Unproductive cattle: Know their economic value

Recent studies reveal that raising unproductive cattle, especially for manure and later for their by-products – skin and bones – could be highly profitable. Cow dung is a cheap and easily available bio-resource for agricultural use

The dry cows unable to give milk due to old age and the bulls not used for agricultural purpose are considered unproductive in Nepal. As they cannot be killed or exported, these unproductive cattle compete for fodder, water, space and other expenses, which is an economic burden on the farmers. In Nepal, the cow holds religious sentiments for the Hindu people. She provides milk and is worshipped as Laxmi. Similarly, the male cattle play an important role in agriculture, and are used for ploughing, transportation, irrigation, threshing and other works.

The total cattle population is estimated at 7.5 million heads, of which 55 per cent are males. Of the female cattle population, only 15 per cent give milk while 15 per cent are below three years of age.

Of the female cattle, 10 per cent are old and unproductive. In the case of males, only 20 per cent are either used in agricultural work or for breeding purposes, while the rest stay idle. Only about 13 per cent of the cattle are of the exotic breed, namely Jersey and Holstein.

The average life span of cattle is about 15-20 years. A typical cow gives birth to its first calf at the age of 2-3 years and starts producing milk, and subsequent calving takes place at intervals of every 12-15 months. During her life time, a cow will give birth to eight calves, by when she is 10-12 years old.

The remaining years the cow remains dry and does not give milk. So its economic value starts declining. But the cows will need to be provided fodder, water, vaccinations and medication, should they fall sick, as well as sheds, which involve heavy expenses. Similarly, rearing a weaned male calve when a cow stops giving milk is a heavy economic burden on the farmers.

In recent years, commercial dairy farming and use of high yielding exotic cattle breeds are increasing, so is mechanisation of agriculture and use of artificial insemination for breeding.

Recent developments in breeding technology have also made it possible to produce only female calves. So the use of bulls in agriculture is declining. It is estimated that there are four million unproductive cattle, of which one million cows are dry while the remaining three million males largely stay idle.

In such a situation, often the unproductive cattle are chased away from the farm and forced to live like stray animals, although this is forbidden by law.

The stray cattle often wander around in search of food and water, and resort to stealing food and crops. Every year, a significant number of cattle die in road accidents or from dehydration, starvation, infections and parasites. In the cities, stray animals cause traffic nuisance.

Although illegal, a large number of cattle are also exported to Indian states and even Bangladesh.

The government, municipalities as well as community-based welfare organisations have been providing shelters for the stray cows at places and imposing penalties on the owners for abandoning the cows.

However, these cow shelters lack sufficient fodder and potable water, space, veterinary support and other necessary facilities. Given the people’s sentiments, laws and regulations, the cattle even after their productive life should be protected, and minimum care should be provided, not abandoned. But it is reported that during the period of 2012- 2015, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City alone had rounded up 1,200 abandoned

cattle, which were later auctioned off.

Recent studies reveal that raising unproductive cattle, especially for manure and later for their by-products – skin and bones – could be highly profitable. Cow dung is a cheap and easily available bio-resource for agricultural use. It is a major source for the production of biogas in Nepal.

If all the dung produced by cows and buffaloes is used as manure, Nepal will not need to import urea. If the dung and urine are collected systematically and well managed, there is enough money to be made.

For example, on average, an adult cow gives 5,475 kilos of dung and 1,460 litres of urine per year, which is equivalent to 2,956 kilos of nitrogen.

This nitrogen can be converted into 6,500 kilos of urea fertiliser, which based on the existing market price, is worth Rs 97,500. If the disposal price of each unproductive cattle is Rs 5,000 and fodder and management cost an extra 40,000, still the rearing of an old unproductive cow or bull could give a profit of Rs 50,000 a year.

More importantly, commercial harvesting of urine and dung for religious purposes could be a potential enterprise in managing the unproductive cattle.

For example, the urine obtained from indigenous cows is considered holy and said to have medicinal value in Ayurveda.

Some entrepreneurs are starting to bottle cow urine for marketing locally as well as in the international market. Similarly, cow dung is required for religious rituals.

Another option to manage the unproductive cattle is to establish cow sanctuaries, similar to protected wildlife areas, where they can roam freely. Such a cattle sanctuary could be fused with a vulture restaurant, where the carcass could serve as food for the birds and other wild carnivorous.

Since unproductive cattle are an economic burden to the farmers, the government should establish cow shelters in every municipality to protect their rights and use their waste to promote organic farming.