Livestock Research for Rural Development 19 (6) 2007 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD News

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Ethno-veterinary practices: A boon for improving indigenous cattle productivity in Gaushalas

Dinesh Kumar Yadav

National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, P.O. Box 129, G.T. Road Bye Pass, Karnal-132 001, Haryana (India)


Gaushala system in vogue in India is primarily occupied with providing shelter to cows and is catering mostly the needs of non-lactating, weak, unproductive, and stray cattle. As a matter of fact, major chunk of Gaushala resources is spent on these animals; returns being quite disproportionate. Cattle health care in general and of unproductive cattle in particular is a major challenge before the Gaushala managements constrained by meagre resources, lack of trained manpower and field veterinarians.

ethno-veterinary medicine is the treasure of knowledge found in rural India which could be an alternative and sustainable solution to this challenge. Cattle heath care at Gaushalas with use of ethno-veterinary medicine has tremendous potential which could provide useful alternatives to conventional animal health care. The resources saved by use of ethno-veterinary medicine could be utilised for improving cattle productivity. Developing herbal and medicinal plant nurseries in Gaushalas for use of ethno-veterinary medicine ingredients would meet the requirements of sustainable cattle health care in Gaushalas. Strategies for exploiting the potential use of ethno-veterinary medicine in Gaushalas have been suggested.

Key Words: Cattle, ethno-veterinary medicine, Gaushala


India is having a vast reservoir of cattle genetic resources not only in terms of population but also in genetic diversity represented by 30 recognized cattle breeds. As per the Livestock Census (2003), India is having about 185 million cattle population, 87% of which are indigenous and the rest 13% constituted as crossbred. A decrease of about 7% in the total cattle population of the country was registered as compared to 1997. Also during this period, the indigenous cattle population decreased by about 10%. The major factors for decrease in cattle population are attributed to uneconomical returns due to low productivity and replacement of draft power in agriculture by mechanisation. As a result cattle (particularly unproductive, old and stray) find shelter in the Gaushalas instead of individual households. The Gaushala movement in India is synonymous with the protection of cows and cattle wealth of the country. Being practiced for the last five thousand years or so, its origin can be traced in the Vedic period when social customs and rules laid great emphasis on protection, preservation and development of cows for home, and oxen for agriculture-fields. Cows being the backbone of rural life and economy in India, care was taken for their well-being and uplift. Grazing areas and grasslands (Gochar Bhumi) were kept reserved in abundance everywhere. People used to donate their lands to Gaushalas on auspicious occasions so that cows could have sufficient land for grazing. The use of the word Gaushala has different connotation in the near past. The present system in vogue is primarily occupied with providing shelter to cows, catering the needs of non-lactating, weak, unproductive, and stray cattle. However, this may not be true in every case. A few fore-front Gaushalas, however, are striving to maintain indigenous purebred cows, and produce quality males, thereby contributing to the improvement and conservation of the cattle breeds. But most of these are primarily catering to the needs of non-lactating, weak, unproductive, infertile, chronically sick and stray cattle having some physical/reproductive/mammary problem and are economically unsustainable either at individual owner household or at organized farm. The offspring of some of such low grade animals form another component of cattle population of Gaushalas. Cross breeding programme has also contributed its own quota of infertile and nondescript animals present in the Gaushalas thereby putting further pressure on their dwindling resources.

Animal health care is a major challenge before the Gaushala managements constrained by meagre resources, lack of trained manpower and field veterinarians. Besides common prevalent diseases, major reproductive problems at Gaushalas are anestrous, repeat breeding, uterine infection, cervicitis, pre and postpartum vaginal prolapse, retention of placenta, dystocia and mastitis. Lack of adequate balanced and proper nutrition is the major cause of these problems, but non-availability of timely expert veterinary help, irreversible/untreatable conditions of these animals and lastly indiscriminate treatment given by lay help hired / resourced by these Gaushalas are the other contributing factors in the etiology of these conditions (Sharma 2005). Since the animals in Gaushalas are already culled/low grade and further culling is not possible, maintaining a healthy herd is a constant challenge before the Gaushala managers. ethno-veterinary medicine may be used extensively and effectively, for keeping animals healthy and productive because it is often cheap, safe, time tested and based on local resources and strengths (McCorkle 1995). Hence, it provides useful alternatives to conventional animal health care in general and to Gaushalas in particular keeping in view their meagre resources and proximity to location specific ethno-veterinary medicine practitioners. In view of meagre resources and lack of appropriate veterinary health care the Gaushalas should constantly endeavour two pronged strategy of separating the old, infirm and unproductive cattle from the productive herd and integrating ethno-veterinary treatment with the conventional animal health care system. The resources saved by use of ethno-veterinary medicine could be utilised for improving productivity of healthy animals.

India has a rich heritage of ethno-veterinary medicinal practice but it has not been utilized properly for the purpose of endogenous development i.e. development from within, a case very much similar to Gaushala system in the country. The potential of Gaushalas as breed improvement and conservation centers and their role in rural development is yet to be exploited to the desired extent. Existing infrastructure, committed private management and leadership of devoted persons coupled with flow of resources in terms of donations are some of the important factors which render Gaushalas as ideal centers for their use in improving cattle productivity and conservation. Since there is huge gap between the demand and supply of veterinarians for the adequate treatment of animals, the ethno-veterinary medicine sets this imbalance right. It provides a sustainable, economically viable and eco-friendly system of animal treatment and provides an opportunity to develop a closer contact with Gaushalas and understand their problems. An attempt has been made to give guidelines for formulating the strategies so that Gaushalas become effective centers for improving cattle productivity by integrating ethno-veterinary medicine with conventional medicine. Besides releasing pressure on the limited resources of the Gaushalas, it would infuse this ancient art of traditional healing into the minds of modern veterinary practitioners. The field veterinarians will derive the benefits of the traditional recipes for the management of cow diseases. Modern veterinary practitioners would develop closer linkages with the tribals/farmers, shed their prejudice and learn some of their well-known methods of diagnosis and control of animal diseases.


