Malnutrition affects the health and productivity of cattle in Chhattisgarh

Malnourished cows in Chattisgarh.

More than half of the animals whose blood samples are taken in the laboratory are malnourished and their hemoglobin levels are much lower than normal. Photo by Alok Prakash Putul.

  • Dry straws of paddy have been traditionally used as fodder for cattle in the landlocked state of Chhattisgarh. In recent years however, the cattle are becoming weak and falling ill due to malnutrition and deficiency in vitamins and protein.
  • Agriculture experts and veterinarians say that with the land use change over the years, the green pastures in the state have vanished, leaving no green fodder for the cattle.
  • While the Chhattisgarh government is building cattle sheds and installing green pastures, some agricultural scientists say that treating the paddy straw with urea can improve the nutritional value of the fodder.

Farmer Mahesh Chandrakar from Chhattisgarh’s Dhamtari district was worried about his cow’s health. The cow had been suffering from fever for many weeks. Chandrakar tried giving all the medicines prescribed by the local veterinary doctor for fever, low appetite and weakness, but nothing seemed to be working. Then, a blood sample was taken, and the report revealed that the haemoglobin level of the cow was very low.

For years, Chandrakar has been feeding dry straws of paddy to his cattle, three times a day. But in the last few years, his cattle have become increasingly weak. They would fall ill frequently and faint on some days. Like Chandrakar, many farmers in Chhattisgarh have recently had to spend additional money for treating their cattle.

Dr. Nalin Sharma, associated with the Livestock Development Department’s state-level Disease Detection Laboratory, reveals that more than half of the animals whose blood samples were taken to the laboratory, were found to be malnourished and their haemoglobin level was much below normal. The farmers slowly realised that these health issues in the cattle had something to do with the fodder.

“Nutrition is the biggest problem for the local breed of cattle. They do not get green fodder for almost eight months. The system or tradition of providing green fodder is non-existent in the state. Due to the disillusionment of the young generation towards farming, this problem is increasing day by day,” Dr. Sharma tells Mongabay-India.

More than 80 percent of the farmers in Chhattisgarh belong to the small and marginal category, who feed their cattle with paddy straw. Photo by Ajshafeer96/Wikimedia Commons.
More than 80 percent of the farmers in Chhattisgarh belong to the small and marginal category, who feed their cattle with paddy straw. Photo by Ajshafeer96/Wikimedia Commons.

Malnutrition and deficiency in protein and vitamins

According to the 20th Livestock Census of 2019, there are 99.84 lakh cows and 11.75 lakh buffaloes in the state. But the health condition of these animals is not good.

A 2022 report of the State Planning Commission’s Task Force on Animal Husbandry, states that the cattle in the state are extremely weak and largely unproductive. There are very few productive breeds in the state. The Kosli breed is a recognised one. However, its productivity is low. The milk production capacity of cows in Chhattisgarh is 1-1.5 litres per day and on an average, a cow can give birth to three to four calves in its entire life span.

According to the same report, malnutrition is prevalent in most of the large and small animals of the state. Deficiency of proteins, minerals, vitamins, trace elements and hormones is found in most animals, which affects their growth rate, productivity and fertility.

Agriculture experts say that the tradition in Chhattisgarh is to provide paddy straw as fodder to cattle. A majority of the area in the state used to be fallow and forest land; the cultivable area was relatively smaller. There were also vast green pastures in all the villages. Providing green fodder to cattle was never an issue and the problem of malnutrition was non-existent. But gradually, the pastures vanished. The state could not switch to the practice of growing green fodder specially for cattle. This left the farmers in a fix.

Dr. Saurabh Dewangan, a Raipur-based veterinarian, says that a cow that provides less than five litres of milk needs at least 15 kg of green fodder, 5 kg of dry fodder and 2 kg of animal feed on a daily basis. The animal feed should contain a mix of maize, jowar, crushed wheat, wheat husk, lime peel, mineral mixture and salt.

But in Chhattisgarh, more than 80% of the farmers belong to the small and marginal category, who are forced to feed paddy straw to their cattle.

Straw mainly serves as a bulk or filler to meet the dry matter requirement of cattle. The amount of protein in this straw is about 3-5%. Apart from this, it contains 8-13% oxalate, which combines with the body’s calcium to form calcium oxalate and gets thrown out of the body. This has led to calcium deficiency in animals, which affects their productivity and makes them weak.

Dr. Dewangan says, “Straw has 30% fibre but also 8-14% silica, due to which it is almost tasteless and heavy to digest. But due to a lack of options, animals end up eating only this. The crop also gets infested with fungus like fusarium when there is less sunlight during harvest time. The animals that consume that become weak too. It also affects their milk production.”

A 2022 report of the Task Force on Animal Husbandry of the Chhattisgarh State Planning Commission says that the state’s cattle are weak and low on productivity. Photo by Alok Prakash Putul.

Read more: Heat stress impacts milk production in Maharashtra’s dairy cattle

Treating the fodder with urea

To help the farmers, the state government is building gauthans (cattle sheds) at the village levels. In the last four years, more than 10,000 cattle sheds have been constructed, in which green pastures are also being grown.

Ravindra Choubey, Chhattisgarh’s Agriculture Minister, says, “In Chhattisgarh, we have revived the old gauthan tradition. As part of a government scheme, we are also buying cow dung for Rs 2 per kg. This should tackle the problem of farmers abandoning their cows. Pasture land has been freed from illegal encroachments. In the last four years, pastures have been developed in 5,874 gauthans of the state, in which 2.30 lakh quintals of green fodder have been produced. But this is not enough.” He also added that the practice of abandoning non-productive cows on roads or in the fields has made the situation worse.

However, Anand Mishra, a farmers’ representative, says that it is not possible for marginal farmers in the villages to grow green fodder specially for cattle. In such a situation, there is no option but to feed them paddy straw. And feeding them paddy straws that are treated with urea is better.

According to agricultural scientists, to treat the straw with urea, one quintal of straw is spread as a six-inch thick layer, and 4 kg of urea water dissolved in 50 litres of water is sprinkled on it. Again, one quintal of straw is spread over it.  This process is repeated until 8 -10 quintals of straw are placed one above the other.

This heap of straw is then covered with a polythene sheet in such a way that its gas does not come out. It is kept aside for 20 days, after which this straw becomes ready to be eaten by cattle. However, before feeding it to the cattle, it should be left in the open for 10 minutes, so that the gas is released.

Dr. Dewangan says that the oxalate present in the paddy straw becomes almost inactive due to the ammonia gas produced during the treatment with urea. Apart from this, silica astringency also vanishes in this process. The protein content in straw increases from 0% to 4% and the energy content increases from 40% to 56%. If this method is used, it will benefit the farmers. But right now, this seems to be a distant dream.

Mishra says that by treating the paddy straw with urea, its nutritional value also increases and the amount of oxalate in straw also decreases. However, he also notes that there is a confusion among the farmers about this method and many of them are not ready to adopt this practice.

This story was first published in Mongabay-Hindi.


Banner image: Many animals in Chhattisgarh are malnourished and their haemoglobin levels are much lower than normal. Photo by Alok Prakash Putul.

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