Going native

Many city dwellers are rearing native cattle breeds

Published - February 10, 2017 04:28 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Media entrepreneur M.R. Hari rears Cheruvally cows

Media entrepreneur M.R. Hari rears Cheruvally cows

Veterinarian Easwaran E.K. is passionate about cows, specifically breeds native to Kerala. Among his prized bovines is a six-year-old pure breed Vechur cow that he rears on his home farm in Aruvikkara. For media entrepreneur M.R. Hari though, it’s Cheruvally cows that have captured his interest. He rears five of these cows that are endemic to villages in central Kerala in his farm at Puliyarakonam.

Not too far away, in Malayam, government employee and dairy farmer Suraj S. considers a playful 10-month-old Kasaragod dwarf, yet another native breed, as the star of his 40-strong herd. For R.G. Arundev, an award-winning dairy farmer from Balaramapuram, meanwhile, his herd of indigenous cows, comprising two Vechurs, two Kasaragod dwarfs and North Indian natives Gir, Sahiwal, Kankrej and Krishna Valley, are his favourites within his herd of 87 cattle...

Dr. Easwaran’s Vechur cow

Dr. Easwaran’s Vechur cow

At a time when the hullabaloo over Jallikattu turns the spotlight on the need to preserve native breeds, there are quite a few farmers and agriculturalists in the city who have already taken the bull by the horns and are helping to conserve indigenous cattle of Kerala. “Native breeds are the BMWs of dairy farming!” says Hari.

“They’ve become so rare and consequently expensive that it’s now become a bit of a prestige issue for people to rear them” he adds. Suraj is one of them.

Government employee Suraj S. with his Kasaragod dwarf calf

Government employee Suraj S. with his Kasaragod dwarf calf

“It’s very difficult to procure a Vechur cow and also they cost a bomb - upwards of 1.5 lakh. The next best bet was a Kasaragod dwarf. I bought 10 of them from Kasaragod but had to sell them because they are naturally free-ranging animals and there was no space at home for them to roam at will,” he says. Unlike ‘super cows’ the native breeds are easy to rear, say the farmers. “All that they require are green grass, fresh water and plenty of sun. These animals are very hardy and have a make-up that’s suitable to our climate and as such rarely fall ill, ” says Suraj, who turned to dairy farming when he hit 30 nine years ago. “I don’t think of it as business but my way of giving back to society. It gives me great satisfaction,” he adds.

For many of them, though, their interest in organic farming appears to have led them to native breeds.

Easwaran E.K.

Easwaran E.K.

Dr. Easwaran, a veterinary surgeon at the Animal Husbandry department, for instance, practices Subash Palekar’s zero-budget natural farming, for which native cattle are essential. “Their manure is rich in microbes that can revive the fertility and nutrient value of soil. Their discharges have medicinal properties,” explains the vet. “I have a professional interest in conservation of native breeds but it’s also my passion. At home we’ve always reared cows,” he adds.

Hari also practices zero-budget agriculture. “Actually, converting rocky or barren land to fertile natural forest is my passion. For that I need indigenous, cows, goats, hens and so on. To me these animals are small organic processing units that send many nutrients from native shrubs, trees and herbs that they eat, back to the soil,” says the entrepreneur.

His interest in cows stems from the pioneering efforts of Sosamma Iype, a professor of Animal Breeding and Genetics in College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Mannuthy, to bring back the Vechur cow from extinction. “I went to film a documentary on her and was blown away by what she had achieved and I immediately resolved to buy native cattle,” he explains.

That said, native breeds are not cash cows when it comes to the quantity of milk. “They produce much less milk per day than European or hybrid breeds. From a Vechur cow, for instance, one can get a maximum of two litres of milk per day and that’s pushing it. Compare that to an average of 20 litres from a Holstein-Friesian,” says Arundev, a CISF officer-turned-dairy farmer. It’s the quality that counts.

“There is high demand for their milk, cowdung and urine, all of which have medicinal value. Most of my customers are Ayurveda companies. I have to get up with the cows to collect the first discharges of the day and squeeze the first milk out of them, for they are all top dollar, literally and figuratively,” says Arundev.

Did you know?

Kerala has several indigenous breeds – Vechur, Cheruvally, Kasaragod dwarf, Kuttampuzha dwarf, Vadakara and Vilwadri, though only the Vechur is officially recognised as a ‘native’ breed. Pure breed native cattle are always of single colour,says Dr. Easwaran.

Cow conservation

Sosamma Iype motivated a group of environmentally-conscious university students to conduct an extensive search for Vechur cows and bulls. The Vechur Conservation Project was launched in Veterinary College, Thrissur, in July 1989 with eight animals. Today, there are, reportedly, 1600 or so Vechur cattle in Kerala. The Vechur Conservation Trust came into being in 1998 and is now ‘dedicated to the cause of domestic animal diversity conservation.’ (Source: PIB, Government of India).

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