After a long wait, native cows a.k.a naatu maadu arrived at our farm on 28th February 2021. We were rearing hybrid cows (cross between jersey with native breeds) until last month. But their high maintenance needs made us re-evaluate our decision. It was two years ago, between February and April 2019, that 3 cows : Karuppi, Kapila and Lakshmi had arrived at our farm.
Why native cows?
When we had started searching for cows in 2019, we couldn’t find native cows easily because local breeds are slowly getting lost and therefore difficult to find. Also, because we were new to this place and didn’t know a lot of people to ask around for guidance. The lure of a quick income from milk to sustain the farm expenditure made us choose hybrid cows then. Little did we know that that over the long run, the profitability of rearing hybrid cows is very low.
Because most cows are now artificial inseminated, a lot of them are afraid of natural reproduction. Noushadya and I are against artificial insemination because it reduces the genetic diversity among the cattle population of a region. Whenever we took Karuppi and Lakshmi to a bull nearby when they were in heat, they got extremely uncomfortable and they never could mate.
If you didn’t know, cows only lactate 6-12 months a year after they deliver a calf. If they don’t immediately conceive after they are ready to, it is a loss making proposition for the farmer. The costs of maintaining a cow is sustained even though the revenue from cow milk stops. The imported hybrid cows can’t survive in the tropical and sub tropical regions of our country without enormous amounts of feed and fodder, which are significant costs to the farmer. The revenue from cow dung aren’t sufficient to recover their maintenance costs when they aren’t giving milk. This is why farmers resort to artificial insemination, instead of waiting for a bull to mate with. Karuppi and Lakshmi weren’t able to naturally conceive for more than a year. It was with a heavy heart, we had to watch them and the three male calves leave the farm last month.
Did you know that a large amount of the grains from our Public Distribution System (ration) is diverted towards feeding hybrid cows when they are lactating to ensure high milk production?
After a month long search in February, we found a family, who weren’t able to manage their livestock herd and were looking for people to sell them to. They were not interested in selling the cows to cattle traders, who would have most likely sold the cows to the active slaughter trade in the neighbouring state of Kerala. They wanted the progeny of cows, that they had taken care of over the last 3 decades, to live long lives in good hands. So, we got 4 adult cows, 2 adolescent cows, 2 young calves and 1 adult bull from them.
The most important reason native breeds of cows are not preferred any more is that they don’t give the same amount of milk per lactation as the imported breeds of cows from the US and Europe. To increase milk production in the country, instead of choosing to research and select the highest milk producing native breeds, we resorted to importing breeds during Operation Flood a.k.a White Revolution. These breeds are from temperate regions and are not best suited to sub tropical, tropical regions of our country. They are prone to more diseases than native breeds and often need veterinary support. Given the impending effects of climate change on temperatures, which breeds do you think will be more suited to evolve? Native, I am sure.
Why Non-Descript cows?
What aches my heart, is well-meaning South Indian farmers choosing to rear north Indian breeds such as Gir and Sahiwal. These breeds have evolved in sub tropical regions of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Pakistan and cannot withstand the sustained heat of the arid regions of the Deccan plateau.
There has been enough said in mainstream as well as social media about protecting native south Indian breeds such as Kangayam, Thenpandi, Vechur, Ongole, Umblacheri etc.. A lot of interest has especially been generated because of the protests around Jallikattu a couple of years back. So, there are people who have been able to contribute in preserving these breeds in one way or the other.
lacking distinctive or interesting features or characteristics.
But, non-descript cows don’t seem to be in any government body’s radar. Because they don’t have unique identifiers and are local to each area, centralized conservation efforts are difficult to come by. While they may not have the highest milk productivity compared even to certain native descript breeds, they don’t require man-made feed to exist. Free range grazing of wild grasses is sufficient to fill their stomachs and they provide various ecosystem services in form of their dung, urine and browsing without much manual intervention.
To explain the population of cows in some more detail, I usually draw parallels to the more universally adopted animal friends : dogs. Exotic breeds of dogs like Rottweiler, German shepherd, Labrador, Shih Tzu are equivalent to Jersey and Holstein cows. Native breeds such as Chippiparai, Kombai, Rajapalayam are equivalent to Kangayam, Thenpandi, Pulikulam. The Indian Pariah Dog / Pye-dog a.k.a stray dogs, are somewhat equivalent to the non-descript cattle. I can’t do complete justice to identification of cattle with this comparison. But you get the gist. The condition of nondescript cattle are similar to that of pye-dogs : they have lost the respect of the majority. Even rural folk now prefer to raise exotic breeds of dog, given their elitism, rather than native ones.
Even though indigenous native cows still outnumber exotic hybrid breeds, their population is decreasing fast. If consumer awareness doesn’t increase, research is not carried out for indigenous breeds and farmers keep abandoning cows, we are going to lose a lot of genetic diversity in a very short period of time.
This is an article that explains the need for conservation of native breeds in very good detail
We are building an economic system where we are dependent on capital-intensive maintenance systems to keep society going. This is true about livestock as well – without artificial insemination centres, veterinary support, feed from faraway lands, the system will collapse. Family and community based farms have slowly been dismantled to give way for mechanised large farms managed by a single male member of the family. Without the physical presence and support of family or community members, it doesn’t make sense for farmers to conserve native cows independently without compensation.
A system where local communities are taught to conserve local breeds by ensuring increasing milk productivity while also making best use of cow dung & urine to make compost and other value added products is the best solution forward for ecosystems.
We would like to make a special mention of Om Prakash, who helped us connect with Ashok and family, the previous owners of the cow. Om Prakash is a fellow farmer in a village nearby, Chettipanankaadu, who raises native cows and chicken in his farm. He has been a source of constant encouragement in making this move from exotic to native cows. He is currently experimenting with making a lot of products such as dhoop sticks, soaps, tooth powder, floor cleaner using native cow dung & urine. We will talk more about him on our social media pages in the near future. Keep an eye out!
We are thankful to my parents, parents-in-law, Jaya athai, Sharada athai, Kannan chithappa, Nirmal aunty, Lalita aunty, Deepa, Poornima, Srividhya for supporting financially and emotionally our journey with cows : both hybrids as well as native.
Because we are just a young couple managing the farm and animals independently with little past experience, we have to be dependent on women from the nearby village to manage livestock and poultry. From the cows, we expect to get milk only for home consumption, for volunteers, guests; and of course cow dung and urine for compost making + soil regeneration. We won’t be making any monetary profits for the next couple of years from cattle rearing.
We will be incurring expenses towards wages and a little towards feed. A part of the monthly expenditure is already being contributed by a couple of our friends and family members. Please email me on email@example.com if you wish to make a monthly or one-time contribution towards our efforts – I will share the details of expenses when we connect. The cows and we would be very grateful to you! Mooooo! 🙂