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Livestock – the mainstay of mountain economy - II

By Syed Shamsuddin  

A survey dating back to 2005 unfolds that on average, each household keeps eight cattle heads; one bull, five cows and two calves in Gilgit tehsil. Milch cow yield averages about 3.10 kg milk per day with a lactation period of 11 and a half month. Area farmers openly graze their cattle in meadows and feed grass, shaftal and thinned maize stalks to cattle during summer and dry fodder (maize and wheat straw and dried Alfalfa) during winter season. However, some farmers also supplement cattle feed with dry breads, cotton seed cakes and choker (grinded wheat). Farmers face moderate fodder shortage during July-August and feed mulberry leaves. Thinned maize plants and weeds hoed from maize cropped for dry fodder. Farmers face severe shortages during winter and one third of them have to purchase dry fodder. Traditionally, livestock are fed on un-chopped fodder and straw with no stall-feeding being practiced. This not only results in loss of fodder but also causes contamination to it.

In view of very small land-holdings, livestock grazing is a tradition of the area. Farmers not only graze their livestock in valleys but also shift them since the beginning of May or later, to distant alpine meadows. During summer, almost one-third (31 per cent) of the total cattle population area is shifted to meadows. The farmers do not shift their entire family while only one or two of the family members have to migrate along with their livestock. They take with them foodstuff and other necessities sufficient for a period of five to six months. They graze their livestock, manage and treat them too. They collect the milk and convert it into ghee. Some of the farmers send their livestock along other fellow farmers to upper alpine meadows for which they pay half of the ghee to them as grazing charges. Most of the area farmers openly graze their cattle for three-four months. 

In September, when the temperature gets cooler, then farmers start bringing their livestock to the lower meadows and villages. Livestock are freely grazed in villages till December. That is because the farmers cultivate wheat and Shaftal very late, from January to March. Livestock are fed on wheat straw, maize straw and lucerne (Ishpit) in rooms generally made of stones and mud from January till April. The farmers who rear both small and large ruminants usually mix their milk to make yogurt, butter, butter-milk and ghee. Milk marketing is an unknown phenomenon in the study area and farmers do not sell milk or its by-products save ghee. However, government has put in place milk sale price mechanism in Gilgit tehsil areas. With the onset of winter (October, November), cattle sale starts on account of the prevalent tradition called ‘Nasaloo’. During ‘nasalo’, animals are slaughtered and meat is dried for consumption during winter. In the survey area, cattle sale was reported by 29 per cent of the cattle. Most of the cattle herds (92 per cent) suffered from various diseases and 41 per cent of the cattle population suffered from various ailments the year before because of inadequacy of veterinary services hindered the proper and timely treatment of livestock. Farmers usually get the available medicines from local shops and treat the animals according to their experience. When some epidemic disease breaks out in meadows, it causes loss of hundreds of animals. The farmers can do nothing due to inaccessibility to proper veterinary facilities in the remote meadows. 

Survey results revealed improper feeding, unhygienic housing conditions, very low vaccination profile and untimely treatment of the diseased livestock as the main cause of high mortality rate in livestock. The livestock dispensaries were said to be inaccessible to all the livestock farmers for being remotely located. It came to the fore that allopathic treatment of diseased cattle was common in the survey area as being practiced by 62 per cent of the cattle owners. Herbal (desi) method of treatment was pressed into service 16 per cent of the respondents and the remaining 22 per cent did not treat their diseased cattle at all. As far as prevention of epidemic disease is concerned, only two per cent of the total cattle population was vaccinated the preceding year. Cattle mortality rate (8.18 per cent) was very high due to improper feeding, unhygienic housing conditions and untimely treatment of the diseased cattle. Goat-tending was reported by 87 per cent of the respondents. Goat ownership per household ranged from one to one hundred and ninety and on an average, each household kept 22 goats - two het-goats, 16 she-goats while one milch, one dry and thirteen pregnant and four calves. Eighty eight per cent farmers reported rearing of local (Jarakheil) breed of goats. While ten percent of the farmers raise cross- bred and two per cent betel breed. Average milk production per milch goat was 1.01 kg per day, with a lactation period of six months and 10 days. Thirty per cent of the sample farmers reported goat sale with average sale price of Rs2200 per goat. The area farmers shear their goats once in a year and made ropes (36 per cent) and rugs (30 percent) domestically. Annual hair production per goat herd was 11.72 kilogram. One half of the farmers surveyed graze their goats locally in valleys but the remaining half also shift their goat herds to distant pastures. 

