Punjab’s livestock farmers are betting on desi horses to make an extra buck, though not on the racecourse. The state is not new to horse breeding but had for decades been working only with imported breeds in high-profile stud farms. The desis, a sturdy breed but not a racehorse, are being bred by the average farmer.
Farmers breed desi horses in four or five stud farms, sell horses and foals and get cash awards at horse shows. The government is aiding farmers. The breeds include the nukra (white horse) of Punjab, besides horses indigenous to Rajasthan and Gujarat.
“Indigenous horse breeding has changed since 2008-09 after the Punjab government started organising horse shows at district, state and national levels,” said horse breeding expert H S Kahlon, veterinary officer with the animal husbandry department.
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Kahlon added indigenous breeds are ideal for sport, and for ceremonial purposes during weddings and religious processions. They are also popular in the army, police and other forces. The nukra is considered auspicious for religious functions, he said.
Director, animal husbandry, Dr H S Sandha said farmers are being attracted by the profits. Two horse markets come up in Muktsar during Maghi Mela in January and Dussehra to facilitate buying and selling. “Buyers come from Delhi, Rajasthan, UP and Mumbai and farmers earn Rs 2 lakh to Rs 10 lakh,” he said, adding the department organises competitions to increase awareness and make horse breeding a source of income for small and marginal farmers and produce half-breed horses for sports, polo and police duties. “Punjab owns over 29,000 horses, over 15 per cent of the number in the country, which is the highest in any state. Around 70 per cent of white horses in the country are available in Punjab,” said Dr Kahlon.
It takes around three years for the returns to come. A foal is born in about 11 months. A foal of five months can be sold between Rs 30,000 and Rs 1.5 lakh.
Baldeep Singh of Nanaksar village in Ludhiana said, “I bought a mare for Rs 17,000 and groomed her and she has won me Rs 3.5 lakh as awards in competitions over the past few months, including Rs 2 lakh in Muktsar mela and Rs 1 lakh in Chapparchiri’s agriculture summit recently.”
Baldeep owns four mares, a male and two foals. “My business is doing well and I go to Rajsthan to cross-mate my mares with the best stallions. I usually sell foals at ages between six months and a year. If a foal is beautiful, I keep it with me and prefer to sell after it turns four when it can fetch Rs 8 to 10 lakh,” he said. Dr Kahlon said Punjab’s horses are in great demand with the police of various states. Raising mules, in demand in the army, is an option for small farmers.
Nahar Singh Brar of Khunan Kalan in Muktsar owns six mares. Eight-year-old mare Razia won him Rs 13.50 lakh from 2008 to 2013 in competitions, said Gurjit Singh, son of Nahar Singh, adding he could ask for any amount for the mare. “We keep only five to seven animals and look after them very well, including exercising and grooming them… their beauty brings us fortune in competitions People of the Marwari community prefer to keep at least one horse at their place as they consider it auspicious so there is huge demand of horses from Gujarat,” said Gurjit.
It gives good returns but involves high costs as horses demand great care and owners have to spend Rs 5,000 per month on an adult horse on diet, grooming and medicines, said Ravinder Singh of Bathinda, who owns four animals. A stallion can impregnate 60 mares during breeding season, February to July.
“I have one of the best stallions and many horse breeders approach me to get their mares mated,” said Hardeep Singh of Hamad village in Firozpur district. “I earn Rs 3,500 to 4,000 per servicing, Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 per day. I own around 15 animals and have won 13 to 14 awards since 2009 thanks to breeding with beautiful horses and mares,” said Hardeep. Jaspal Singh of Khunan Kalan village, who owns 10 nukras, finds buyers on the Internet.
Experts said horse breeding can enhance the market for oats, grass, horse gram and barley, besides bridles, saddles, horse shoes, and medicine. It can also generate employment for riding boys, trainers, jockeys and veterinarians.