Opinion: The unwanted male calves & old age homes for cattle

While people covet a male child, bull calves are unwanted. Politics over the ‘cow’ is doing farmers a disservice but the Government appears oblivious to the problems farmers are facing

 Photo by Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times  
Photo by Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

One of the cows at our Prerna Kendra delivered a bull calf recently. My colleague called me up to inform about the birth. But he sounded grim because everyone was expecting a female calf.

Human beings are matlabi (selfish). In the so-called civilised world, they celebrate the birth of a boy but in the animal kingdom particularly of those whose milk we use without their permission, we actually feel disturbed when a bull calf is delivered.

Earlier, it was not an issue as bull calves would be used as oxen for ploughing. But now with mechanisation bull calves are unwanted as farmers are no longer in a position to take care of them.

With fast disappearing meadows and high cost of fodder, it is becoming impossible for farmers to keep the bull calf without any tangible return. So, most farmers now abandon bull calves which are a nuisance as they damage the crop.

Cattle markets are also coming to a virtual standstill (because of the risks associated with trading and transporting cattle). Farmers will have to suffer even more unless the government spells out clearly what its position is.

If sale and purchase of cattle has become risky, then this looks like a conspiracy against farmers, who are being encouraged to abandon their traditional occupation voluntarily so that big businessmen like Ambanis and Adanis take over the trade. Big Business clearly want to take over every small trade and occupation in the unorganised sector or informal sector.

Dairy farming is tough but empowers communities

Three years ago, I thought of starting a dairy and purchased several cows and a buffalo. The number has now grown to 15 though we are still not able to have enough milk to sustain the operation.

As part of our initiative to empower the most marginalised communities like Mushahars, Kalandars, we started sharing the animals as is the normal practice in the village. Which means after the cow or buffaloes deliver calves, villagers find out the prevailing price of the cattle, which after the transaction is then divided equally between the owner and the person who took care of it.

This way, a Mushahar family would earn between ₹20,000 to ₹30,000 for taking care of a cow or buffalo.

The cow which delivered the bull calf was with a Mushahar family. I was shocked when informed that the cow which is now giving milk and had delivered its first calf, was fetching a price of just ₹20,000, which means the Musahar family would get only ₹10,000 and the rest going to the owner who had invested on the animal.

It is disturbing that so many cattle-dependent families are facing the brunt of the idiocies of politicians.

A few months ago, we had lost a cow. We fed it for nearly one month when her condition was bad. Villagers would come and worship her. When she died, we buried her as best as we could. The exercise used up a quintal of salt.

Rearing cattle is a painstaking process but the exercise empowers poorer communities. Government should promote it but at the same time, if there is no market for them, the farmers will continue to commit suicide as it is very difficult and expensive to maintain the cattle. While the cost of fodder is still too high, milk in villages do not fetch more than Rs 25 per litre.

There are, however, big gaushalas of babas and mutts. They get huge donations. Devotees also send them fodder. But if the government is serious about helping farmers, it must promote farmers’ cooperatives. It must not only allow sale and purchase of cattle but also provide subsidies in the purchase of fodder.

The government must also decide as what should be done with the bull calves. Should people continue to abandon them as is happening these days? If not then what is the option? Where is the space for keeping these animals if their sale purchase is not allowed? Where should the farmer send their bulls and oxen or old cows?

Perhaps the government can think of old age homes for these animals as it will be beyond the capacity of people to feed them.

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Published: 29 Apr 2017, 6:05 PM