their environment. If something causes them distress and fear, it adversely affects their chemical balance and that is carried through their bloodstream into their milk. On the other hand, if cows live in a nourishing environment, knowing they are safe, their milk’s composition reflects their peace and happiness.
How long have you had this affinity for cows?
I’ve always loved cows, but my life changed when I moved to North Carolina in 1998 and lived across the street from a small farm practicing ahimsa principles. The cows watched me as I came and went, and I grew to know them and love them. I became friends with Billy, their cowherd, who taught me to milk and let me watch them give birth.
One day, Billy surprised me with a question: “If anything ever happens to me, will you be sure the cows are okay?” He seemed healthy and I did not anticipate anything would happen, so I said yes. Six months later, Billy passed away suddenly. Overnight I was responsible for a herd of cows needing a new home.
What is it like to be with the cows daily?
It’s wonderful being in the presence of the cows. They have a calming, motherly quality that makes one feel peaceful and settled. I learned to relax and be more thoughtful in all my activity with them. Cows communicate on a subtle level and I notice my intuition growing. I’m aware of their thoughts and feelings—and they definitely know mine!
Can you give an example?
One day I was in my room when a quiet but strong feeling came that I should go see the cows immediately! On arriving to the pasture, I found a cow with her leg tangled in a wire fence. The rest of the cows in the herd surrounded her, supporting her. As I untangled the wire and freed her, I noticed something unusual. The cow standing closest to her was the one who usually gave her a hard time. But there she was, displaying the most concern! It made me reflect on how people are sometimes hardest on those they love the most.
What inspired you to start The Cows Foundation?
I was close to the eldest cow in the herd, Laxmi, who was deeply respected and loved by everyone, cows and humans alike. In the way that cows communicate with each other and with humans, Laxmi let me know that while life for this particular herd was wonderful, we needed to help all cows. She helped me understand that this was the reason she and I had come together.
Every time I went away and returned, Laxmi looked at me as if to say, “Have you done anything yet?” Her attention motivated me to launch The Cows Foundation in 2015. Laxmi was simply a messenger for a great need of our time—to create a transformation that brings all lives back in tune with natural law.
How can all of us help transform the lives of cows?
Communities need to join together and create ahimsa dairies for their own needs, or help support local dairies in upholding the four principles of The Cows Foundation. We are happy to help!
A few years ago, I was fortunate to have a conversation with the great animal rights activist Jane Goodall, who said, “Cows are one of the most overlooked animals on earth.”
The relationship between human life and the life of cows is ancient. If handled humanely, this relationship will yield tremendous benefit for the health and happiness of our world by creating a compassionate culture for animals and humans alike.
The Cows Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit. To learn more, visit TheCowsFoundation.org.