Millennium Post

A pair too rare

Three years ago when I bought these bullocks, they were worth Rs 58,000. Now they are worth at least Rs 1,00,000,’ exclaims Anil Kale with pride, pointing out the distinguishing features of the Gaolao breed – muscular bodies, fleshy humps, bulbous foreheads and narrow, slit-eyes that give it the characteristic ill-tempered but majestic look. Suresh Awathale, who sold Kale his proud pair, does not sound that enthusiastic. Awathale has set up a camp near Kale’s village of Shirpur in Wardha district of Maharashtra.

The camp, where he has moved his herd of 50 cattle, is 20 km from his village Chopan. He does this every year during summers in search of fodder. ‘There is no fun in rearing Gaolao cattle anymore,’ he says. ‘They do command a price but the forests are closed to us, and who has the money to buy fodder from market?’

The much admired Gaolao breed of Vidarbha is on the verge of extinction. According to experts, about 3,000 of these majestic animals are left, of which less than half are of true type (pure breed). The number of true type bulls is an abysmal 150. ‘Unless urgent attention is paid to conservation and regeneration, the Gaolao breed could be extinct in five to seven years,’ warns A R Sirotia, professor and head of the department of animal genetics and breeding, Nagpur Veterinary College. Decline in Gaolao numbers started soon after Independence due to skewed government policy. Historically, the breed was recognised as a dual purpose variety – the bullocks were valued for their strength and speed, and the cows were known to yield 6-8 litres of milk a day. However, in the early days after Independence, only the draught value (capacity to pull or carry) of the breed came to be emphasised by government agencies. The Nagpur gazetteer, for instance, records Gaolao as a draught breed, neglecting its milch utility. With this shift in policy, says Sirotia, breeding practices also shifted in favour of bullocks, with the result that milk yields came down.

Government milk production enhancement schemes, too, were based exclusively on exotic foreign breeds like Jersey and Holstein. With time, perceptions changed and Gaolao cows came to be seen as a loss-making prospect. Government’s overenthusiastic hybrid-isation programmes made it worse. Sirotia says, ‘There were actually two programmes – inferior and nondescript animals were to be cross-bred with imported high-milk-yield breeds to improve breed quality, whereas good indigenous breeds were to be maintained in pure condition through selective breeding. However, due to a target-oriented cross-breeding programme, even good quality Gaolao animals got crossbred.’

By arrangement with Down to Earth magazine
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