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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Urgency of protection and propagation of indigenous breeds of Indian cow

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India is loosing its wealth of genetic resources in domestic animals. Practices of misdirected cross breeding with exotic stock, indiscriminate crossing with native stock, slaughter of cows for beef consumption and export, and blind acceptance of the western philosophy of good cow breeds are some of the major forces behind the negligence of the indigenous breeds that have adapted to local conditions over thousands of years.

Misdirected cross breeding

It has been since the last three decades that some highly productive breeds of cows only have been promoted to meet the rising demands for animal products. The indigenous breeds of cow have been crossed by the exotic breeds. This practice of large scale propagation of the population of only exotic breeds has been brought about at the cost of indigenous breeds, many of which have reached to the level of being called as endangered.

Indigenous and exotic breeds

Each one of the indigenous breeds of cow has a unique pool of genes. Secondly, the indigenous breeds have capacities of adjusting productivity with the availability of food and changing climatic conditions. They remain resistant to a number of diseases peculiar to a particular region in which they evolve. On the other hand exotic breeds are productive under favorable, ideal and disease free conditions. Thus, exotic breeds are not viable economically in the long run.
Economic values of indigenous cow breeds.

The real economic value of indigenous cow breeds has not been understood properly so far, though India has been blessed with various types of domestic and genetically strong breeds. This country has been a repository of one ninth of the germplasm of cattle breeds in the world. But now it is being reported that –“… realizing the potential of genes of domestic and wild animals inhabiting India, developed countries took samples of their tissues and patented them. Now, these countries are selling germplasm from Indian breeds to India for profit” even as these are at the verge of extinction in their home country.

The exotic germplasm is being used to increase the productivity of native animals since 1960. It has costed the loss of local breeds. However, according to the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR) at Karnal, Haryana – “… successive generations of crossbreed cattle have shown a decline in the milk yield.” It has been reported that the exotic germplasm carried with it a number of deadly bacterial strains. This is the reason why certain diseases to which Indian cows were resistant earlier, have become fatal these days. It is reported that with the import of foreign germplasm, the mortality of cows due to foot and mouth disease has increased drastically. It is also reported that the number of pure bred cows has decreased drastically in India and the pure bred cows are found only in areas that are inaccessible by means of transport.
Vulnerability status of indigenous cow breeds of India.

According to a report of the Expert Panel of the Food and Agricultural Organisation appropriate steps of action should be initiated for the protection and preservation of a particular breed of cow whenever the number of breeding females of the breed reduces up to 5000.The FAO Panel on preservation of Animal Genetic Resources observes that in case of developing countries, a breed with an effective population of less than 2000 breeding females should be taken as rare. Similarly, if this number goes below up to 500, the breed is taken as vulnerable, and if this number goes down further up to less than 100 the breed should be taken as endangered. A country should start preserving semen and embryos of a breed whenever the total number of breeding females goes down to 10,000.

The vulnerability status of cows of native Indian breeds has been researched and reported in detail by Nivsarkar and Bhat (1966), which is given below -

1. Normal: When the population of cows of a particular native breed is not in the danger zone i.e. the number of breeding females is not below 25,000 - it is considered to be normal. In this case no visible changes are seen in the population size of the breed.

2. Insecure: When the population of any native breed is reducing rapidly, it is said to be insecure. In terms of number we can say that when the size of population of a particular breed ranges between 15,000 – 25,000 it can be accepted as insecure.

3. Vulnerable: When some disadvantageous effects on the existence of the population of breeding females of a particular breed reduce it down to 5000 – 15000, the breed is said to be vulnerable. Under this condition this number should be checked from further decline.

4. Endangered: When the number of highly breeding females of cows of a particular breed comes down to range from 2000 to 5000, there is an urgent need of starting conservation steps. Under this condition, the breed is said to be endangered.

5. Critical: When a particular breed of native Indian breed is close to extinction, it is said to be in critical stage. At this stage the total number of breeding females falls below 2000.

Considering the data given above we come down to assess the population size of our Indian breeds like Tharpakar, Nagouri, Rathi etc. and see that these breeds are passing through the insecure stage. It is found by researchers that our native cow breeds are degenerating in terms of both the quality and quantity, and it is reported that this decline has occurred due to inadequate availability of technologies and breeding services. The decline of the genetic base of our indigenous cow is, in fact, caused by cross breeding of these breeds with Jersey and Holstein-Friesian in view of raising the milk production.

Cows for slaughter

Genetic erosion in indigenous cow breeds

The current endangered position of Indian cows or the genetic erosion in indigenous cow breeds is caused by following factors-

1. There is a lack of appreciation of the values of indigenous breeds of cows and their importance. Earlier an emotional attachment with cows existed in Indian societies especially among Hindus, and cows have been the integral part of the Indian culture since the Vedic period. The association with cows has been a part of life of Indian people, but it has gradually turned into a way of earning income by selling milk. Thus calculation of profit in terms of only milk production in cow rearing resulted in greater importance of cross breeds than the native breeds. Thus the emotional attachment with cow that existed since centuries and that enriched the tradition and culture of the country since ages, started disappearing gradually. Thus with the erosion in the feeling of sacred animal, the rural lifestyle of India changed heavily that started causing the genetic erosion of the indigenous breeds.

