Introducing Kabir, the first calf born in our farm, the newest addition to our family. Kapila was the 2nd cow who arrived at the farm last year February had just delivered a male calf Krish then. We knew of the impending delivery on account of Kapila’s demeanour from 22nd June morning.
Seshaiyya had volunteered to be on guard through the night despite a power outage and a malfunctioning solar fence. We were very excited throughout the day. We rushed to the farm in the morning at the break of dawn instead of the usual 9 am, with the hope of either getting the good news or witnessing childbirth first hand. As soon as we reached the cow shed, we got a sight of the newborn and our hearts filled with joy! Seshaiyya informed us that Kapila had delivered Kabir on June 22nd 11:40 pm.
It amazed us to see a cow calf walking and stumbling a few hours after being born. It takes humans 1 year to even start trying. :p Both Kabir and Kapila seem healthy. Did you know that milk delivered for the first few days after delivery is called colostrum (seem paal in Tamil)? I am learning something new almost everyday here.
After we shared Kabir’s birth with everyone, we got some worried messages from people asking what will happen to him, how we’ll be able to raise him. We already have two bull calves at the farm, and we don’t generate any income from them.
About economics of bull rearing
Because they’re hybrid bulls, they can’t withstand the tropical weather conditions as much as native ones. So they’re not best suited for ploughing. Also, tractors have replaced the need for bullock (castrated bulls) driven ploughs because they are more economical. So, a double whammy for bulls.
States where the sale of meat is legal, young bulls are usually sold off for meat. Bulls from surrounding states are also transported across the border. Over supply of milk have also kept prices low and it is not economical in the short term for Tamil Nadu farmers to maintain bulls till they grow old. Purchase of hay for milking cows is usually funded by selling off the young bull of the same cow. Whenever we speak to Seshaiyya about our worries in regard to generating income from the farm, he says ‘Kaala kuttiye kuduthuralam medam’.
Whatever attitude we are seeing towards consumption of cow/bull meat these years is only a recent trend owing to the nationalism wave. To sustain the cattle economy, bulls have been sold for meat for ages. This is another reason milk is available at cheap prices across the country. If sale of bulls are banned completely, farmers will either start abandoning them or killing them prematurely.
A controversial book on this topic is The Myth of the Holy Cow. Do give it a read if you don’t mind listening to what seems to be the truth. https://www.amazon.in/Myth-Holy-Cow-D-Jha/dp/8189059165
About artificial insemination
While in certain places in India, the human girl child is abandoned or aborted, it is the opposite case for cows. Whenever a cow delivers a bull, it isn’t celebrated anymore, because the bull won’t generate regular income or be of use at the farm. Bulls were also reared by farmers for mating. With advent of artificial insemination, the need for maintaining bulls is further reduced. Word spreads like wild fire as soon as a new higher-yielding bull’s sperm is available and everyone starts seeking it from the veterinary doctor. Artificial insemination reduces genetic diversity because only the bulls sperm which produces maximum amount of milk is sought.
However, in places like Tirunelveli rural, the practice of attempting natural pregnancy with the closest bull is still prevalent for the first couple of attempts. If unsuccessful in those, the cow is then taken to the veterinary doctor or he/she is called to the farm.
About native cows
While we would have liked to have native cows for obvious reasons, we chose to buy hybrid cows last year, because of dearth of native cows in surrounding villages and towns. We urgently wanted to start achieving self-reliance in animal manure needs for the farm and the minimal milk we need for our family. Searching for native cows would have taken some time and we were growing impatient. Patience is an extremely important virtue to have while pursuing a sustainable lifestyle, we have learnt it the hard way.
Humans have reared cows for close to 10000 years. We believe that our bodies have evolved to be tolerant to lactose in most cases where we have lived along these magnificent beasts. The animal protein and vitamin B12 that our ancestors in the Homo genus used to get from insects and other hunted/scavenged animals was replaced by domesticated animals.
Cultures in India, except a few, have mostly not practiced entomophagy (practice if eating insects) which I feel is the most sustainable form of consuming whatever little nutrition that plants aren’t able to generate for us. While we have been trying to consciously choose the most sustainable way in every aspect of our lives, we are unable to change our behaviour and habits in the case of milk so far. As on date, we follow a lacto-vegetarian diet : the only animal product we are consuming is milk and derived products. Though, we have stopped buying butter, ghee, cheese, paneer because they require an outrageous amount of milk to produce and are plastic packaged stale foods.
Did you know that multiple species of ants rear aphids for an easy food source? Definitely, not the way we exploitatively rear livestock. I don’t want to dive deep into the ethics of rearing livestock. But here is what I have to stay : the way an overwhelming majority of us are living right now, a lot of questions can be raised on almost every aspect of our diets. Ethics are fluid and vary with culture, geography and time. There are humane and regenerative ways of raising livestock, but we as a society have turned a blind eye to where our food comes from. As Mr. Buddha said, life is full of suffering. So, we have chosen a path of minimal suffering. Or so we would like to believe, at least.
P.S. this post is only about bos indicus & it’s hybrids and not about bubalus bubalis (water buffalo). India is the world’s second largest exporter of water buffalo meat. We are virtually exporting an enormous amount of fresh water because of the heavy water footprint of rearing livestock. More on that some other time.
Noushadya and Sudhakar