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Updated: February 27, 2012 19:32 IST

Holy cow! Small is beautiful

P. Sainath
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Chandran ‘Master’ with the tiny Vechur calf, the latest addition to his diverse herd. He has animals of 11 different indigenous breeds in his compound. Photo: P. Sainath
The Hindu
Chandran ‘Master’ with the tiny Vechur calf, the latest addition to his diverse herd. He has animals of 11 different indigenous breeds in his compound. Photo: P. Sainath

Kerala 'masters' struggle to keep alive rare cattle breeds.

When Kerala Agriculture Minister K.P. Mohanan paid Chandran ‘Master' Rs.15,000 for a Vechur calf last September, he was rewarding a conscious law-breaker. Yet, the Minister, on behalf of the Livestock Development Board, was doing the right thing — and everyone approved. Chandran ‘Master' and other intrepid souls have helped keep Kerala's unique cattle varieties alive. This, despite antiquated laws that made the breeding of such animals by farmers illegal without a licence from the State's Director of Animal Husbandry. And through some years when livestock inspectors relentlessly castrated the bulls of these ‘inferior' breeds, boosting the dominance of crossbred cattle.

This flowed partly from the idea that higher milk yields, regardless of costs and consequences, were all that mattered. In what could mark an attitude shift, the State is now paying rebel farmers for resisting its own depredations.

Chandran Master keeps 24 head of cattle, mostly rare indigenous breeds, in the compound of his home in P. Vemballur village of Thrissur district. These include the tiny Vechur cow, symbol of Kerala's domestic cattle crisis. By 2000, the animal was on the FAO's World Watch List of Domestic Animal Diversity, in its ‘Critical-Maintained Breeds List.' A variety makes that list “when the number of breeding females” is 100 or less. Or when “the total number of breeding males” is five or less. Or if the overall count is 120 or less, and falling.

Smallest cattle breed

In Chandran Master's home, the count is rising. “I gave the Livestock Board five Vechur calves,” he says proudly. And got two Gir calves and Rs. 45,000 in return. A tiny Vechur calf had been born — in his compound — just six hours before we arrived there. Her mother, a fine animal, is 82 cm high. The Vechur is the world's smallest cattle breed. November 2010 saw Diana, a 77-cm Vechur (also from Thrissur district), enter the Guinness Book of Records as the smallest cow in the world.


Mostly, this breed averages around 90 cm in height and about 130 kg in weight. It yields up to 3 litres of milk a day and requires very little by way of feed or maintenance.

Alongside the “world's smallest cow” are the Vadakara Dwarf, the Kasargode Dwarf, the High Range Dwarf and other indigenous cattle breeds. The 72-year-old former school teacher scoffs at the official mind-set on cattle. “The cow for them is just a milk-production machine” he says. “Their view has no room for the composition and quality of the milk. Much less for the role of cattle in agriculture and in a farmer's life. None at all for the impact on the environment, diversity or community.”

Nambiyandra Ayyappan Chandran ‘Master' is an award-winning former English teacher who worked 36 years in Kerala and Oman. He has “pledged what remains of my life” to conserving breeds of Bos indicus (native Indian cattle). His living room sports a huge photo of the Rs.15,000 cheque from the Kerala Livestock Development Board. “Roughly what I lose each month on my passion.” But Chandran Master is okay with that.

‘Zero maintenance'

“My cows,” he points out, “are zero maintenance — they are native and do not need a high-input diet.” But he also tries to grow 30 types of mangoes and an equal number of bamboo varieties, all indigenous. Also a few native kinds of fish and many traditional plants. His son tries to bridge the household deficit through high-earning horticulture. If the family converted some of its 18 acres to real estate, he would be rich, but Chandran Master has “a mission and a passion.”

“Malayalis take the easy way out in everything,” Minister K.P. Mohanan had said while handing over the KLDB cheque. “Hence, they have not taken pains to preserve native breeds such as Vechur cow and Kasargode Dwarf. Instead, they have gone for cross-bred varieties. Malayalis should be aware of a global movement for preservation of domestic breeds of animals.” (The Hindu, Sept. 25, 2011).

However, native breeds were ruined not by people but by official policies over a long time.

