On December 29, the state government directed Sardarkrushinagar Dantiwada Agricultural University (SDAU) in Sabarkantha district to cancel its scheduled auction of 82 cows and buffaloes, leading to protests by farmers who had turned up at the university campus hoping to buy Kankreji cows or Mehsana buffalos. The SDAU is now stuck with these animals for more than a week.
Junagadh Agricultural University’s (JAU) cattle breeding farm (CBF), among the oldest organised farms in the state, too has 1,100 heads of the coveted purebred Gir cattle and Jaffrabadi buffaloes.
“This is around 100 to 150 heads more than what we require for research. The restriction on disposing of such animals through auction is becoming a problem for us as local panjrapoles are not accepting them even as the size of our herd is increasing. This is straining our resources and also preventing the transfer of high-quality genetic material to farmers,” professor VP Chovatia, in-charge vice-chancellor of JAU said.
As part of the state government’s effort to promote indigenous Kankrej and Gir cattle breeds and Mehsana, Surti and Jafrabadi buffaloes breeds, the four state-run agricultural universities have been conducting research on these breeds for the last five decades. While SDAU is researching on Kankrej cattle and Mehsana buffaloes, JAU is researching on Gir cattle and Jaffrabadi buffaloes. The Anand Agricultural University (AAU) is experimenting with crossbreeding Holstein Friesian with Kankrej (HFK) while the Navsari Agricultural University (NAU) is working on Surti buffaloes and Surti goats.
On an average, the universities require to dispose of one-third heads of their herds annually to maintain an elite stock of a breed and for the propagation of a given breed by selling them to farmers through open auction. Selling animals not needed for research also help universities earn some revenue.
In 2018, following complaints from animal rights activists that cattle heads auctioned by these universities were ending up at slaughterhouses, the state government had directed the latter not to give such animals to farmers and instead send them to panjrapoles (cattle shelters run by charitable organisations). In 2019, the government issued another circular allowing the sale of experimental animals having a productive life to farmers.
In December 2020, SDAU attempted to auction 53 Kankrej cows and 29 Mehsana buffaloes but backtracked at the last moment, apparently after animal rights activists put pressure on the government.
Currently, the Livestock Research Station (LRS) at SDAU is still saddled with 82 heads it doesn’t require. The size of the herd at LRS remains swollen at around 600 heads (460 Kankrej cattle and 240 Mehsana buffaloes, which is around 200 heads more than required, scientists say. The SDAU has not held any auction since 2018 even as the station is registering the birth of around 100 calves and nearly 50 buffalo calves every year.
“There were no male animals among 82 and, therefore, there was no question of them ending up at slaughterhouses as Kanakrej cattle and Mehsana buffaloes have gained a lot of popularity among farmers,” Dr DV Joshi, dean of College of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry at SDAU, said.
Dr BD Savaliya, research scientist and head of CBF in Junagadh, said the issue needs urgent attention. “We can’t transfer every animal to panjrapoles where it will be treated, at best, as an unproductive animal. Currently, we have to continue to look after cows and buffaloes which may not be required for research but can be of high value to farmers and it is increasing our herd strength beyond a desirable level,” the scientist said. At an auction, Gir cows attract bids up to Rs 1 lakh and buffaloes around Rs 80,000, he added.
JAU’s problem is compounded by the fact that Shree Junagadh Panjrapol Gaushala (SJPG) in Junagadh is not willing to accept the CBF animals. “The local panjrapole says it doesn’t have space. So, we are forced to look at faraway places. Some panjrapoles are demanding fees for admitting animals. We don’t have such a budget. Therefore, we are seeking guidance from the government over this issue,” Prof Chovatia added.
Rajendra Jobanpurta, chairman of SJPG, said his organisation is facing space and financial constraints. “Presently, we have 225 cattle heads and we neither have space nor wherewithal to accommodate and maintain more. Therefore, we had to turn down the JAU request. While we believe in saving every animal, we have to also ensure that once we accept an animal, it is looked after well,” he said. The government grant of Rs 25 per cattle head per day was much lower than the average maintenance cost of Rs 125, he added.
After the local panjrapole refused to accept the CBF animals, the JAU was forced to send 10 animals to a panjrapole in Surat and 20 to Deesa. “The desirable strength of our heard is 800 heads and we had to dispose of some animals this way,” Dr Savaliya said.
JAU is also implementing an ambitious network project for progeny testing of Jaffrabadi buffaloes in a field environment and has opened 10 artificial insemination (AI) centres. The CBF also gives pedigree bulls to village panchayats for the propagation of Gir breed, officers said.
The Livestock Research Station at AAU, which currently has a herd of 300 cattle heads (25 purebred Gir, 50 purebred Kankrej and 225 HFK crossbred cattle), however, has continued to transfer animals not wanted for research to panjrapoles. “After all, these are animals meant for research and not for commerce,” Dr MN Brahmbhatt, dean of faculty of veterinary science and animal husbandry of AAU, said.
But scientists say this new practice is straining LRS resources. “On average, we witness around 110 to 120 calving per year. We have been able to maintain the size of our herd by regularly transferring animals not required for research to Kapadvanj, Karjan and Petlad panjrapoles while giving bulls to farms and dairy unions. While the restrictions on auction don’t have any direct bearing on our research, transferring animals, especially to distant places like Karjan, involves a lot of labour and strains our resources,” Dr Kishan Wadhawani, research scientist and head of AAU’s LRS, said.
NAU, which has a herd of 250 cows of Gir and Kankrej cattle breed and Surti buffalo, has had to transfer around 100 head to a panjrapole in neighbouring Valsad district. “We have a small farm, so we keep only 250 cattle and their offspring. In the last three years, we have disposed of 100 livestock heads by transferring them to a panjrapole run by Bhagwan Mahavir Trust, a charitable organisation run by Jain community, at Khergam in Valsad district,” Manish Patel, a livestock research scientist at NAU, said.
Under the All India Coordinated Research Project of goat improvement scheme, NAU also maintains a herd of around 100 goats of indigenous Surti breed, which typically has a white coat. The project is progressing smoothly, the scientist says. “In the last three years, we have given 90 goats to the shepherds, who are our registered farmers. After three years, we take back the Surti goat from them and deliver it to another farmer in another village. The goat is given free of cost after giving five-day training to the shepherds on how to maintain the animal,” Dr Patel added.
Rajendra Shah, one of the directors of Gujarat State Animal Welfare Board (GSAWB) and trustee of Rajkot Mahajan Panjrapole in Rajkot, agrees not every panjrapoles might be in a position to accept animals from the universities. “This can be an issue particularly in smaller centres, like Junagadh. But panjrapoles and gaushalas in the state are taking care of 4.15 lakh animals and can certainly accommodate a few hundred experimental animals from the universities. That was our commitment to the government when we demanded an end to the practice of auction and we remain committed even today,” Shah said.
The state government provides assistance to panjrapoles in form of daily maintenance grant of Rs 25 per cattle per head to around 220 panjrapoles and 1,400 cow sheds.