Two years ago, Manu Trikha, 42, wound up his event management company business in Delhi to devote full time to farming of land near Kotputli in Rajasthan’s Jaipur district. Last December, he decided to try out something different: Rearing male buffalo calves (MBC). He bought 32 of them locally, paying anywhere from Rs 1,400 for 2-3 month-old animals weighing 35-40 kg to Rs 4,000 for those somewhat older (8-9 months) and heavier (90-100 kg). “Their average weight was around 80 kg, which has since doubled to 160 kg. My idea is to sell them for slaughter around October-December, when they should reach 300-350 kg (the average daily weight gain for calves is 600-700 grams till they are 23-24 months old),” says Trikha.
Faizan Ahmed from Arni village in Atrauli tehsil of Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh district has gone one step further, already selling 21 padda — as MBCs are called — after rearing them till they were between 13 and 24 months old. “Their carcass yield (body weight after netting out everything, except meat and bones) ranged from 116 kg for the 13-month animal to 273 kg for the one aged 23-24 months. I got a price of Rs 45,000 for the latter,” notes the 35-bigha (about seven acres) farmer, who sold all his padda to Frigerio Conserva Allana Ltd, which operates an integrated abattoir-cum-meat processing plant close to Aligarh.
Faizan is currently maintaining 65 padda, normally weighing 20-25 kg at birth. “Most people dispose of these calves after 3-4 months, when they would have been weaned off their mothers and nor is their presence necessary to stimulate milk production. Nobody wants to keep them because they will not yield any milk. Many die even before turning one,” he points out.
Faizan has been mainly procuring 7-8 month-old padda for Rs 2,500-4,000 and rearing them for 15-16 months to sell at Rs 40,000-45,000. “Their entire hara chara (green fodder) requirement I meet by growing berseem and jai (oats). Even the sookha chara (dry fodder: wheat straw and bajra stover) comes from my field. I purchase only the khali (de-oiled mustard cake) and bhusi (wheat bran). The feed cost is around Rs 15 per day when the padda is eight-months old and Rs 60 at 22-23 months (when the body weight is more).
At an average of Rs 25 per day, the total feed expense over 16 months works out to only Rs 12,000 or so,” he explains.
Besides, there is money also to be made from manure. “A young calf can give 10 kg of wet dung per day, yielding, in turn, 2.5 kg of vermicompost which fetches Rs 8 per kg. For 100 animals, that would be Rs 2,000 daily, enough to take care of my labour costs,” adds Trikha.
These farmers could be representative of the start of a new trend in India’s $ 4-billion buffalo meat export industry, which until now has relied on slaughter and processing of spent female animals that have stopped giving milk. “Active rearing of male calves for meat production is the way forward. If farmers can be encouraged not to discard these animals and, instead, grow them to 24 months, it will be a game-changer not only for the industry, but the entire livestock-based rural economy,” states Amarpreet Sidhu, general manager (calf rearing) at Frigerio Conserva Allana.
The 2012 Livestock Census showed India’s total buffalo population at 108.7 million, of which over 85 per cent (92.6 million) comprised females. Even out of the 16.1 million male buffaloes, more than two-thirds (10.8 million) were below two years of age. The very low proportion of adult males, used for draught and/or breeding purposes, suggest high early-age mortality rates, whether due to deliberate underfeeding or slaughter. While “female bias” also exists for cattle – where out of the total 190.9 million population, males (calves, bulls, bullocks) number 67.9 million or almost 36 per cent — it is even more apparent in buffaloes. And with draught power increasingly being supplied by tractors and artificial insemination replacing natural breeding, farmers have hardly any incentive now to keep male buffaloes.
“Logically speaking, if there are 20.15 million female buffalo calves aged below one year, we should have an equal number of MBCs (whereas they are just half of the former, a result of above-normal mortality). Assuming normal mortality of 5 per cent (one million) and 20 per cent annual replacement of the existing 5.3 million stock of draught and breeding animals (1.1 million), there is potential to rear at least 18 million MBCs for meat. Each of these calves can be grown to 350 kg average live body weight within two years of their age, while yielding roughly 117 kg of boneless meat (at one-third) and 35 kg of raw hide (at 10 per cent)”, according to Napa Kondaiah, former director of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s (ICAR) National Research Centre on Meat at Hyderabad.
The 13.30 lakh tonnes of buffalo meat annually exported by India will now entail slaughter of some 8.9 million spent adult animals, each weighing 450 kg. Salvaging and rearing of MBCs would not only help further augment meat exports, but also provide more raw material for the domestic leather industry and open up a new avenue for rural employment. “Our price realisations on exports, too, will go up because the meat of young animals would be tender, juicer and with better sensory quality than that from spent buffaloes aged eight years or more,” claims Kondaiah.
Interestingly, the potential for fattening of MBCs for quality meat production was highlighted way back in 1995 by a report of the ICAR’s National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) at Karnal (Haryana), which was the product of a joint consultancy project with Al-Kabeer Exports Ltd. “Underfed male buffalo calves after weaning are either starved to death or pushed to (the) slaughterhouse. Such malnourished calves weighing 60 to 80 kg hardly yield 30 to 35 kg carcass of inferior quality. These calves, if reared on high energy diets up to a live body weight of 350 kg, may yield 180 kg carcass of good quality,” summed up the report, authored by NDRI scientists D D Sharma, J P Sehgal, K K Singhal and M K Ghosh.
At that time, though, the country had just three modern buffalo slaughterhouses – the Allana Group’s facility at Zaheerabad and Al-Kabeer’s at Rudraram (both in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh), plus Mumbai’s Deonar abattoir — and meat exports were not even Rs 500 crore a year. But with 79 approved abattoirs for exports today – most of them with integrated meat-processing plants – and annual shipments crossing Rs 29,000 crore, “we must seriously pursue the MBC option“, feels Kondaiah.