By Abhimanyu Singh Chauhan
Ganesh Giri Goswami is the owner of a small dairy called Goswami Bhavan in Udaipur. He has been dairy farming for the last five years although he has been rearing animals on his vegetable farm since childhood. Since the area he resided in was prone to drought and farm income had dwindled considerably, he turned to keeping a herd of cows and buffaloes to supplement his income by selling milk. Currently he has six animals.
Sourcing the cattle
Most of the cattle that he and his fellow dairy farmers in the area have are from Punjab. According to him, travelling merchants from Gujarat buy them from the large cattle fairs that are held in Punjab and en route sell them in villages like the one he lives in. Selection of animals is quite primitive, in that they rely on their gut and feel and ofcourse the amount of milk the animal gives. At the most, they request a senior member of the community who presumably has a better sense of identifying healthy and sick animals and go by his final decision. In spite of this screening, if the animal turns out to be sickly and incapable of yielding good output, they just accept it as part of their destiny. The animal finds an obscure place to rest and life continues.
Maybe the animal is suffering from a zoonotic disease
Ask them if they know of any zoonotic disease or if their vet has ever talked to them about it and he looks blank. No idea of brucella or mastitis. Any sickness in the animal that they have just purchased is attributed to “climatic adjustment”. After all the animal has been brought on an interstate transfer.
How about taking it to the local government hospital?
Taking the animal to the hospital itself is an ordeal. Imagine a sight where a sick cow refuses to budge in the middle of the road or insists on jumping out of the matador that has been specially hired to take her to the hospital. The resultant chaos on the road is enough to create a panic in the animal’s mind who becomes further fidgety and unpredictable. After braving this when the farmer does reach the government hospital which is supposed to have the vet and the equipment, he finds either or both of them are missing. Now the choice of going to a private vet is also there but these are more often than not local quacks who come and give a quick injection and some antibiotics and leave the matter to rest.
How lucrative is the business?
In the absence of any kind of support from the government, the milk gets a very modest price from the middleman who delivers it to the city. From the income they generate through the sale of milk, they procure the fodder which is further supplemented from the grass that comes from their own field of wheat and soya. He is quick to point out that were he to buy this grass from outside, he would be unable to sustain the business. It is largely because the grass is grown in-house, the animals are moderately fed and are able to produce some milk. The number of animals that he can keep on the farm therefore is dependent not so much on the space he has but on how many he can feed. Not surprisingly, most farmers in the vicinity who do not have their own agricultural land are unable to feed their cattle on the money that comes from the sale of milk. The loss making proposition therefore faces premature closure, usually a year or two after being set up.
According to Goswami, “milk is a very price sensitive commodity. Whether in powder/packet form/cow or buffalo milk, the price is usually confined in the band of Rs20-21 for years at end. The consumer is quite unaware of the quality, purity or taste but is most sensitive to price.
No way will the children do dairy farming
Indeed, this is hardly a business the kids would want to inherit. Farming today is a lot more expensive than say 30 years ago when Goswami had started. Technology of farming has changed and inflow of cash has gone down substantially. You barely get back what you spend and after engaging in what is a fairly labour intensive activity the returns are not encouraging at all. Even if there has been a good monsoon it still does not make it appealing. Migration then to other jobs and trades has become the norm.
Sad to see animals dying
We do get attached to our animals. They are like our children. When they die, it breaks our heart, especially if the death is premature. We do not know who to go and carry our tales of woe. No one has come to us in all these years. We have never heard of any scheme, subsidy or camp that can benefit us or our animals with respect to our dairy business. Never heard of zoonoses and the thought of animals passing on diseases to animals is the most absurd piece of information I have ever heard.”
Abhimanyu Singh Chauhan is a Qualitative Researcher with PHFI/RCZI and is based out of New Delhi.