The following approach is suggested for exploiting the existing potential of ethno-veterinary medicine for effective formulation of strategies for improving indigenous cattle productivity in Gaushalas.

Collection and documentation

ethno-veterinary medicine has evolved through observation, trial and error, perfecting the techniques based on the experiences gathered through experimentation, and handling the resulting information down from one generation to the next. Unfortunately, these practices are hardly documented and largely lost because they are passed on generation to generation through verbal communication, often resulting in the dilution and distortion of deep observational skills and understanding developed. In this process there is inherent danger of loosing this vast treasure of knowledge. It is, therefore, imperative first to collect the practices from field and then to document. Documentation is even more important in order to understand its scientific rationale, accelerate technological change, enable better understanding of technology and the development of new concepts, increase awareness among the young generation, develop appreciation for the traditional systems, and revive and restore pride among the farmers themselves. Most importantly, in present context, documentation provides country's geographical indications and rights thereupon for avoiding patent controversy, if any.


General observations and studies show that the farmers are using several ethno-veterinary practices for curing various diseases. Some of these have enough potential to cure the diseases while others are based on superstitions and mythological religious faiths or there is hardly any basis to be considered as effective treatments. Moreover, there is a mixture of these practices in bulk with the traditional farmers. Studies in rural areas show that most technical persons are aware of traditional knowledge systems but don't use them because these are not properly validated. The task of scientific evaluation and validation becomes tedious under voluminous presence of the practices available with the farmers in the field. The author made a study on identification and documentation of ethno-veterinary practices used by sheep farmers in Rajasthan state of India. In a random sample of 150 sheep rearers of three districts, 182 ethno-veterinary practices used against 17 disease conditions were found (Kumar 2000, 2002). Understanding of the mechanisms underlying such practices as well as to institutionalize their extension to other non-practicing farmers requires systematic explorations. For the purpose of scientific evaluation, modification and optimization of these traditional practices, there is a strong need to develop an approach, which can effectively shortlist the voluminous practices saving the time, energy and resources. Based on two parameters -the scientific relevance score, and percent of traditional farmers using the ethno-veterinary practice- "Short-listing Grid" has been suggested by the author (Kumar 2006).

Scientific validation and modification through R and D

Lack of scientific validation is the major reason for non-adoption of ethno-veterinary medicine by field veterinarians and trained manpower. Experiences indicate that some of the practices are more while others are much effective. Scientific evaluation, besides understanding the technology of the clientele helps ascertain the degree and direction of change through formal research and will be rewarding in adoption by the veterinarians. It must be borne in mind that validation of ethno-veterinary practices will require flexibility, creativity and dedication in research application. The foresightedness of the research managers lies in bringing together the best of science and best of healing (Dwivedi 1998).

Integration and propagation

After evaluating the potential of these existing technologies in depth and understanding their scientific basis there is need to include these in an improved package of animal health care and production technologies. There is also a strong need of integrating the two systems i.e. western medicine (allopathic) and ethno-veterinary medicine for sustainable Gaushala development. This integration can play an important role at grassroots development, which seeks to empower people by enhancing the use of their own knowledge and resources. It will encourage endogenous development or development from within. This will go a long way in making a very strong case for re-orienting the cattle health and production research by giving highest priority to the identification, testing and modification of traditional health technologies practiced by the farmers for centuries. Propagating the modified and tested technologies to farmers and Gaushalas through a video film will help overcome difficulties in treating sick animals quickly and at low costs. There is also an urgent need to propagate the medicinal plants at large scale and production of commercial products following scientific evaluation and refinements at costs affordable by farmers. It would be appropriate to hand over the know-how obtained and refinements achieved back to the farmers and Gaushalas, and these very farmers and Gaushalas should be made part of the scientific and commercial processes. Cultivation of medicinal plants by Gaushalas and their marketing will bridge the gap between much needed availability of herbs and medicinal plants required for ethno-veterinary medicine ingredients.

Apex body

For achieving above said objectives an apex body like State Cattle Commissions/ Livestock Development Boards is necessary for formulating and executing policies and programmes. The apex body may adopt the following mechanism for the purpose of improving indigenous cattle productivity at Gaushalas as well as farmers doorsteps by adopting ethno-veterinary practices:



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Kumar D 2002 The use and relevance of ethno-veterinary practices in sheep. Indian Journal of Small Ruminants 8(2): 124-128.

Kumar D 2006 An approach for short-listing ethno-veterinary practices. Livestock Research for Rural Development 18(5): Article # 61.

Dwivedi S K 1998 Overview of ethno-veterinary practices in India. ICAR Summer Short Course on techniques for scientific validation and evaluation of ethno-veterinary practices. Aug.3-12, 1998, Division of Medicine, IVRI, Izatnagar, India: 1-5.

Livestock Census 2003 17th Livestock Census. Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, New Delhi

McCorkle C M 1995 Back to the future: Lessons from ethno-veterinary RD and E for studying and applying local knowledge. Agriculture and Human values 12(2): 52-80.

Sharma A K 2005 Common reproductive problems of the Gaushalas and their management. Compendium of Lectures of National Conference on Utility of Gaushalas for Improvement and Conservation of Indigenous Cattle, December 27-28, 2005, National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, Karnal, India, pp: 21-26.

Received 25 November 2006; Accepted 23 March 2007; Published 1 June 2007

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