Karthikeya Sivasenapathy lauds the superiority of Kangayam cattle and speaks to Subha J Rao about the need to protect them
When he was five, Karthikeya Sivasenapathy played in the cowshed of the family-owned farm in Kuttapalayam, near Kangayam. He loved the mooing of the cows, the fragrance of dry hay and the feel of silken skin as he petted the numerous young calves. He would accompany his grandfather and watch the farm hands wash the magnificent Kangayam bulls and paint their horns vermillion with kaavi.
At 41, his fascination has not lessened. He’s the eighth generation breeder of Kangayam cattle in his family and he runs the Senaapathy Kangayam Cattle Research Foundation. His work to popularise native breeds has been immense. Recognising his efforts, during a recent meeting in Kenya, he was nominated to the newly-constituted World Pastoral Parliament (WPP).
Karthikeya’s profession is real estate, but his passion lies in the pastures. He shuttles between Coimbatore and his farm in Kuttapalayam. Once there, he shrugs off his city avatar and looks every inch a man of the soil. “But, this is who I am,” he says. “Though I’ve studied in the city, this is where I came back to for my holidays. This is me,” he says, even as he gently rubs down a whopping big bull. That’s the farm’s stud, Big Bully, named by Karthikeya’s daughter Mithra. He’s about 12, and weighs close to a ton. Next to him is another slender young bull. In a few years, he will take Big Bully’s place. “Don’t go by his present looks. See how perfectly proportioned he is; he’ll grow to be a stunner,” says Karthikeya.
The Kangayam bull is said to be among the world’s most beautiful in terms of form and temperament. At one time, it was widespread in Tamil Nadu. From Karur in the East and Dindigul in the South to Salem in the North and Coimbatore in the West, it ruled over large tracts of land. Then, it was relegated to the sidelines. “In 1990, there were 11.7 lakh Kangayam cattle. In just a decade their population dropped to 4.7 lakh. The worst year was 2005-2006. We were ignoring and slowly doing away with a hardworking, no-maintenance breed,” he says.
Karthikeya decided to work for the Kangayam breed. Luckily, he had some research to fall back on. His ancestor, the Pattagarar of Palayakottai, Rao Bahadur Nallathambi Sarkarai Mandradiar, had done in-depth work on the Kangayam cattle and, most importantly, recorded them for posterity.
The first thing Karthikeya did as secretary of the Kangayam Cattle Breeders Society was organise a cattle show in 2010 to bring the pride back into raising native breeds. “The Bos Indicus (native breed) scores over Bos Taurus (hybrid cattle) in so many ways. We had to show people what they had given up,” says Karthikeya, whose farm has 60 heads of Kangayam cattle.
Karthikeya propagates his cause, backed by data. He speaks of the health-giving qualities of ghee from the milk of native breeds and how their dung and urine enrich the land and help trees thrive even when water is scarce. He is also working on increasing the area of pasture land for native cattle. Unlike hybrid cows who feed on hay and fresh grass cultivated for their consumption, native cows are let loose in the Korangadu, traditional pastoral land, which consists of a mix of grasses, legumes and trees, fenced by thorny shrubs. “They eat what you cannot eat. They don’t ask for anything, yet give back so much,” he says.
There’s also a cultural connect to native breeds. “Even today, in many houses an aachi maadu is sent along with a new bride. If she has a daughter, during her wedding, the calf of this cow will be sent with her. The aachi maadu is given pride of place in any cowshed,” says Karthikeya.
If people rediscover the pride of owning a native cattle breed, all will be well, says Karthikeya. “It is a legacy. You have to take it forward.”
The Indus link
The Kangayam bull is also the subject of a research by the Roja Muthiah Research Library Trust. The bull in the Indus Valley Civilisation seal resembles the Kangayam bull. They are trying to draw linkages between the two.
Adopt a calf
The Senaapathy foundation also stocks a wealth of material on Kangayam cattle — pamphlets and books that detail their uniqueness and historical significance. They also run an ‘adopt a calf’ programme where people in cities can pay for the upkeep of a chosen calf in the farm. They can visit the calf every year and be updated on its progress.
For details, call 04257-294234, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.kangayambull.com
World Pastoral Parliament
The WPP will collate the recommendations of livestock breeders and other stakeholders and draft a convention that will recognise and encourage native pastoral practices. Once adopted by countries, it will free up grazing areas and prevent such land from being used for commercial purposes.