Fodder price rise: Cattle numbers in western UP fall due to runaway inflation

The COVID-19 related lockdown and steady inflation has caused a drastic decline in profits from animal husbandry and also in the population of cattle in western Uttar Pradesh. Amit Pasricha/ INDIAPICTURE/Getty Images
11 October, 2022

Not far from Delhi, within the northern capital region, lies a significant part of western Uttar Pradesh. At one time, nearly all rural households in this region were engaged in animal husbandry. Rearing cattle is how most of the area’s women made money—while  the men often worked in farms or migrated to urban areas for employment, the women stayed at home. Their day began with washing and feeding the cattle. They sold the milk for cash, and used this money for their household expenses including food and the children’s school fees. The income from this work was often these women’s only source of personal funds or their meagre savings.

But the COVID-19 related lockdown and steady inflation caused a drastic decline in profits from animal husbandry and also in the population of cattle in western Uttar Pradesh. The price of a good cow or buffalo has risen several fold in recent years. The lockdown forced many to sell their cattle but the rising inflation in subsequent months has left them with little means to return to cattle rearing. In the past year, the cost of fodder and grains for feeding animals has increased dramatically. The price of fodder has risen fourfold in three years. Before the pandemic, a quintal of fodder would cost close to five hundred rupees. It now costs between Rs 2,000 and Rs 2,500. Meanwhile, rampant infertility and diseases such as the lumpy virus—a skin disease affecting cattle across India at present—are further reducing the animal population.

Santoshi Devi is a 45-year-old resident of Gurana village in the Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh. Her husband works as a mason. They have four children and the family owns one buffalo. “Earlier we used to keep two buffaloes. But there was no work in lockdown, so we had to sell a buffalo,” she told me. Selling the milk of two buffaloes used to keep them afloat, but they struggle financially these days. “It is difficult to run the house. Everything has become so expensive,” she told me. Santoshi Devi said that the fodder that earlier cost them anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 800 now costs Rs 2,500. “A buffalo gives hardly 10 kg of milk and we sell the milk at Rs 45 rupees per kilo. It costs around Rs 400 rupees a day to feed the cattle. How will I be able make do like this?” she continued. “The price of a buffalo goes up to Rs 1 lakh these days. How can a regular labourer buy one? It is a loss-making deal.”

Anirudh Chauhan is a 30-year-old YouTuber who runs a channel named “Gaam Guhaand,” a news platform that covers western Uttar Pradesh.  He hails from the village Brahmakhedi in Shamli district. He belongs to the Gurjar community residing in the area, which is engaged primarily in animal husbandry and selling milk. “Ten years ago, there were 8 buffaloes in my house. Now there are two. 

Chauhan said that some animals, such as oxen, would be used only for a month at a time, for crops such as sugarcane. But now, tractors could be used in their place. “The infertility problem is also increasing, because of which no one wants to keep cows,” Chauhan said. Inflation has further decreased demand. “The way that the prices of fodder and khali are increasing, no farmer or labourer is in a state to keep cattle, especially when it’s not of use. Inflation has drained them of the kindness of their hearts.” “When I visit villages, I find that inflation is making people abandon dairy farming,” Chauhan said. The women were suffering the most, he said. “Earlier they could make some money and also give pocket money to their children, from this work. Now I find that they are hard pressed for cash.”

I spoke to Povindra Rana, a 35-year-old farmer from Dhanaura Silver Nagar village in Baghpat district. “Today a buffalo needs fifteen to twenty kilograms of fodder in a day. Even without bran, chana, husk, binole, today the price of that fodder becomes Rs 350 to Rs 400 rupees. We are farmers, so we can manage. But how will a labourer be able to buy fodder?”

Rana said the side income from cattle rearing that rural households often relied on has all but disappeared. “When inflation increased, those animals which we did not absolutely need disappeared from our homes,” Rana said. “The government does not pay attention to any of this,” he added. “Earlier it was said that there was a lot of ghee and milk in the village. We can’t say that now.”

Zulfan Chauhan is from village Khandravali, in Shamli district. His family runs a dairy farm. A few years earlier, they owned 40 animals. Now they own 10. “Animal feed has become so expensive these days there is no profit in rearing cattle,” he said. Zulfan presented an alarming picture of the rising costs. He said that earlier a 70-kilogram bag of mustard chaff, for feeding the cattle, cost Rs 1,300 before the pandemic. It now costs Rs 2,640. The price of 45 kilograms of rice has risen from Rs 1,350 to Rs 1,780. A 50-kilogram sack of binole earlier cost Rs 1,200. Now, the sack size has been reduced to 48 kilograms and the price has risen to Rs 2,250.

“See, this is the kind of work where everyone—from the 8-year-old kid to the elders of the house—would have to be involved. If after that, you still don’t make profit, then why would someone do this?” Zulfan continued. “This is why everyday, people are quitting this profession. If you sell a buffalo now, you will never be able to buy it again.” The rising costs have fractured social relationships as well, Zulfan added. “Earlier people used to help each other out, and allow others to take fodder from their fields. Nowadays they don’t mingle like they used to before.”

I spoke to veterinarian Dharmendra Kumar, who hails from Brahmkheda village in Shamli district. “Frankly speaking, the number of cattle has reduced drastically, we can’t even imagine how much. Corona was a big shock to the industry,” Kumar said. He too said that the biggest factor in this reduction was the rising cost of fodder, which had become untenable. “This has directly impacted milk production,” he said. “The selling price of milk is not rising in accordance with fodder prices.”

“Infertility is a huge problem. Nobody wants less than 10 kilos of milk a day from the buffalo,” Kumar said. This puts a huge strain on the animal, making them weak and prone to diseases. “Now, Lumpy has arrived. Some time ago there was foot-and-mouth disease. The diseases are hard to control and treatment costs a lot.”

Another issue, Kumar said, was that the resale value had gone down to Rs 40,000 for buffaloes and near zero for cows. “An average buffalo costs Rs 1 lakh. In its lifetime, it produces about 2,000 litres of milk and consumes about Rs 50,000 in ration. So, there’s only about Rs 50,000 to be made for the farmer.” Kumar, too, reiterated that the women who depended on animal husbandry for cash capital were the most affected.

“In 2011, my house had a dairy farm,” Kumar told me. “There were 15 animals, which gave milk. At the time, a kilo of dalia-chana”—types of food for the cattle— “were priced at Rs 14 per kilo, chaff at Rs 300 per quintal, and millet grain for about Rs 1,500 per bigha”—referring to a unit of area. He then listed out the comparative prices for these quantities today: dalia-chana cost about Rs 45, the chaff cost Rs 2,500, and the same millet grain cost Rs 10,000. The selling price of milk, however, had risen to just Rs 45 a kilo from Rs 35. Kumar said, “Looking at this, why would anyone be attracted towards animal husbandry?”

Earlier, most rural households would make use of their leftover rotis to feed their cattle. A few days ago, in Dhanaura Silver Nagar, I came across a cart with a loudspeaker. Among other things, the man plying it was selling dry rotis.