Kerala's anti-indigenous drive across decades was one factor in the collapse of its native cattle numbers. Livestock Census figures show a drop of 48 per cent in the total cattle population between 1996 and 2007. But it goes back further, to when the Kerala Livestock Improvement Act of 1961 gave “the licensing officer” the “power to order castration of bulls.” And farmers ordered to castrate their bulls had 30 days to do so. An amended Act in 1968 also promised fines and imprisonment for those failing to comply.

Dr. Sosamma Iype, retired Professor, Animal Breeding and Genetics from Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) was a pioneer in reviving the Vechur breed. She and Dr. Abraham Varkey, retired Professor of Veterinary Surgery, make this point. “On the one hand, you needed a licence from the State director of the Animal Husbandry Department to be able to keep a bull. On the other, an inspector finding such a bull [Vechur or any other kind] was bound by orders to castrate it! So no one ever sought a licence!” The castrations drove some native breeds to near extinction. (Similar drives occurred in other parts of the country, notably Orissa. There, an insane project aimed at boosting milk production, all but wiped out the Khariar Bull, the best breed of the Kalahandi region by 1980. It also transformed what was then a milk-surplus region, into a milk-deficit one).

Still, the Vechur survived. Partly, says Professor Varkey, “because a few escaped, being in regions too remote or forested for the vets to reach. And partly because Temple Bulls were exempted for religious reasons.”

They also survive because of people like Sosamma Iype. She and others were part of a drive to conserve local breeds that saw the founding of the Vechur Conservation Trust in 1998. “The search for survivors, though, began in 1988,” says Prof. Iype. “And with the help of a student search team headed by Anil Zachariah, we found eight by the end of that year. We got Rs. 51,000 sanctioned by the then Vice Chancellor of KAU to buy the eight animals and provide them with feed.” Her work at KAU saw a turnaround in the fate of the Vechur breed and earned it wide recognition.

Milk yields and input costs

But don't the crossbreeds outclass native breeds in milk yield? “That can't be the only yardstick,” says Prof. Iype. “Check the milk yields against input costs. The expense of the crossbreeds is enormous. They are far more prone to outbreaks of illness as we were reminded again in 2009 during a severe outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease. There are indeed several farmers who prefer crossbreeds as an income source, through sale of milk. There are also 25-30 per cent, who prefer smaller, less costly animals. These households look at it from the point of view of home consumption, quality of milk and food security. “The Trust today promotes the cause of not only the Vechur, but other Kerala breeds of cattle, goats, pigs and ducks as well.

Back in his home in P. Vemballur village, Chandran Master wants to know: “When are you going to help me get a Khariar Bull from Orissa?”

In response to readers' queries, we publish the contact address for Chandran Master:

Chandran Master

Village P. Vemballur, Kodangulur taluka, Thrissur district.

Phone: 0480 2850483

request you to kindly verify facts properly before gloryfying people. The person mentioned in this article is not into conservation as is made out to be. He is just using his publicity hype to sell his livestock at high values. Kindly see the classifieds, livestock section of the Malayala Manorama, Sunday, 26-02-2012. You can see an ad for cows, the contact number given therein is the person's son's. He also has a reputation of selling mixed breeds as 'Vechur' or 'Kasaragod Dwarf'. Genuine Catlle locers plaese stay away from him. Sorry, readers, most of you have been miselead by Saintah's artcle as is evident from th responses. Having said that let me also add that I can show you some genuine cases of conservation in Kerala, where people care for these cattle out of unconditional love, alas, they never get featured , not that they care for the publicity.

from:  Gou Bhaktha
Posted on: Feb 27, 2012 at 12:59 IST

Good things happens by great hard work& it will give beautiful results, how good thing it is.Cow is the very holy animal reason is that there is a SURYANADI in Gopuram in holy cows, those milk is very healthful.I salute this great human being.These types of good works should happen in every fields than how beautiful this creation.

from:  Rajesh
Posted on: Jan 25, 2012 at 16:29 IST

i congratulate to mr chandran,when whole bureacrate,media,,politician pocketing huge pay off from mansanto like companies to promote their ads ,paying huge money to newspaper ,but a man who is heartedly working to preserve and promote low cost breed without any materialistic gain is praiseworthy,,

from:  Bhupinder
Posted on: Jan 15, 2012 at 05:58 IST

Thanks to "The Hindu" and P.Sainath for the articles.I appreciate the article written by P. Sainath.It not only makes us economically dependent, it is also detrimental to the environment and health of the people.The story is really inspiring, I wish I could take part in the drive to preserve indigenous animals.

