Punjab’s dairy farmers seem lukewarm to the idea of rearing indigenous cow breeds such as Sahiwal and Gir, despite the state government launching a subsidy-cum-training scheme encouraging them to start desi cattle units.
“An average Holstein Friesian (HF) cow gives 10,000-12,000 litres of milk in a 10-month lactation cycle, whereas the yields from a desi cow are only 3,000-3,600 litres. Also, an HF calf takes just two years to mature and start producing milk, while it is three years for desi breeds,” notes Daljit Singh, who rears over 400 animals at Sardarpura village in Ludhiana’s Jagraon tehsil and is also president of Punjab’s Progressive Dairy Farmers’ Association (PDFA). Balbir Singh, a 50-cow dairy farmer from Udhowal in Nawanshahr district and general secretary of PDFA, believes it is economical to keep desi cattle only if their milk can be sold at Rs 100 per litre and the government also subsidises feed costs.
According to the last Livestock Census for 2012, Punjab had 18.24 lakh female exotic/cross-bred cattle, of which 11.34 lakh were adult milch cows. As against this, there were only 1.7 lakh female indigenous cattle, including 1.03 lakh milch animals. State animal husbandry department officials estimate the current count of desi cows in Punjab in the 40,000-50,000 range.
The state government, of late though, has sought to revive the tradition of rearing indigenous cows by providing 50 per cent subsidy on the cost of cattle and also three years free insurance. “Our target is to open 200 desi cattle units (farms) in 2015-16, with each having between two to 10 cows,” says HS Sandha, director of Punjab’s animal husbandry department.
Farmers are further being given free-of-cost training for rearing of indigenous cattle by the Punjab Dairy Development Board (PDDB). “We have trained around 200 farmers till date at our various centres, including in Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Patiala and Firozpur. They have been made aware about the merits of desi cows. We are receiving several queries now from farmers across the state for opening units,” claims Inderjit Singh, additional chief executive officer, PDDB.
Sahiwal cow milk, he points out, have fat content of 4 to 4.5 per cent, compared to only 3 to 3.5 per cent for the same from cross-breds. Besides, indigenous animals are relatively drought and disease-resistant, unlike the exotic cows that are very delicate. “You need to put fans and coolers on during summers to save HFs from heat stroke and other induced diseases, whereas the Sahiwals can tolerate high temperatures without any such problems,” adds Ram Lubhaya, training inspector at PDDB’s Phagwara centre.
Farmers, however, don’t appear fully convinced about these advantages. So far, only two desi cow units, both in Firozpur district, have come up under the Punjab government’s new scheme. Among them that is of Buta Singh, a farmer from Dheera Patra village of Firozpur district, who has opened a unit of 11 desi cows and two bulls. He has also founded a ‘Dheera farmer help society’, which is selling desi cow milk at Rs 50 per litre and ghee at Rs 1,000 per kg. But PDFA’s Daljit Singh feels that selling cow milk at more than Rs 25-26 per litre is not easy. While it is possible to keep one or two Sahiwal cows for self-consumption, commercial dairying can be feasible only with high-yielding animals that allow more milk to be the produced per farm, bringing down overall marketing and logistics costs per litre.
There is another significant factor: The bulk of dairy farmers are involved not just in producing milk from cows, but also in the business of commercial rearing of HF and crossbred calves. Singh reckons that around three lakh exotic/crossbred cows from Punjab worth over Rs 2,000 crore are transported annually to other states, of which one lakh is to Gujarat alone. High-milking HF cattle fetch anywhere between Rs 70,000 for a one-and-a-half year old calf and over Rs one lakh for a cow. It is a common sight to see these animals being bought in Gujarat by farmers, who then sell the milk from them at high prices paid by cooperative dairies. Being a significant crossbred cow breeding state is seen as a reason why the desi cattle revival may be a non-starter in Punjab. Even if farmers were to breed Sahiwal cows, the low milk yields would mean their rates will not be more than Rs 60,000-70,000.
Finally, HF cows can be easily disposed of after 4-5 lactation cycles, when milk yields start dropping. This option is ruled out in desi cattle, thanks to the growing activity of gau-rakshaks or so-called cow protectors. In recent times, Punjab’s dairy farmers have been facing problems from gau-rakshaks looting even trucks carrying cross-bred cows that are transported to other states. This harassment has reduced somewhat now, but it still makes disposal of desi cows difficult. “Once their milk yields fall, we would be left with no choice but leave these animals at the gau shalas. This is not so with HF cows, which can be sold to outsiders,” says a farmer.
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