livestock: Animal husbandry

Fodder for thought

High mortality rate of goats and pigs is a stumbling block for farmers in Punjab

Fodder for thought

Curbing foot-and-mouth disease and swine flu is a major challenge for pig farmers. Tribune photo: Sarabjit singh

Deepkamal Kaur

hrinking natural green pastures for animal grazing, difficulty in getting timely help from veterinary experts and a poor marketing system have led to decreased rearing of sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits and other livestock in Punjab. As per the Livestock Census 2019, the state’s sheep population has gone down by over 30 per cent. The current figure is 85,560, while in 2012, it was 1,28,534. There are only 471 donkeys left in the state, whereas in 2012, there were 2,909. However, the cattle population has increased from 24.27 lakh to 25.31 lakh in seven years. The number of pigs is up from 32,221 in 2012 to 52,961 last year.

A high mortality rate of goats and pigs continues to baffle animal farm owners. Says Kamaljit Singh of Sultanpur Lodhi, “I had taken a loan of Rs 4.5 lakh a few years ago to purchase goats. I had 40-50 goats, the number of which has fallen to just nine now. I don’t know how many of these would remain alive till the end of this winter. The mortality rate of goats is high in extreme winters and summers. It is hard to find veterinary experts to treat them. The experts don’t even come for the mandatory, free vaccination for the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).”

Mukhtiar Singh Hayre of Shahkot (Jalandhar) rues having invested in a goat farm. He says, “In partnership with other farmers of my area, I had bought 400 goats from Mathura. I took training in rearing goats. We were told that goat-rearing is a very lucrative business, but it proved to be otherwise. The goats soon started dying, which the experts later diagnosed was because they were being overfed.”

Even though there is a good market for goat meat in Punjab, the price of which is as high as Rs 500 per kg these days, it is largely coming from neighbouring states, including Rajasthan and HP, and the UT of J&K. In Punjab, districts bordering these states, including Abohar and Pathankot, have a good number of goats, as per the Livestock Census. Vijay Singh, a sheep farmer from Abohar, says, “I have 60-70 sheep that I bought from Jaipur; I rear them for milk and wool. Each produces about 2 kg of milk daily. I am able to sell a grown-up sheep for Rs 4,000-5,000.”

A postgraduate, Hardeep Kumar of Garhi Baksh village near Bhogpur, who is rearing about 200 Yorkshire pigs on his farm, says, “Me and my father are ourselves taking care of the farm. But the mortality rate does not fall below 10 per cent. A sow weighing up to 1.5 quintals tends to sit on its piglets while feeding them, all of which can suffocate to death if not attended to. So, the pig pens have to be designed in a way that there is ample space for the lactating mother and the piglets. FMD and swine flu are among the ailments afflicting the animal, vaccination of which needs to be given in time. If everything is taken care of and proper breeding is done twice a year, my farm can fetch me up to Rs 10 lakh a year.” He adds that cheaper upkeep, low-cost diet (usually leftover food from hotels and college hostels) and high demand for meat among the lower strata are some of the reasons why piggery is catching on.

Perhaps because of little competition, a few rabbit and quail farmers in Punjab have begun to do good business. Varinder Singh of Dhilwan Khurd in Faridkot is one of the dozen-odd rabbit farmers in the state. He recalls, “I invested Rs 4.5 lakh to set up a farm in my village. Now, I have 250-300 adult rabbits in addition to kittens. I am running this business in agreement with a South Indian firm that buys all my rabbits. Since the demand for the animal is also increasing in Punjab and its meat price ranges between Rs 200 and Rs 250 per kg, I intend to start its slaughtering. I intend to expand my business.”

Director, Animal Husbandry, Dr Inderjeet Singh says, “Livestock rearing is an enterprise and farmers do it for additional economic benefit, especially since the landholdings have shrunk. The business will run only till there is a demand for the produce. Donkeys and camels are no longer used for ploughing and transportation, so their number has fallen. There are no open grazing grounds for sheep and goats, so their numbers, too, have dwindled. Our department largely provides extension services like training and advisories on preventive healthcare and deworming and a bit of handholding by funding through NABARD. What is required is the development of marketing strategies by Farmer Producer Organisations.”

“In Punjab, farmers prefer big animals like cows and buffaloes. Since the state produces surplus fodder, they are not keen on animals like sheep and goat which are smaller in size and fetch lesser quantity of milk. Poultry is doing well as Punjabis consider broilers as a delicacy,” says Dr Desh Deepak from the statistical wing of the Animal Husbandry Department, Punjab.

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