Biodynamic agriculture includes carol singers singing to cows at Christmas

In keeping with the philosophy of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, at Hawthorne Valley Farm, New York State, carol singers will be singing carols to the cows at midnight on Christmas Eve. The tradition is also in keeping with an old European tradition.

Spencer Fenniman, the co-manager of Hawthorne Valley Farm, said, “It comes out of a deep spirit of reverence for the animals.” He added that, “This is giving thanks to the animals to provide a livelihood. It’s giving respect to the cows.”

The carol singers meet in the loafing shed which is an open sided building where cows are fed after milking and where they can lie down in beds of straw.

There will be 100 carollers singing to the cows. Fenniman said that, “Last year there was a lower turnout because of how cold it was.”

They will be singing Silent Night and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and The Friendly Beasts which contains the words, “every beast, by some good spell/In the stable dark was glad to tell/Of the gift he gave Emmanuel.”

Eighty-five cows will be hearing the carols. Fenniman added, “I can’t speak to how the cows respond to it. I do think there is this rhythmic element to cows. They chew their cud 60 times as part of their rumination process.”

In Rudolf Steiner’s day he went further than this in a series of lectures in 1924. He said that, “If you could crawl about inside the living body of a cow you would smell how the astral life in the living vitality pours inward from the horns.”

Steiner’s thoughts were probably the early stages of organic farming because his lectures were delivered in response to farming techniques which at the time were depleting soil which covered manure and composting and gave rise to experiments which are now thought to be the first wave of organic farms.

The director of programmes at Churchtown Dairy in Claverack, a biodynamic farm about 10 miles south of Hawthorne Valley, Grace Pullin, said: “You bring in as little from the outside as possible. We are working towards growing our own feed for the animals. We treat them with herbs and medicinal plants from the garden.”

At this farm, they also sing carols to the cows on a circular balcony in a round domed barn over two nights. The farm was founded in 2012 by the granddaughter of the oil tycoon John D Rockefeller.

These events have become very popular and now sold out to clients within hours of being advertised online. This farm is considering a third night of carols to meet demand. Pullin said that the cows were “pretty docile” when carols are sung to them. During the carol singing the cows are given fresh feed to try and ensure that they remain attentive.

Science hasn’t fully supported Steiner’s propositions. However, a study at Leicester University in 2001 did conclude that cows increase milk production when they hear the sound of slow music. Faster tempo music does not help. The music of Simon & Garfunkel in their song Bridge over Troubled Water is the kind of music which helps and which has fewer than 100 bpm.

Pullin hopes that it is a “soothing experience for them”. At Hawthorne Valley Farm the cows are brown Swiss and Normande while at Pullin’s farm the cows are Dutch belted, milking Devon and brown Swiss Jersey.

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Post Category: Cows