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Local practices conserve livestock breeds

Ramasamy family has been conserving Umblachery cattle breed for the last 75 years

There is an alarming loss of local breeds of livestock for various reasons. Yet, there are many champions in local communities depending on livestock, who are conserving local breeds and making a living out of it. Its time for the government and policy makers to recognize such initiatives and support the conservation initiatives for sustainable livestock development.

India is home to a large number of local livestock breeds that have been nurtured by pastoralist communities – Bakkarwal of Kashmir, the Van Gujjar of Uttarkhand, the Gaddi of Himachal Pradesh, the Raika, Gujjar, Sindhi Muslim and Rajput in Rajasthan, the Maldhari of Gujarat, the Gowli and Dhangar of Maharashtra and Karnataka, the Toda, Kurumbar, Konar and Bargur Lingayat in Tamil Nadu are some among them. There are about 151 registered breeds in our country. There are many more that still need to be described.

With the disappearance of India’s common lands, pasture lands, tanks and forests, the local livestock breeds are being lost at an alarming rate. Many factors have contributed to the loss of livestock in general and local breeds in particular. With the advent of technological revolution, animal drought power has been replaced with tractors and power operated equipments, making livestock redundant. On the other hand, with agriculture becoming less remunerative, the village youth are going in search of other livelihood options, leaving agriculture and animal rearing. Even the government has contributed to the rural crisis. For example, the rural employment programmes, have added to the labour shortage, which is already prevalent in the villages, thus affecting small farmers and livestock keepers.

Despite such situations, there are a number of good initiatives being attempted by few local communities and grass-roots institutions that have sustained livestock development and conservation of local breeds.  SEVA is one such grassroot organization which has been actively involved in conserving traditional breeds of livestock. Individuals who are conserving local breeds are identified, their efforts documented  and are recognized by awarding “Breed Saviour Awards”.  This initiative of recognising the local breed savior started in 2009 with the support of National Biodiversity Authority in association with National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources and Honey bee Network. Over the last 7 years more than 150 cases  have been documented. The case of Mr. Ramasamy who received breed savior award during 2017 for conserving Umbalacherry, a local cattle breed is presented here.

Factors determining sustainability of breed population
* Selective breeding and management increases productivity of
* Potential to earn income through sale of livestock products (milk,
manure, meat) and young ones.
* Low cost of animal keeping under extensive production system
with zero input costs
* Integrating livestock in mixed farming system which in turn
reduces cost of external inputs and income security for farmers

Local cattle-many benefits

Mr. G. Ramasamy, aged 74, belongs to a traditional livestock keeping family. His family has been solely dependent on cattle rearing. He has been involved in livestock keeping from his childhood, assisting his father.

Ramasamy’s family has been involved in conservation of Umbalachery cattle breed  for the last 75 years.  His grandfather, Mr. Subbiah Pillai bought Attukkarimadu, a subtype of Umbalachery cattle, for Rs.80/- from a pastoral woman. The salient features of Umbalachery breed is the presence of white colored stripe on the forehead while the body colour is dark grey. It has white mark on the feet and tail too.  There are 4 distinct types based on morphological features within the breed viz. Attukari, Suryakulathu maadu, Ganapthiyan maadu, vennamadu.  The purity of subtypes is maintained by maintaining the purity of bulls.

Man Singh with his 70 Belahi cattle in north Himalayan hills of Himachal Pradesh

Productivity of Umbalachery cow is 9 -12 lactations and the cow would be allowed for mating after 4th month of calving. Milking is stopped when the colour of milk turns yellow. Calves are allowed to suck maximum milk. Male calves become bull in the 3rd year (with formation of 4 teeth) and they are maintained for breeding, for 10-12 years. Earlier, the bulls were in high demand when they were trained as plough bullocks for wetland ploughing.

Presently, the family maintains 51 cattle (34 cows, 14 calves, 3 bulls). Maintaining cattle has served many purposes for the family. Milk yield which is around 1.5 litres-4 litres  per day is used for own consumption and is not sold. They get financial returns mainly by selling calves. They sell 5-6 pairs of calves per year for Rs.12000-15000/- per calf. The cattle manure is used in their agricultural land. Around 30 cart loads of manure is applied per acre which is 3 times more than the normal application. Due to this he has reduced chemical fertilizer to half the quantity. Use of organic manure has increased the yields. His average yield of paddy is 45 bags per acre while it is 30 bags/ac for others.  Beyond these benefits, the cattle serve a social and cultural cause too. The family has custom of sending lactating cows to their daughter’s house (after marriage) to meet the milk needs of young children.

Few more champions

1.Livestock keepers of Belahi cattle belong to a specific Gujjar community. They are landless and depend only on cattle rearing. Belahi is a migratory breed of cattle maintained purely on grazing in the foot hills of the Himalayas. It is maintained on low input and medium output system of management. Generally they have 4-5 lactating cows in a herd of single family. One person is engaged full time as a labour to rear these cattle. The average daily milk yield is 4-5 litres. The fat percentage is around 5.5%, which is quite high as compared to the milk obtained from crossbred cattle which is around 4%. Milk is sold at Rs 30/lt. The bulls and bullocks of Belahi cattle are priced for ploughing and other agricultural operation in foothills. A pair of Belahi male of around one year is sold at Rs 25000-30000/- at cattle fair of Sundernagar in Himachal Pradesh. As they are landless they sell cattle manure and get around Rs.3000-5000/-. The earnings depend on the number of animals housed in open fields for 2-3 months. The maintenance cost of these cattle is low as they are allowed to graze. There are no supplements provided nor is there any cost of veterinary medicine. Hardly Rs 10/- is spent per animal in an year. But there is always a loss of 1-2 animals per year during migration and due to death of cows, for reasons unknown.

2.Mrs Roja, an agricultural labour in Thalassery village in Kerala, maintains 50 Malabari goats. She earns an income of Rs. 15,000 per month through sale of milk, manure and young ones.

3.Mr V. John maintains 170 sheep of Chevvadu sheep (red colored), in Alavanthankulam village, Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. The ram of this breed is used for religious purpose and for this reason Chevvadu sheep fetch more income to farmers by selling of rams.

4.Mr Paulraj has been maintaining a herd of 60 Vembur sheep breed which is fast growing in semi arid black cotton soil area in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu.

Roja makes a living by maintaining 50 Malabari goats

5.Toda buffaloes in Nilgiris survive at 1500 meter altitude providing livelihood security to Toda tribes in Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu. Mr Ranjit, a tribal famer in Gaddimund, in Nilgiris has been maintaining these buffaloes, making money through sale of milk.

These cases are ‘positive deviants’ and can serve as guiding spirits for replication in other parts of the country. These good experiences need to be shared with others working for conservation of the local breeds. This indeed is a beginning and it is expected to facilitate the government, scientists and policy makers to formulate plans and policies by involving local communities / livestock keepers by recognizing their practices for their role as guardians of domestic animal diversity.


1.E mail note about Belahi cattle keepers by Dr. Vikas Vohra ,Senior Scientist (Animal Genetics & Breeding) ICAR-National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, Karnal – 132001 (Haryana) – India

2.Breed savior awards(2009-2016):Livestock keepers profile -7 books published by SEVA ,Madurai,Tamil Nadu,India   (Also refer www.sevango.in)

45, T.P.M.Nagar, Virattipathu,
Madurai – 625 010.
Tamil Nadu, India.
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