A Suitable Cow

Maneka Gandhi

(Bihar Times)The main native breed of cow called Sahiwal was named after my maternal grandfather Sir Datar Singh. There were hundreds of local breeds of cow of every shape and size, even one slightly bigger than goats in Kerala. Today there are very few native breeds that have survived the murderous, illegal leather industry. And in another few years, the remaining Indian breeds will have succumbed to the illiterate push to hybridize them.
It is not just our native seeds of rice and wheat and cooton that are under attack, In an ambitious effort to boost milk production and produce high yielding cows, India is cross breeding our native cows with high potential exotic bulls primarily Holstein Friesian (HF) and Jersey . This mixing of Indian cows (Bos Indicus) with European cattle (Bos Taurus) raises serious concerns about the ability of these cross bred cows to cope with our agro-climatic conditions and perform in our system of farming.
The first is to do with hardiness. The milk production potential of Indian breeds may be limited ,but their suitability for tropical climatic conditions is well known. Having evolved in this hemisphere, Indian cow breeds are uniquely adapted to the heat. Their hide, coat and skin are configured to withstand muggy and scorching environments with temperatures of over 40 degrees celcius and relative humidity of 55% or more. Their smooth coat with primary hair follicles enhances conductive and convective heat loss and reduces absorption of solar radiation. With less carbon dioxide in the blood in their veins, they can maintain lower respiration rates in the heat. With a lower metabolic rate and larger, better developed sweat and sebaceous glands than their European counterparts, Indian cows enjoy an increased capacity for heat loss and are better able to regulate body temperature in response to heat stress. This ability to maintain thermal equilibrium is necessary for normal function and performance. Exposure to elevated temperature has less deleterious effects on Indian than European cows. These high milk yielding cows are very prone to suffer heat stress in our warm climate.
Not only are our cattle better able to cope with our climate, but also with our living conditions.
Indian cattle are genetically adapted to local nutrition, which is to poorer quality, sparser vegetation and soils of low pH. They have lower inherent voluntary feed intake and lower relative maintenance requirements. Cross bred cows not only need very good nourishment but also need a cooler and more comfortable environment. While such special conditions can be provided only in well organized dairy farms,. in India , by and large our dairy industry is based on milk collection from small rural cattle owners
Due to a genetic ability to utilize forage more efficiently, Indian cattle have higher red blood cell counts, total cell volume and haemoglobin. They enjoy greater immunity against infection and disease. They are naturally resistant to ectoparasites like ticks and worms and the diseases transmitted by them. Indian Cattle are also more tolerant to mosquito attacks than exotic breeds. Best of all, they enjoy ease of calving. So all in all, Indian cattle survive and reproduce in our less than ideal conditions.
Cross-breeding leads to the loss of the unique genetic advantages that Indian cattle enjoy. Not possessing the tolerance to heat and other attributes necessary to survive and thrive in Indian conditions, any hybrid strain is naturally less able to cope and function.
For example , while native cattle are resistant to mastitis, HF cross bred cattle have been found to be very prone to this condition. Similarly with tuberculosis. A news report stated that recently 60 HF cows in a small sample had tested positive for TB. This is a serious concern as milk and dairy from infected cattle spreads the disease to humans. It is evident that TB is not common among Indian cows as the disease would otherwise have been rampant in Indian rural areas where it is traditional to have household cattle. With government breeding programmes now propagating only cross bred HF cattle, it is impossible for small rural farmers to regularly test their cows for TB. It is also not feasible to have screening tests to detect TB infected milk at milk collection centres. This makes the entire Indian dairy milk supply a potential source of transfer of TB to humans.
But even this is not the worst health worry. Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) is a zoonotic disease that spreads to humans through ticks. It was first identified in the Crimea in 1944 and christened as Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever. In 1969 it was recognized that the pathogen causing Crimean haemorrhagic fever was the same as that responsible for an illness identified in 1956 in the Congo , and linkage of the two place names resulted in the current name for the disease and the virus.
Usually the virus spreads to humans either by tick-bites, or through contact with infected animal tissues during and immediately post-slaughter.. Various feral and domestic animals such as cattle, goats, sheep and hares act as hosts in spreading the virus. CCHF can be transmitted from one infected body to another by contact with infectious blood or body fluids. Improper sterilization of medical equipment, repeat use of needles and corrupted medical supplies would lead to the spread of this is virus as has been documented and there has already been a documented spread of this virus.
The symptoms include headache, high fever, back pain, joint pain, stomach pain and vomiting. They may also include jaundice, and in severe cases, changes in mood and sensory perception. Red eyes, a flushed face, a red throat, and petechiae (red spots) on the palate are common. As the illness develops, large areas of severe bruising, severe nosebleeds, and uncontrolled bleeding at injection sites can be seen, beginning on or about the fourth day of illness and lasting for about two weeks.
CCHF outbreaks constitute a threat to public health because of their epidemic potential, high case fatality ratio (10-40) and the difficulties in treatment and prevention. CCHF is endemic in all of Africa, Eastern Europe, particularly in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and in Asia south of the 50° parallel north, the geographic limit of the genus Hyalomma, the principal tick vector. It is scattered throughout the Mediterranean, in northwestern China , central Asia, southern Europe , and the Indian subcontinent.
In India , CCHF cases are reported to be emanating mainly from Gujarat , headquarters of India ’s white revolution and its cross breeding programme. While Indian breeds have sweat and sebaceous glands spread all over their body with the mix of sweat and skin oil that they exude, acting as a natural tick repellent, foreign breeds and hybrid cattle enjoy no such defence. They are, therefore, that much more prone to contracting or spreading CCHF. In fact WHO figures indicate that indeed CCHF is far more prevalent in areas that do not have Bos Indicus the original breed of Indian cows.
World dairy scientists have also discovered that BCM7 ( Beta Caso Morphine 7) a highly toxic opioid, is found in the milk of HF cows. This milk is designated as type A1 and has been found to be strongly linked with a large number of human diseases starting from autism and pediatric diabetes to cardiac artery diseases, diabetes, arthritis, arteriosclerosis, Alzheimers, and Parkinson’s. On the other hand, the milk of Indian cow breeds has been reported to be immune to these diseases.. Milk that is free from BCM7 is designated as type A2 milk. All around the world, dairy farmers have on their own initiative, started breeding cattle to produce A2 milk. American veterinarians are already reported to be working on strategy to genetically modify HF cows to produce BCM7 free milk.
This besides, BLAD is an autosomal recessive genetic disease that afficts Holstein-Friesian (HF) cattle worldwide. This is alarming as the mutant gene has already entered the HF crossbred cattle population and therefore, the population of HF and its crossbreds needs regular screening to avoid the risk of spreading BLAD in the breeding cattle population of India .
The express purpose of cross breeding is to increase milk yield. While European cattle might boast higher milk yield , it is because of their natural environment where they are assured rich pastures and a cool climate. Actually , Indian cattle have a more efficient feed to milk ratio. Instead of cross breeding as a way of increasing milk which has a risk of spreading disease, what we should be looking at is ways to improve milk yield of our own cows through better feed and better health and veterinary practices like pre and post partum care.
By cross-breeding our cattle we risk losing native species that are uniquely adapted to India and producing a hybrid that poses a public health hazard. Check your milk :where does it come from ?

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in


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