2. Changes in the systems of agriculture, introduction of mixed system of farming, introduction of modern techniques, mechanization of agriculture, and limited knowledge about traditional livestock husbandry practices.

3. Introduction of heavy farm machinery, replacement of animal draught and transport by machinery, artificial insemination programmes for cross breeding and rapid replacement of indigenous breeds.

4. Decline in milk production capacity of indigenous breeds due to pesticide pollution, negligence, ideological pollution etc.

5. Natural disasters such as famines, drought, floods etc. have encouraged the reduction of cow heads. Scarcity of fodder has pressed many Indian farmers to sell their cows on throw away prices. A number of agents use to wander across villages who purchase cows and calves from poor farmers and bring them in herds to the slaughter houses established in dark corners of markets. These slaughter houses are established both legally and illegally. Though cow slaughter in India is against law, still large scale slaughtering of cows and their offspring is going on in full swing in almost all parts of India. A number of people remain engaged in slaughtering of cows, beef-production and export in neighboring countries.

Properties of products of indigenous cow breeds as described in Ayurveda

A number of Ayurvedic texts describe the qualities and applications of cow products. Charak samhita, Susruta samhita, Astanga hridaya, Astanga sangraha, Dhanvantari nighantu, Bhawaprakash nighantu etc. describe properties of cow products – milk and milk products, dung, and urine. The milk of the indigenous cow is described as sweet, vata and pitta nashak, and rakta vicar nashak (blood purifier).It has been described as reducer of cholesterol where as the milk of a cross bred exotic cow is found to be enhancer of the cholesterol formation. The urine of the indigenous cow has been described to cure a number of diseases. The dung of cow has been described to be disinfectant and is used in the treatment of a number of skin diseases.

Pandit Shri Revashankar Sharma of Rajasthan state of India prepares a number of medicines from cow products. Some of the medicines prepared by him are – gomutraasava (used for the treatment of leucoderma), gomutra ark (used for reducing blood cholesterol), and gomutraghanavati (used for reducing high blood pressure). Many articles have recently been published that claim that the urine of indigenous cow has a capacity of treating cancer (Ahinsak kheti, 1999). A study conducted by the students of Simoga College certifies the antimicrobial properties of urine of indigenous cow.

A comparative account of the compositions of milk from indigenous, Holstein Friesian, and Jersey breeds of cow has been detailed below-

1. Indigenous breed of cow – fat 4.5 to 4.6 percent; Protein 3.1 to 3.45 percent; total solids 12 to 14 percent; casein 2.4 to 3 percent; lactose 4.8 to 5.1 percent; ash 0.66 to 0.74 percent; B-lacto globulin 0.3 percent; and sterol 0.2 to 0.3 percent.

2. HF cow breed- fat 3.4 percent; protein 3.22 percent; total solids 12.26 percent; casein 2.4 percent; lactose 4.87 percent; ash 0.68 percent; B-globulin 0.25 percent; sterol 0.3 to 0.4 percent.

3. Jersey breed – fat 4.5 percent; protein 3.42 percent; total solids 13.5 percent; casein 2.7 percent; lactose 4.93 percent; ash 0.71 percent; B-globulin 0.25 percent, and sterol 0.3 to 0.4 percent.

The above account shows that the composition of the milk of indigenous breed of cow is much better than the other two breeds. According to Dr. H.R.Nagendra- the demand of Indian cow is growing worldwide due to her wider usefulness. It has scientifically been proved that the milk of the Indian indigenous cows decreases the cholesterol level in the blood while the milk of the cross breed or foreign cows increases it. He says, “It is a matter of great concern that the Indian indigenous cow is on the verge of extinction. Only 33 breeds, out of hundreds of varieties survive today. There is a dire need to save and protect them. We have to wake up to this urgent need and work out a comprehensive plan to rehabilitate them.”

Cultural significance of Indian cow

Cow has a great significance in the Hindu religion and culture. Hindus consider cow as sacred and call her Mata or the mother. Hindus have been worshiping cows since the birth of civilization. Hindus can not tolerate a cow to be slaughtered and can not eat beef. Some authors have made false mentions of some ancient Hindus eating beef due to their ill mentality and disoriented thoughts. Attempting to heart the religious and cultural feelings of any section of human population belonging to whatever religion is unfair and offensive. We must offer due regards to all the religions and beliefs existing on the earth.

According a Hindu belief, a lactating cow with its calf is first taken into a newly built house during the Grih Pravesh ceremony. Godan or the donation of a cow is associated with a number of Hindu rituals.Godan, the great novel by the greatest Hindi novelist Munsi Premchand is based on such a ritual.

