New Delhi: Around 13 km from the district headquarters of Jind in Haryana lie the cobbled lanes of Bibipur village. The neat row of pucca houses in this small but prosperous hamlet is awash with stories and posters of ‘Mohini’ — a nine-year-old buffalo that is more precious than a few Audis parked along the narrow lane.
“We won’t sell Mohini even if we are offered tens of millions in exchange. It has received several awards from the (Manohar Lal) Khattar and (Parkash Singh) Badal governments (of Haryana and Punjab, respectively). Our buffaloes win more awards than our boys,” said dairy owner Jasvir Singh, as he stood watching his herd of buffaloes drink water from a pond near his house.
Mohini isn’t any other buffalo one finds strolling down the roads. It is a purebred Murrah — a coveted, high-yielding variety.
A talk about rural Haryana is incomplete without a reference to the Murrah buffaloes. Famous for its high production of fat-rich milk, Murrahs have changed the fortunes of their hookah-smoking owners in remote Haryana.
The per capita availability of milk in the state is 878 grams per day, much higher than the national average of 329 grams a day — all thanks to the Murrahs.
Mohini yields 24 litres of milk on an average every day.
“Murrahs have served us for three generations. We have earned more than Rs 20 lakh by selling milk and breeding these buffaloes,” Jasvir said, grinning ear-to-ear.
Over 70 km from Jind, in Hisar’s Litani village, Sukhbir Dhandha has a similar ‘success story’ to tell. He had recently sold one of his prized Murrahs, ‘Saraswati’, for Rs 51 lakh.
With a daily average milk produce of 33 litres, Saraswati reportedly held the world record in milk yield. “It had broken the record previously held by a Pakistani Murrah buffalo. I earned crores from this buffalo. In comparison, Rs 51 lakh is a meagre amount,” Dhandha added.
Kapoor Singh, a resident of Hisar’s Singhwa Khas village known globally for its Murrah buffaloes, had also made headlines in 2013 by selling his buffalo for Rs 25 lakh.
Not only milk, the semen of these prized buffaloes are also in high demand. A Kurukshetra-based farmer earned over Rs 40 lakh per annum by selling semen of his Murrah bull, ‘Yuvraj’.
The demand for these purebreds is so high that their prices are often fixed when a calf is still in the womb. A four-month-old at Dhandha’s house is now priced at about Rs 4.5 lakh, he said.
To better understand just how Murrah buffaloes are redefining farm economics in this north Indian state, this reporter travelled more than 500 km across Haryana.
What are Murrah buffaloes?
A breed of water buffaloes, Murrahs originated in India and its home tract is Fatehabad, Gurgaon, Jind, Jhajjar, Hisar and Rohtak districts of Haryana. The breed is also found in Nabha and Patiala districts of Punjab.
Murrah buffaloes are in particular demand for its high-fat milk yield — around 7 litres every day — which is used for making mozzarella cheese and preferred for sweets.
India has 57 per cent of the global buffalo population and there are 13 recognised breeds in the country.
Satbir Kumar, a resident of Singhwa Khas, described the “best trick” to identify a purebred Murrah. “You can spot a purebred among thousands of other buffaloes. Slender head and legs, thin black tails and curved black horns are some of the telltale identity markers.”
When told how a Murrah buffalo was costlier than an Audi car, he quickly remarked, “But Audis cannot produce milk, can they?”
‘Murrah hit the ramp’
With a glistening jet black body, curved ring-like horns, a light neck and head, Murrahs have become so popular that many of these beasts also have a huge fan following on social media.
When Dhandha had announced that he wanted to sell ‘Saraswati’, the buffalo’s fans on social media were “disturbed”. He soon arranged for an event so that admirers can “see it for one last time”, he said.
A host of very popular beauty pageants for buffaloes, where the animals are decorated with painted horns, ornaments and garlands are also held across the state. The prize money in these contests can range anywhere between Rs 1,100 and Rs 5 lakh.
