Anand Kumar’s (name changed) 18 buffaloes, at first sight, seem to belong to a regular dairy farm. But on closer inspection, it turns out they are all males of six to 18 months age — and being reared exclusively for meat.
“I bought these kattas (male buffalo calves) from farmers here, paying Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,600 each. They have all grown well since I started keeping them in April,” says Kumar, who has housed the 18 animals at a covered shed with fans at a villagein Patiala district’s Rajpura tehsil. He is also maintaining seven male buffalo calves at other farmers’ homes and planning to build another shed within the same 350-square-yard plot, which can eventually accommodate 30-plus animals.
Kumar runs a grain aarhat (commission agent) operation at Rajpura’s New Grain Market. For him, the rearing of male buffalo calves is just any other business.
“Farmers don’t keep male calves once they have been weaned off their mothers and are not required for stimulating milk flow either. But instead of selling them for Rs 1,500 (when they are about three months and weigh 40-50 kg) or at Rs 4,000 (for nine-month animals weighing 100-120 kg), the kattas could be reared for 23-24 months. If fed well, they can easily reach 400 kg-plus and fetch over Rs 24,000,” says the 40-year-old, whose one male buffalo calf aged 18 months has already attained 430 kg weight.
Kumar, however, is an exceptional entrepreneur rearing bovines solely for sale to slaughterhouses. A more common emerging model is of farmers rearing both female and male buffaloes, the former for milk and the latter for meat.
Jaspal Singh Mann farms paddy on 11 of his 12-acre holding at Swajpur village in Patiala tehsil. On the remaining land, he grows green fodder from jowar (sorghum), maize and bajra (pearl-millet) for his 15 animals. They include nine milch animals (eight buffaloes and one cow) and six buffalo calves, of which two are “katti” (female) and four “katta”. His oldest calf, aged 18 months, weighs 250 kg, while the youngest, at 20 days, is all of 35 kg. The other two are seven months and nine months, weighing 80 kg and 110 kg, respectively.
“Earlier, I barely fed my kattas. The moment a katta’s presence was not necessary for its mother to release milk, I would call the livestock trader and sell for Rs 2,000-4,000. But now, I’m paying equal attention to my kattas as the kattis. Why should I lose money just because my buffalo has given birth to a katta?” asks Mann, who sells an average 50 litres of milk daily from his buffaloes.
A normal buffalo would be roughly 3.5 years old when it produces its first calf. Thereafter, it may give birth every 15 months, adding up to eight or so calves over a 12-13 year lifespan. But out of the eight, only half would be female that can potentially grow to milch animals.
“The farmer sees the male buffalo calf as a liability, when it could well be an income-generating asset. With proper feeding, a two-year-old male can fetch Rs 25,000. The farmer can, then, make Rs 100,000 from the four male calves produced by his buffalo, apart from the milk that its four female calves may yield in future,” says Ritu Prakash David, founder-director, RVM Agri Solutions India Pvt Ltd.
David’s company is implementing a programme called Swadhan, under which farmers can enrol their male buffalo calves at six months when they weigh 40-80 kg. The programme is for 18 months, during which they are given a special ‘Balwan’ feed, which contains more crude protein to support muscle growth, than calcium and phosphorus required for milk production. They are also administered vaccination twice, against foot-and-mouth disease and haemorrhagic septicaemia, and de-worming medicines every quarter to prevent diarrhoea-linked weight loss.
“The vaccinations and de-worming are free, while the feed is being made available at Rs 20 per kg. The feed requirement over the 18-month period is around 560 kg, costing Rs 11,200. The farmer may also spend a couple of thousands on green/dry fodder, but we are guaranteeing a buyback of the animals at an average Rs 60-per-kg price. So, if the male calf grows to 400 kg, the farmer gets Rs 24,000,” says David.
She claims that nearly 5,000 farmers in Patiala, Sangrur, Ludhiana, and Amritsar districts have registered 8,000 calves under Swadhan. “My idea is to supply these to buffalo meat processors, who currently source spent female animals that have stopped giving milk or very young male calves,” says the 33-year-old social entrepreneur.
According to A S Nanda, vice-chancellor of the Guru Angad Dev Veterinary & Animal Sciences University at Ludhiana, active rearing of male buffalo calves for meat production is a “very viable proposition”. Unlike in cattle, he says, there is “no social taboo against buffalo slaughter”. The growing demand for milk and meat for exports will lead farmers, especially in Punjab and Haryana, to increasingly shift from cattle to buffaloes, making more male calves available for processing, he predicts.
The last 2012 Livestock Census showed India’s total male buffalo population at 16.10 million, as against 92.60 million females. Also, male buffaloes aged below two years numbered only 10.80 million, compared to 20.16 million females less than a year old. It suggested high “female bias”, which an active male buffalo calf rearing programme can, perhaps, partly correct.