The farmers used to rear cattle with pleasure until a few decades ago. Today they are abandoning them on the streets. These abandoned cattle destroy the crops of the farmers. A boon all along, they have now become a curse for the farmers. The Government is collecting these strays and trying to make adequate numbers of shelters to house them in, similar to a variety of animals kept in the zoo.
The first reason for this change is the disappearance of common grazing lands. Previously, our villages had common grazing lands where the cows would graze and produce milk, dung and progeny with very little requirement for additional feed. The common grazing lands have been captured by the powerful or used for other purposes like building of schools by the Government. Deprived of traditional methods of grazing, cows are no longer able to produce milk, dung and progeny (almost) for free. The farmer has to now feed the cows in the stalls which has made it difficult to rear them.
The second reason for the decline of demand for cattle is that ploughing is now done by tractors, irrigation by bore wells and threshing by threshers. The requirement of bullocks for these operations has disappeared. Consequently, the male progeny of the cow has now become a burden upon the farmer. The farmer now keeps the male progeny only as long as the mother cow is lactating, then abandons the progeny.
The third reason is that the Government has prohibited killing of cows including the male progeny. Previously the male progeny that was not required for agricultural operations was sold to the butchers and provided additional income. All in all, the cow is now a burden and the buffalo is being preferred. It is a sedentary animal and is not impacted by the disappearance of common grazing lands. The male progeny of the buffalo is not used for agricultural operations and can be sold to the butcher.
The situation of the cow has become adverse because the nutritional quality of buffalo milk is found to be superior to that of the cow’s according to present standards. There are two major components in milk—fat and solid non-fats (SNF). The SNF contains beneficial vitamins and minerals. According to the Website of Vrindavan Organic Dairy Products, the buffalo milk contains 8.0 per cent fat, 10.9 per cent SNF, 0.18 percent calcium, 0.02 percent magnesium and 0.14 percent phosphorous, while cow milk contains only 3.9 per cent fat, 8.3 percent SNF, 0.12 percent calcium, 0.01 percent magnesium, and 0.10 percent phosphorus. Only potassium is lower in buffalo milk with 0.11 per cent while cow milk scores a 0.15 per cent. The former also has less cholesterol of 8 units as compared to 14 units in the latter.
The Government has proposed improvement of cow breeds using the semen of stronger breeds. The trouble is the stronger breeds are not faring any better against the buffalo either. It is futile for one drowning person to try to save another drowning person. Another proposal is to make marketable products from cow dung and urine. About 20 years ago I had visited an exhibition in Kanpur where roofing sheets made of dung were displayed. A friend has made an electricity generator that can be run with the bullock’s draught power. However, none of these products have been commercially successful.
The Government must consider an alternate strategy. First, it must have the common grazing lands released from the clutches of the powerful. With the lands available again, the cost of rearing a cow will fall. Second, the Government should commission a thorough study on the difference in the quality of milk of the cow and the buffalo. As noted from the numbers above, most parameters of the buffalo’s milk turn out to be superior by current standards. It is said in our tradition that drinking buffalo’s milk makes the mind like that of the buffalo.
The same problem stands before us in terms of the spiritual benefits of the cow. I have not seen a study which compares the milk of buffalo and cow on psychological parameters. My father-in-law was suffering from cancer and began taking capsules of cow urine and felt better. I use cow urine as an insecticide in my garden regularly. However, I am not aware of a credible study in this respect. Such studies would create an attraction among the consumers towards cow’s milk and curative powers of cow urine. Drug manufacturers routinely carry out such clinical trials. The Government must commission them to serve as a proxy for emotional and spiritual benefits. Also, these should be done keeping in mind the distinction between native and exotic breeds of cows, as anecdotal belief is that physical and spiritual benefits of native ones is greater.
Third, with a sad heart, we must think whether to grant permission for slaughtering the male progeny of the cow. The farmer is today abandoning the male progeny and they are dying, one way or the other. The difference it will make is providing income to the farmer and possibly make it profitable to rear a cow instead of a buffalo. In our penchant to save the male progeny, we are actually destroying the entire species. The Kamdhenu Ayog should focus on these core problems that afflict the cow.
The writer is a former professor of Economics at IIM Bangalore.