Posted on: Jan 12, 2012 at 11:38 IST

Thanks to "The Hindu" and P.Sainath for the articles. I live in the other world of technology...and articles like this are necessary to keep people like us grounded to the reality of our existences.

from:  Pasya
Posted on: Jan 7, 2012 at 14:51 IST

chandran master is really a master to teach the entire society the
diversity in livestock. millions of namaskarams to you, sir.

from:  pasu.s.raghavan
Posted on: Jan 7, 2012 at 07:30 IST

I appreciate the article written by P. Sainath. In the time of insensitivity he shows the ray of hope through the efforts of Chandran Master. In North India, there must be another Chandran Master to protect the indigenous breeds of cow. In the era of commercialization many have got money minded but still there are several they work for real cause. I salute Chandran Master by heart.

from:  Harvinder
Posted on: Jan 6, 2012 at 14:03 IST

I usually use organic milk products here in US. One day I did not get the usual organic unsalted butter which we use to make Ghee. I took home regular unsalted butter. It was a shock to us when we made Ghee with it. It gave out such a terrible stink that my son refused to enter the house after he returned from school. It was the milk solids in the butter which when receiving heat broke down and gave the terrible smell. Even after airing the house thoroughly for a day the smell remained for nearly 3 days.
I thank the doctor who advised my wife at time of pregnancy to use only organic diary produce. Now if we don't get the organic milk or diary products we just go without it for a couple of days.

from:  nitin
Posted on: Jan 6, 2012 at 11:36 IST

My compliments to Mr. Sainath for his continuous discoveries of important issues in our country. We must feel proud to have the likes of Chandran Master to teach us how to conserve our traditions and indigenous thinking; not just money all the time.

from:  Gopal
Posted on: Jan 6, 2012 at 11:16 IST

I remember a similar article from The Hindu years back on "Vechur cow". Inspired by the article i approached Agricultural University, mannuthy, Kerala for purchase. I contacted Dr. Reghu. I was shocked to hear that i have to wait for another 2-3 years for getting a calf. When University is selling the calf's for 6K, in open market the same is sold for Rs 50K to 75K. I dropped the project. I am happy to hear about Chandran master and people who support the indigenous breeds. Last but not the least another worth article from our Sainath.

from:  Sumesh R Bhat
Posted on: Jan 6, 2012 at 06:27 IST

How much longer will we the "modern" Indians continue to ignore what was indigenous and revered by our ancestors. From cow breeds, to vegetables and rice - we have tremendous bio-diversity. This was the strength of the Indian economy for thousands of years. It is important that we stop importing unnatural and genetically modified breeds of animals and food. It not only makes us economically dependent, it is also detrimental to the environment and health of the people.

from:  Ashish
Posted on: Jan 6, 2012 at 05:31 IST

What a story! Of course, only Sainath 'Master' can give us such relevant stories. Is MSSRF helping this teacher/cattle-breeder from Kerala?

from:  vijee
Posted on: Jan 6, 2012 at 01:58 IST

Many Indians believe of Holly cow and most worship cow blindly with Superstition. But lot of them don’t know the breeds of cows that India can be proud, that they still have. Your article is most illustrious and educative.

from:  Prem Anand
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 23:05 IST

an excellent heartwarming article. The Poonganur Kuttai is another rematkable breed.

from:  Ramu
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 22:46 IST

very good informative article about chandran master,we want more people like him.the same way Sri Raghaveshwara Bharathi Swamiji of Hosanagara Karnataka also trying his best to save indian cow breeds,

from:  PSS
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 21:34 IST

It was during 2000 I received a memo from my district head for helping a family to conserve the HIGH RANGE DWARF CATTLE heard ,the so called useless indigenous breed, against the breeding policy of the state. The deciplinary action initiated was so threatening that I entered in to leave for several months.The news of Chandran master is so soothing to me that now my herd strengh is 14 bulls and 52 cows.

from:  Dr.Sudhodanan
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 21:15 IST

A rebel in one era is hailed as a hero in another; government officials pushing for 'modern' practices are now chastised for clinging to antiquated laws. Sainath has once again exposed a gaping hole in our governance set-up: the absence of a corrective mechanism. I wonder if any attempt was made by the government to end outdated practices before the minister set out to 'reward a conscious law- breaker'. Contradictory signals from the government only ends up demoralizing the officials who are instructed to implement various such quick-fix schemes.