‘Murrah hit the ramp’ is one such popular contest that is organised by the state government.
At Jasvir’s house, the cupboards and walls are adorned with awards won by ‘Mohini’. He gives an example of just how popular the buffalo is: “If you ask any one in the village about her or his date of birth, they may have to look for their ration or Aadhaar cards. But ask about Mohini’s and they will promptly give you the answer.”
Many other proud owners similarly displayed photos of their prized buffaloes on their mobile phones.
For the pageants, the animals are groomed from a very young age. A typical grooming session includes bathing, massaging their horns and body with oil and trimming their hooves.
Government incentives for rearing Murrahs
To motivate farmers and encourage rearing of Murrah buffaloes, the Haryana government had recently floated several schemes. The state’s animal husbandry department has launched an Integrated Murrah Development Programme under which owners of high-yielding buffaloes are rewarded at village and tehsil levels.
The owner of a buffalo that gives 15-18 kg of milk every day is given Rs 15,000 and those producing 18-22 kg are awarded Rs 18,000. An owner whose buffalo gives 22-25 kg of milk every day gets Rs 20,000 and those owning buffaloes yielding above 25 kg of milk get Rs 30,000.
Another programme, Departmental Dairy Training, is also organised to attract the youth towards animal husbandry. As part of this training, unemployed youth are informed about the best methods of breeding and raising animals.
Many dairy owners, however, also rued that a growing market of synthetic milk has dampened the business of selling buffalo milk.
Gulshan Pruthi, owner of a private dairy in Jind, said, “The business of selling milk has not been as profitable. Prices of pure milk have remained static for years due to the growing market of synthetic milk.”
“Also, fodder for buffaloes that usually consists of cottonseed and ‘khali’ (mustard cakes) are becoming increasingly expensive. In such a scenario, running a dairy has been a loss-making venture,” he added.
Murrahs are a ‘lifeline’ for women farmers
For several women farmers of the state, rearing Murrah buffaloes has helped them manage the smaller household expenses with ease.
Kavita, a farmer in Rewari district, said, “Our buffaloes give around 19 kg of milk. We can easily manage the monthly expenses with the money received by selling milk. Income from farming comes in our hand only on an annual or half-yearly basis but the buffaloes help get by every month.”
Ravinder Hooda, deputy director of the animal husbandry department in Jind, said, “Buffaloes are the spinal cord of rural economy. A rural woman can easily handle every small expenditure in her household by rearing buffaloes.”
An officer at Jind’s Vita Milk Plant, which is under the Haryana Dairy Development Cooperative Federation Limited, said, “We make payment for procured milk on the 1st, 11th and 21st of every month. A woman farmer can manage her household expenses with the amount she gets once every 10 days.”
‘80% milk come from Murrah buffaloes’
In Haryana, a livestock census is carried out every five years. According to the 2012 census, the state had 60.85 lakh buffaloes, including the Murrah variety. This number was 59.50 lakh in 2007.
While the numbers for 2017 are yet to be officially released, sources told ThePrint that it is likely to come down by 20 per cent.
Hooda cited several reasons for this likely decline. “In the last few years, Andhra Pradesh had procured a large number of Murrah buffaloes from Haryana’s villages. Also, more and more people have started living in cities and the government has denied permission to keep buffaloes in residential areas of towns.”
He, however, believes the numbers will go up again in the next five years. “Thanks to Digital India, every village is now getting connected to the Internet. Several farmers and dairy owners from Haryana have created their own YouTube channels where they upload videos of their buffaloes. This helps them publicise their farms and attract buyers.”
Many government reports ThePrint accessed to also concur with the fact that dairy entrepreneurs have influenced rural economy in a good way. Milk production in Haryana during 2018-19 was 10,72,6000 tonnes, of which 80 per cent was buffalo milk, officials said.
Officials at the Jind’s Vita plant also said more than 80 per cent of the milk coming to their plant is from Murrah buffaloes. With more than 700 dairies, Jind is called the hub of animal husbandry.
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