Stray cows’ milk in demand in Punjab. Will other states follow suit?

IMG-20180107-WA0003Abandoned on roads for being unproductive, scores of stray cows brought to the government cattle ponds located at villages Burj Powat, Gadolia and Khokhar Kalan in Ludhiana, Fatehgarh Sahib and Mansa districts of Punjab have resumed yielding milk. This has led to poor people of the areas approaching the cattle’s caretakers with the request that they be allowed to take them to their homes with the promise of looking after them.

The development is being seen by many in the field as a noticeable opening of a possibility of their rehabilitation in a scenario where the freely roaming hordes of cows are largely being considered a menace for humans. A crude line of thought, that packing them off for slaughtering could be better riddance, brings along risks of social and communal disharmony.

About 100 cows out of the total 800 at these three cattle ponds have turned productive with daily average yield of 100 litres of milk. Of this, about 70 litres is being sold to households daily and the demand is increasing. Its quality quotient seems to be the clincher given the presence of adulterated milk in the market. “So much so, we are being approached daily by poor people offering to take these cows home with the promise that they will not abandon them,” disclosed Pawan Kumar, a founding member of the Mansa cattle pond. Similar is the case in the two cattle ponds in Fatehgarh Sahib and Ludhiana districts which together are home to over 400 stray cattle, majority being cows.

Both cattle ponds are being managed by the volunteers of Delhi-based spiritual and charitable organization Dhyan Foundation (DF) who, on the instructions of their guiding light Yogi Ashwini, volunteered for this service. Notably, the cattle ponds at both places were in a locked state before the DF offered to run these in association with administrations of both districts. Over 1500 stray cows, bulls and calves are being looked after at these three places.

“It’s a new lease of life for such cows at our cattle pond but it’s at initial stage and need to be sustained. It could be a wonderful step if they find ways into homes again. Yes, this model needs to be studied to make it worth replication at a larger scale but should be tried at local level to start with,” observed Kanwalpreet Kaur, Deputy Commissioner, Fatehgarh Sahib. Her Mansa district counterpart, Dharam Pal Gupta, shared her observation saying such a rehabilitation model could be a trailblazer.

The agreement of commercial dairy farmers too points to its likely effectiveness. Daljit Singh Sadarpura, the national and state president of Progressive Dairy Farmers Association, is not averse to evolving such a model based on experience of stray cattle management at these three places. “Of course, it’s a doable idea if the cows are brought back into the breeding cycle but massive efforts at the government levels are required for this to happen,” he observed. Sadarpura pointed out that 50 to 60 per cent of such cows are fit for lactation. He ruled out their commercial viability as this requires minimum yield of 14-15 litre, which in the case of large dairy farms is average 22-25 litre. But he agreed that the reported low yield of the cows in these cattle ponds could be useful in rehabilitating them in the poor households.

Experts believe this could be a workable idea for the state government to motivate commercial dairy farmers to hand over cows directly to the poor as and when they find them commercially unviable. It is alleged that a multitude of stray cows and bulls are abandoned on the roads and public places at this stage. A senior official of Punjab Animal Husbandry Department said there were one lakh stray cattle in Punjab as per 2012 census. Cows outnumber bulls and that is why they are more visible on roads. The current census is going on.

Developing a proper rehabilitation model can lead to optimum capacity utilization of these cattle ponds as well as those in other districts of the state. The Punjab government had, over two years ago, constructed cattle ponds each costing nearly Rs one crore on village lands in every district. But these remained non-operational as no animal welfare organisation came forward to take responsibility of managing these mainly due to their location away from urban centres and lack of funds.

But things got going after DF took the initiative in Ludhiana and Fatehgarh Sahib districts and Varinder Kumar Sharma, the then Deputy Commissioner of Mansa district. The DF also voluntarily contributed funds for Mansa during initial financial crunch. There is an increasing realisation that the incumbent state government should actively help out in resource mobilization by way of ensuring community participation to make all the cattle ponds work at optimum levels.

It is an accepted fact that such places cannot thrive without active participation of the area community. It is seen that due to this factor, gaushalas being run in urban centres are financially more resourceful. But these gaushalas do not accept stray ones because milk-yielding cows are financially useful. “The poor wanting to take home these productive stray cows due to their economic value is a new form of community participation that should be seriously thought about if the governments want to tackle the problem of wandering cattle. Their rehabilitation in the poor households offers a more constructive solution,” opined Mohit Sharma, a DF volunteer.

Being shelter-less, the cows that move around are prone to accidents resulting in human and animal deaths. In 2016, 1.23 percent of total road accidents in India were attributed to stray animals and 5 to 7 percent in Punjab, mostly in its Malwa region mainly due to single roads and unrestricted access for animals, said Dr Kamal Soi, member, National Road Safety Council.

Accident prevention too calls for ways to reduce chances of stray cattle being let out to fend for themselves. The charge that these innocent beings cause accidents is absurd to the core because it is us who have forced them on to roads. Since the process of commercial dairy farming cannot be reversed, ways have to be found for their rehabilitation by involving all stake holders including dairy farmers. This initiative has to be taken at the governments’ levels, argue animal activists.

Those behind the idea hold that besides restoring economic status of cows, the problem of bulls, now of only nuisance value due to highly mechanized farming practices, too can be resolved by resorting to selective breeding. Their unwanted propagation can be checked by employing available ‘sexed semen’ besides castration when they are 6 to 8 months old. “The insemination technology ensures birth of female calves with 10 to 12 percent error margin. Our state government has been importing filtered semen straws for the purpose,” informed Dr Surjit Singh Makkar, Deputy Director, Animal Husbandry, Mansa.

But all this does not negate the need of healthy bulls. The available embryo transfer technology is there to take care of their propagation for breeding purpose. Does this small experience at these cattle ponds call for its serious examination and pave the way for evolving a model of restoring the economic value and consequent rehabilitation of such stray cows elsewhere in Punjab and the country to reduce the incidence of hazards posed by their presence in public places and roads? It’s hoped that governments will wake up to this issue.