from:  Dinakar R
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 20:31 IST

I have no experience in animal husbandry and neither am I now in India. The story is really inspiring, I wish I could take part in the drive to preserve indigenous animals.

from:  Sivasathivel Kandasamy
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 19:26 IST

It is surprising to see someone who is rearing indegenious varities of cattle and espeically bulls which are not considered as a productive cattle. Chandran Master is worth emulating. Kudos to him.

from:  Amit Kanwar
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 18:45 IST

Selfish mankind has spared some of the natural breeds by mistake., let them in the safe hand.. Some thing to be done before its too late..Thanks to The Hindu and to the Master...

from:  sayeed
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 18:05 IST

Kerala Minister interested in livestock,reminds me of a remark of my Teacher,who used to scold his pupils,if they have done their Homework given,by asking them to look after herds of livestock only, as he otherwise unfit to do anything?

from:  vaidya
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 17:06 IST

Inspiring tale. Chandran Master reminds us how true the Mahatma's words are: 'In a gentle way, you can shake the world'.

from:  Anand Mohan
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 16:41 IST

Nice article, opening few more eyes. After retirement, my father planted mango plants in arid Anantapur, he spends most of time with his cow(s) in this plantation. It is loss making if we count money. Several times we thought of moving our parents to Hyd where we stay, but never attempted to disturb their peace. Personally I too feel proud of having a cow and poultry, may be in future I would try to do what Chandran Master is doing now.

from:  Ravi Ramireddy
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 16:05 IST

The story of Chandran Master is inspiring. It is heartening to learn that Chandran Master is not keen to convert some of the family's 18 acres to real estate and that he has “a mission and a passion.” In these days of Corporate Power greed and bulldozing, it brings joy to hear about souls like Chandran Master.

from:  Digvijay Singh
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 15:22 IST

Its the effort of these eccentric people keep out the nature from exploitation...Wish if there be thousands of Chandranmasters around to protect our indeginous assets from the foolish ideas of Govt and the lawmakers.

from:  nileena atholi
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 15:12 IST

Heartening and inspiring indeed!!Kudos to Chandran Master and all the "intrepid souls",incredibly persistent and passionate about the mission 'indigenous'.When mindless policies religiously fail the farmers of this country,the audacity to troubleshoot and reclaim the puny Vechur cow from the red tapes of extinction is definitely laudable.As Dr.Iype has rightly pointed out the sheer emphasis on the quantity of output oblivious of the quantum of input and risk factors lie at the heart of infatuation with the the cross-breeds,outclassing the " inferior, indigenous semen".The ill fate of Nuapada's Khariar bulls is a grim reminder of a scripted disaster,castrating the milk abundant region altogether.Better late than never-hope this article rings bell before its too late to make amendments.Also,P.Sainath, and The Hindu indisputably deserve applause for making the conscious choice and effort of sparing the space,making the otherwise unheard voices count.Keep it up!

from:  Sherin
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 15:12 IST

There is a certain beauty in simplicity. I have lived some in nature, and I have found that there is a "hep" temptation with imported breeds and their performance, yet once purchased, their needs become a big addition to the work load. Many don't realize, as it becomes a status symbol too - like a Rolls Royce having greater maintenance expense...I have seen this with horses. Many horsemen in Manali purchased thoroughbreds and Marwarhi and such horses - they were fancier, ran faster... but where you can keep a local horse outdoors in all weather, these horses needed to be indoors. They were not able to do well on the mountain terrain, and often injured their legs or died of cold in spite of precautions. On the other hand, I doubt if the mountain ponies could survive the heat of the lower plains... Animals evolve to be most efficient in their environment. This must not be underestimated.

from:  Vidyut
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 14:48 IST

People like Chandran master are exceptions. And so P Sainath and "The Hindu" that give the space for these glimpses of Hope. The Dilemma (or absurdity) of development is satirically plotted in the article. Sosamma Iype is again a unique exception from the scientific fraternity, who relied on common sense and wisdom to realise the absurdity of wiping of the desi variety.... Let the development economists calculate the opportunity cost incurred to Chandran Master........

from:  P K Anand
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 13:59 IST

Nice article. Thanks Hindu. Wishing Chandran 'Master' all the very best in his mission, passion and vocation.

from:  Dr.Cajetan Coelho
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 13:54 IST

Incalculable damage has already been done to our agrobiodiversity by our stupid rules policies. India is cursed by all those native bulls which had been thoughlessly castrated over the years. Pople like Chandran Master truly deserve the Bharat Ratna.

Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 13:51 IST

Great piece! Hope still prevails for indigenous breeds and solutions. Long live Chandran Master, Dr Sosamma and others who have the wisdom and courage to fight!

from:  Juha
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 12:59 IST

feeling proud of "Master". very inspiring.

from:  ganapathy
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 12:39 IST

I bow my head to Chandran master. it is time the govt. focuses on genuinely assisting farmers. not just writing off loans, free electricty gimmicks. return from local breeds must be calculated basis the cost of maintenance and the value of the manure they produce. farmers must start realising that they must integrate their farm activities. farm animals/poultry provide manure for the crop and wastge fm the crop can feed the animals. revenue fm animals takes care of day to day expenses of farmer. when everything can be done in one place why do we import chemicals fm faraway countries. teh logistics als creates carbon miles pollution. and to say grazing land is coming down is not a insurmountable problme. animal fodder must also be planned and harvested. u dont expect it to just grow and served on a plate. once again my salute to people like CHANDRAN MASTER.

from:  syed hassan
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 12:11 IST

This story is indeed delightful. A similar effort should be replicated for chickens too. Our Indigenous chicken breeds are much more beautiful and produce much better quality eggs and help vegetable farmers in insect pest control. Sadly many of them are being lost in our craze of Westernized Factory Farmed breeds which produce a higher quantity of eggs but one without any flavour!. People in cities could also be encouraged to keep chickens as pets.

from:  Avin Deen
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 11:53 IST

We are rapidly losing our rich and precious agrobiodiversity. It is high time that we wake up to it and act. Kudos to people who are dedicated towards this end. The government at its minimum can atleast provide some financial support. With retail opening it is going to get tough to conserve these native species, as megachains always promote foriegn varities with tremendous sustainability problems (economically, environmentally and socially).

from:  S THEJHAS
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 09:30 IST

“Check the milk yields against input costs. The expense of the crossbreeds is enormous. They are far more prone to outbreaks of illness as we were reminded again in 2009 during a severe outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease."
Now I felt to saw a disease "Nitrate Poisoning" to this crossbreed unhealthy cows. Nitrate in itself is not toxic to animals, but at elevated levels it causes a disease called nitrate poisoning. Nitrates are normally found in forages are converted by the digestion process to nitrite, and in turn the nitrite is converted to ammonia. The ammonia is then converted to protein by bacteria in the rumen. If cattle rapidly ingest large quantities of plants that contain high levels of nitrate, nitrite will accumulate in the rumen. Nitrite is ten times (10 X) as toxic to cattle as nitrate.Nitrite is absorbed into red blood cells and combines with hemoglobin (oxygen carrying molecule) to form methemoglobin. Methemoglobin cannot transport oxygen as efficiently as hemoglobin...

from:  Chandrasekaran
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 09:07 IST

Bravo Chandran 'Master'

from:  Sandeep
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 07:03 IST

Very inspiring news. Why should people destroy local things including animals? There is a place in this world for them too. God did not creat earth only for man. It is insane we go behind everyhting foreign. Hope we sart appreciate our bio diversity. Wishes to Chandran master, Dr Sosamma and others who are mentioned in this artice to continue preserving. Thank you Hindu for bringing this news out for the vast Indian community.

from:  Ayyappa
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 06:51 IST

When am reading this I felt so much pain. Even in my village in AP very few farmers got the habit of keeping a Cow. This is partly due to shrinking grassland. Farmers in my village (for that matter in AP) feel Cows need more grassland to graze and buffaloes need less. I do not know if this is true. Anyway they are the one to maintain their livestock. So its up-to them. Personally I feel Cow is one of the holiest thing happen to us,Hindus. May God bless Chandran Master.

from:  chandu
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 06:20 IST

Chandran Master, you are truly great. Against all odds and pressures you have preserved our livestock genetic pool. The government should help you bring Khariar breed out from extinction.

from:  Srikanth Ranganathan
Posted on: Jan 5, 2012 at 03:15 IST
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