During last summer, a majority of farmers (80 percent) shifted their entire herds and the remaining (20 percent) some of goats to pasture. Some cases of goat loss (two percent of the shifted) were also reported during herds’ stay in pastures. Most of the sample farmers (70 per cent) graze goats for three to four months. With free grazing in the valleys and meadows, farmers also feed mulberry leaves and Shaftal to goats. They feed them dry tree leaves and dried fodders (dry Alfalfa, maize and wheat straw) during winter. Some farmers also supplement goats’ feed with maize grains and dry breads. About 40 per cent of the total population of goats in the area suffered from various diseases last year. Some of the sample farmers (22 per cent) also raised sheep. Sheep ownership per household ranged from one to 62. On an average, each household kept 14 sheep including two rams, ten sheep and two calves. All the respondents reported rearing desi breed of sheep with average milk production of 0.78 kg/day and a lactation of five months and a week. 

During the year before, eighteen per cent of the respondents reported animal sale with a price of Rs935 per sheep. The sheep-keepers shear their sheep once in a year. They clean the wool and use it in quilts and also convert into yarn and make ropes, caps and Pattu/Shaals domestically or sell raw wool to local Pattu/Shaal makers. Annual average wool production per sheep herd was 9.57 kgs and wool price was Rs90 per kg. The sale prices of rope, casp and shaal were Rs 100, Rs 225 and Rs1200 respectively. Although all farmers openly graze their sheep in valleys during summer, (64 per cent also shift them to alpine pastures. A majority of the farmers (70 per cent) shift all and remaining (30 per cent) some of their sheep to pastures. Farmers feed Shaftal and fresh leaves, maize and wheat straw to sheep during winter. In addition, some of them also feed maize grains and dry breads to sheep. About sixty per cent of the sheep fell ill in the study area last year. Most of the sheep raising farmers allopathically treated their sick sheep and others (36 per cent) did not treat diseased sheep. In the survey area, vaccination against the epidemic sheep diseases was not administered and the mortality rate was 3.13 per cent. 

The survey further divulged that besides rearing milk animals, 18 per cent of the farmers also keep donkeys for transportation of luggage to the summer pastures and dry fodder/fuel-wood back to their homes. The breed of the donkeys was desi with the average animal price of Rs5000. Farmers openly graze donkeys for about eight and half months and feed wheat straw, dry Lucerne, maize grains during winter grass and Shaftal during summer. Forty per cent of the farmers reported ailment of donkeys from diseases like constipation, colic and strangles. Hen rearing was reported by almost all (92 per cent) of the areas farmers with an average flock size of 20. The sale price of non-laying hen and cock were around about Rs150 and that of egg-laying hen Rs200. Ninety per cent of the hen population in the area suffered from various diseases. The hen mortality rate was very high (58 per cent), the reason behind this was very low vaccination profile (9 per cent) of the hen flock. Most of the surveyed farmers (72 per cent) had education of primary up to matric and higher level and were well aware of the livestock production constraints. They seek vaccination of livestock against epidemic diseases (56 per cent), improved function of local dispensaries (48 per cent), artificial insemination (22 per cent) and introduction of improved breeds of livestock in the area (18 per cent). 

 The fore-going landscape calls for meticulous research-based endeavors in the context of livestock breeding to help prop up and sustain the mountain-farmers. The proposed zoning of the area and the hybridization process of jersy-yak combine, in the upper zone in simultaneous with popularizing jersey breed along the lower zone needs be undertaken at the earliest to bring about a positive transformation in mountain farming which becomes quite inconceivable sans livestock development to put it succinctly.What is all the more needed is according top priority to the re-introduction of Damani sheep across the whole region in a result-oriented manner. There is also dire need of augmenting to the existing set of the animal husbandry department which is to be found wholly devoid of a commensurate mechanism. The existing veterinary hospital for instance, at Gilgit, has had a set-up compatible with meeting requirements of decades ago while all the dispensaries of that era indispensably needed upgradation in all populous areas of this region to ensure fitting veterinary coverage to the livestock population.

Related article:
Livestock – the mainstay of mountain economy - I


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