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Effects of cow slaughter ban show up in livestock census

Farmers should not be burdened with maintaining animals past their productive life.

That the government’s policies for the protection of cattle and restrictions on its trade combined with vigilantism by self-appointed cow protection groups has taken a toll on the population growth of indigenous breeds of bovines in the belt stretching from Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh is evident from the provisional 2019 Livestock Census data released recently.

The cow population in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra declined six per cent between 2012 and 2019 with farmers preferring to keep buffaloes. The population of buffaloes rose over 10 per cent in these three states during this period, with Madhya Pradesh reporting as much as a 26 per cent increase. Significantly, the restrictions and bans have altered the proportion of exotic and indigenous breeds in the cattle population - the population of exotic and cross-bred cattle rose 27 per cent while that of the indigenous breeds fell six per cent between 2012 and 2019. It is the indigenous breeds of cows, in particular, which are actually venerated and worshipped.

The continuing strident stance of the cow protection lobby would lead to further changes in the mix of cattle and buffaloes, exotic, crossbred and indigenous in the years ahead as farmers look for ways to protect their income and cut their losses in an environment that has become difficult particularly in the northern and western parts of the country. The disruptions in established ways of disposing of end of productive-life cattle has increased distress among dairy farmers.

They are left with no option but to maintain such animals or find ways to surreptitiously get rid of them by abandoning them in forests or pushing them into city roads under the cover of darkness, late night. This is the opposite of what is needed – a humane end of life for cattle. The Union and state government need to recognise that the current policies help no one – and certainly not the small and marginal farmers who use earnings from selling off their old cattle to invest in new, productive stock. These farmers as well as the dairies need to be provided a solution to dispose of cattle that have reached the end of their productive life.

The Livestock Census also throws up some curious trends that need examination. For instance, among the indigenous breeds, the population of in- milk cattle has increased 7.9 per cent while those reported as dry have declined by 10. per cent even as the population of all milch stock rose by less than a per cent. In the case of cross-bred and exotic ones, the population of in-milk cows rose by nearly 40 per cent and those dry by about 11 per cent, even as the milch population expanded by a little of 32 per cent. The high proportion of ‘in-milk’ cattle may point to higher use of hormones and other means to boost lactation, which has other public health repercussions.

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