Patel’s Gir cows yield an average of 3,000 litres over a 300-day lactation period, as against the normal 2,000 levels for this indigenous cattle breed.

Parev, 13, produced 5,000 litres of milk during her seventh lactation cycle last year. Now, in her eighth, she’s among the 150 Gir cows — that includes 40 calves and heifers below 2 years of age, and 35 lactating animals — owned by Chinubhai Khetasibhai Patel. All have distinct names and neat ear tags for identification.

Patel’s dairy farm — just across the road from the agriculture produce market committee mandi at Halvad in Gujarat’s Morbi district — also has separate enclosures for the cows currently in-milk, those who are pregnant, calves and heifers, and three bulls. “It is necessary for proper feed management. Each animal has a different requirement, depending on its age and stage of lactation or pregnancy,” explains the 59-year-old, who is a bachelor in economics from Ahmedabad’s H K Arts College.

Patel’s Gir cows yield an average of 3,000 litres over a 300-day lactation period, as against the normal 2,000 levels for this indigenous cattle breed. Moreover, he has brought down their age of first calving to below three years, compared to the 4-5 years under usual grazing conditions. “If you follow scientific feeding and herd management practices, a cow can be inseminated (at Patel’s Parishram Bagh Gaushala, this is done naturally by bulls) in 24 months. Add nine months of pregnancy, she will start giving milk in 33 months,” he says.

What are these practices? “A calf must be allowed to drink milk from two out of her mother’s four udder teats until she is six months old. This will ensure she becomes a healthy cow and a good milker in future,” advises Patel. Secondly, a cow should be given 1 kg compound cattlefeed and 15 kg green fodder grass as a daily maintenance ration, whether or not she is producing milk. For pregnant cows, the daily cattlefeed dose should be 2 kg initially and gradually raised to 6 kg close to calving. This will guarantee both higher milk yields and better calf health. Once the animal is in-milk, there would be the base maintenance dose of 1 kg feed (and 15 kg fodder) plus 500 grams for every litre. For 12 litres daily yield, it means 7 kg of feed and 15 kg fodder.

The difference between Gir and Holstein Friesian (HF) crossbreds is that “the latter require 600-700 grams of feed for every litre of milk”. So, even if yields are 7,000-8,000 litres and their age at first calving is only 24-25 months, the rearing costs work out much higher. Patel had, in fact, 40 HF crossbreds that he sold in 2006, “as they weren’t suited for our hot and humid climate”.

But raising indigenous cattle has its challenges, starting with their not being amenable to machine milking. The reason for it is that the teats of these animals are uneven and “they will not let out milk freely like HFs, who have no emotions”. Also, their milk has to fetch a better rate to compensate for lower yields. Patel sells 200 litres daily, of which he supplies 40 litres to the Surendranagar District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union at Rs 28-30 a litre. The remaining 160 litres he is directly selling in 500-ml and one-litre pouches to consumers in and around Halvad town for Rs 55 a litre. “I could probably get Rs 70 per litre for this superior quality A2 milk in Morbi and Rs 90 in Ahmedabad, but reaching those markets is beyond my means,” he admits.

According to Patel, milk sales alone can barely cover feed and fodder, labour and other overhead expenses. To make money, farmers need to generate extra income from sale of dung and bred animals (a four-year-old pure Gir cow can fetch Rs 1-1.5 lakh), besides cultivating their own fodder. Patel does all of this. Last year, he sold 300 tonnes of vermicompost at Rs 5,000 per tonne (two tonnes of dung are required to produce one tonne of vermicompost by earthworms over roughly 60 days). He also dedicates six out of his 18-acre land for growing jinjva grass through sprinkler irrigation, while farming amla and lemon in the balance 12 acres.

It raises the question: How many dairy farmers can be like Chinubhai Khetasibhai Patel?


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