The cow is considered the mother of all including Gods and humans. Hindu scriptures explain her to be the living symbol of the mother earth. Lord Krishna loved cows and used to spend most of the time with them while they grazed along the bank of river Yamuna. In fact agriculture has been the most important part of lives of ancient people in India, though still it is, but today’s agriculture is very much different as it is based on machines. In olden days bulls were used in ploughing fields and the cow dung was used to make soil fertile. Milk formed the major part of food of Indians. The cow dung has been considered sacred and earthen floors, and walls of mud houses were sweeped or cleaned with it. The cow dung has been in use during various types of Hindu worships. Now that houses are built with cement, brick and concrete etc. the practice of using cow dung in cleaning walls and floors of houses with cow dung has become a practice of the past. The cow dung has a capacity of binding soil particles together. It has also been reported that it acts like disinfectant. Hence cow dung has been in use for cleaning soil floors in general practice and also during religious ceremonies. Stories of cow worship by ancient kings, sages and others have been contained in religious Sanskrit texts of Hindus. Keeping cow herds was regarded as a symbol of prosperity. Cows were given as donations and gifts in olden days in India. Thus cows and their offspring formed the major part of the rural economy in those days. The modernization in every walk of life has changed the trends of economy. However the importance of cow in Hindu traditions and culture is still alive in the same spirit. The ox Nandi is called as the vahana or the means of transport of Lord Shiva. We see statues of Nandi in a number of temples in India, especially in the temples of Southern India.


Indian farmers used to rear cows with love and devotion. They used to put garlands and bells around the necks of their cows. Bodies of cows were decorated in many different ways. In Hindu mythology a dying person must donate a cow before his death so as to attain Moksha i.e. freedom from the cycle of death and birth.

In Hindu scriptures many kings like Dilip has been described as great worshipper of cow. He wished that cows may stayBold around him and he lived among cows.

Gau may agratah santu, Gau may santu prithtah,
Gau may sarvatah santu, gavam madhye vasamyaham.

King Dilip had such a deep sense of respect to cow that he and his wife always offered food to her before taking food themselves. Similar stories are found here and there in Hindu Sanskrit texts.

Urgent need of conservation of cow

Indigenous cow is a very rich genetic resource. It is considered to be very important to protect the indigenous Indian cow owing to its various contributions to various aspects of rural life. A booklet entitled “Namma Kamadhenu” has been published to kindle the spirit of farmers to take a fresh look at indigenous Indian breeds of cow. Shri Raghaweshwar Bharati of Ramchandrapura Mutt of Simoga district of India started a project named as Kamadugha to conserve and develop Indian breeds of cow. A number of efforts are being undertaken across India to conserve and protect Indigenous cow breeds both by Governments and private organizations. In the tenth five year (2002- 2007) plan of India the government had laid stress on the need of conservation of Indian breeds of cow.

A proper breeding policy is needed to be evolved in view of draw backs of the present breeding programmes and the importance of indigenous breeds to all aspects of the rural lives. India must increase the production of milk, but it needs to broaden its genetic base that considers various traits of indigenous breeds like adaptability to local conditions, resistance to pests and diseases, and capacity to adjust with any type of feed and fodder. The country needs to identify, select and produce bulls of indigenous breeds, considering all the traits of Indian cow. Some of the non-descript breeds that are efficient in milk production should be characterized and evaluated. The semen of all the proven indigenous breeds of cows should be made available at all the artificial insemination centers. The use of various cow products in medical healthcare systems should be researched out properly.

Vishwa Mangal Gou Gram Yatra

Vishwa Mangal Gau Gram Yatra is a movement to spread the message of protection of cows in India. It is reportedly a joint venture of Hindu saints, environmentalists, scientists and scholars who are deeply concerned with the protection and propagation of cows in the country. In fact cow rearing has major roles to play in the rural Indian economy as it used to do since the time immemorial. Under the campaign the world’s largest signature campaign demanding declaration of cow a national animal, enactment of a central law for the protection of cows, and stopping all kinds of cruelty on cow, her progeny, and other animals has been started as a mission and the memorandum has been planned to be submitted to the President of India on 29.01.2010.According to Swami Raghaweshwar Bharati the brain behind the movement – Vishwa Mangal Gou Gram Yatra is “ a movement to restore smile of Farmers…. It is an initiative to put Indian villages on the path of sustainable development by focusing on the cow-based way of life. It is a massive national movement to restore freedom to the cow to live and die with dignity. It aims to bring back the lost soul of the nation.” He has declared that the movement is far away from politics. The Yatra was started on September 30, 2009. It is planned to continue across the country within 108 days and is planned to be concluded on 17.01.2010 in Nag Pur.In India where all the religions are given equal respect, some ill minded people use to disturb the faiths of different communities and create social problems. It was reported that a leader in Jharkhand stopped the vehicle of the Vishwa Mangal Gou Gram Yatra in Jharkhand and earned a bad name for him. However, no action was taken against the leader in spite of his communal activity.

Any one belonging to whatever faith or religion deserves freedom as per the constitution. On the other hand good activities done by any group or section or community deserve due respect and encouragement. More over the protection of indigenous cows in India is more a subject of Indians than of any particular community.

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