During the summer of 2017, I tagged along with three animal scientists from India’s National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR) on a field visit to one of their institutional partners, a gaushala (cow sanctuary) in the town of Jundla in the northern state of Haryana. Under the auspices of the NBAGR, the Shri Krishna Gaushala was actively involved in breeding desi (indigenous) Hariana and Sahiwal cattle and tracking their performance in terms of milk yield, feed conversion ratio, and the characteristics of by-products—such as, dung and urine—that are relevant to their onsite manufacturing of Ayurvedic therapeutics, from eye drops to diabetes medication. The Shri Krishna Gopal Gaushala also accepted abandoned crossbred cattle, those no-longer-milking hybrids of “Indian” and “European” breeds, reared as part of national dairy development programs looking to boost milk yields.
In Jundla, the crossbreeds were kept, fed, and groomed separately from the desi cattle. Gazing across the expansive courtyard, I noticed that the Hariana and Sahiwal breeds—striking for their respective hides of bright white and velvety red—resided in centrally-located, airy shelters through which visitors like myself could wander to make auspicious offerings of jaggery (cane sugar) to favored cows. By contrast, the crossbred cattle were kept in more cramped quarters that were noticeably out of the way. In asking the managing staff of the gaushala about the rationale for the breed-based separation, they responded in reference to matters of economy, ecology, and the requirements of the NBAGR’s conservation project that recapitulated the points above. When my face perhaps betrayed a certain restless that such tidy explanations left me with, the local swami, dressed in a white cotton mundu, smilingly added in Hindi: “desi gay gaumata hain, lekin crossbreed mausi hain” (the desi cow is cow mother, but the crossbreed is auntie).Scientists and his followers together laughed heartily as I clarified, “mata aur mausi?” (mother and auntie?). Jovially, the group agreed, “haan” (yes). I smiled along with them and asked no further questions.
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