THE ACTUAL PHILOSOPHICAL REASON FOR COW PROTECTION IS VERY SIMPLE: First of all, all living entities should be protected from slaughter and other violence at the hands of humans. Not only cows, but animals have SOULS the same as we do. All are children of God, all are dear to Him.
With this view in mind, it can be seen that slaughter is a form of MURDER.
The cow, however, is our MOTHER. Vedic philosophy teaches there are 7 mothers:
1) the birth mother,
2) the nurse,
3) the wife of the brahmana,
4) the wife of the king,
5) the wife of the spiritual master,
6) the earth, and
7) the cow.
You may wonder why the cow is considered one of the 7 mothers. Well, it is because she gives her milk to nourish us. A ll mothers should hold a position of respect, and since one does not kill and eat one's mother, the cow should not be killed and eaten. Likewise, the bull is our father because he can plow the earth to produce food grains. One does not kill and eat one's father and mother - not even when they are old and less economically useful.
In practice the first principle of cow protection, surprisingly, is OX EMPLOYMENT.
A mistake is made when only the cow is considered because typically her main usefulness is seen as milk production, and she won't give milk unless she first has a calf. Since half of all calves are bulls, the result will be a lot of excess bovine population. The expense of feeding them will be a deficit to the farmer. Unless employed as oxen, their only economic usefulness will be in their slaughter to produce meat.
The modern system of agriculture sees no other economically viable means of management. And most people, accustomed to this viewpoint and seeing no alternative, will throw up their hands and agree, even if they'd prefer a less violent solution. But that is only because they don't have the facts. They don't know that the overall value of the ox is greater when he is utilized for work than when he's slaughtered for meat.
The present system (in America) is full of ironies and very wasteful. Everyone laments the loss of the small family farm. But economic forces today require quantity control - which is dependent on expensive tractors, polluting fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers, and heavy mortgages - and the small farmer is driven out of business. Yet, beef production is subsidized with tax dollars. And in a world with increasing population and mass starvation, tons and tons of grains are inefficiently fed to cattle for a smaller return in protein. Cattle are usually concentrated in feedlots where their manure becomes an environmental hazard instead of the fine fertilizer it is meant to be. We are still importing millions of barrels of oil to run our tractors. And the government must from time to time give away surplus cheese to keep prices artificially raised.
A BETTER SYSTEM would be rearranging the components. First, breed cows not to provide milk with calves as the by-product, but to provide a team of oxen for every family farm with milk as the by-product. There will be neither excess milk nor excess calves. The oxen will be out in the pastures eating simply, and naturally fertilizing the soil, saving the farmer the cost of the tractor, fuel, and fertilizer. The oxen will be quite content to use their big muscles in such wholesome work, and the humans can become healthy vegetarians. As for the government, if it wants to subsidize something, why not the small family farm instead of the beef industry? The beef industry may have a powerful lobby, but who wants all that heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, not to mention all that bad karma from killing innocent animals!
Don't we all hanker for a simpler, cleaner, more wholesome, less violent Earth?