After floods washed away feed, Kerala’s cattle at risk of starvation, sickness

In most flood hit areas, cattle are either half-fed, starving, or falling ill due to shortage of food supplies.
After floods washed away feed, Kerala’s cattle at risk of starvation, sickness
After floods washed away feed, Kerala’s cattle at risk of starvation, sickness
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Relief and rehabilitation efforts are continuing in Kerala after the devastation that the floods brought. Along with the losses sustained by people and to the state property, volunteers and relief workers are pointing out another pressing issue – cattle in dairies and villages have barely enough to survive on.

In the past week, Prashanth P, Deputy Director, Campaigns, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations, visited four districts in Kerala with a team. The team went to Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Thrissur and Malappuram, and found that most of the cattle were starving – many of them hadn’t eaten properly in up to a week.

“We had taken 10 tonnes of cattle feed, and 2 kilos of dog and cat food. It got over really quickly, because people just didn’t have food to feed their animals. We were able to help 400-500 cattle with the feed we had,” Prashanth told TNM. “In Pathanamthitta and Alappuzha, water had still not receded in many areas, which would have made it tougher for the people to get fodder and feed from outside.”

A weakened calf that Prashanth and his team found

He and several others also pointed out that while affected people were waiting for the Animal Husbandry Department to provide relief, it was not happening in a timely and adequate manner.

Lack of food for cattle

Thomas KF, a dairy farmer and director of Mananthavady Milk Cooperative Society in Wayanad, speaks to TNM from Tamil Nadu. “I am here to arrange hay and straw. Between 1,500 farmers, we have 2,000 cattle. We don’t have enough feed for them,” he said. “I have been here for three days. Arranging a lorry to transport the fodder is proving difficult.”

He said that for a month’s survival, they need 25 loads of straw, one load of silage (grass and other green fodder) and TMR. “Our green grazing fields were all flooded and have been destroyed now. So we have to purchase the feed from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu now,” he explained. “But if we were paying Rs 54,000 for a month’s supplies earlier, with lorry charges, we are forced to pay around Rs 13,000 more.”

Photos from the dairy in Wayanad

Prasanna Kumar, another dairy farmer who has been working in the Ambadi dairy farm in Alappuzha for five years now, has a similar story. Their farmlands where the cattle grazed were destroyed and the feed they had stored for the animals was also spoilt by the flood water.

Both farmers say that the milk production has reduced, and that their animals are getting weak and developing health issues. “From 19,000 litres of milk per day, the animals are only able to produce 13,000 litres now. Many farmers sold their cows for low prices because they were not able to sustain them,” Thomas rued.

“Some government officials came a few days back and gave 50 kilos of fodder. But that will be over in 1-2 days. They said they will send more help, but it hasn’t come so far,” Prasanna said.

Health issues

Thomas pointed out that by simply providing husk and fodder is not enough. “The cattle need TMR and vitamins. Otherwise they start developing gastrointestinal problems.”

A veterinary surgeon stationed at Aymanam panchayat, in Kottayam district, told TNM that out of the 700 cattle there, he has been getting 7-10 cases of cattle every day who have acidosis. There are also cases of diarrhoea or vomiting.

“There is definitely a shortage of feed and fodder. And whatever the people do have left, if any, is covered in mud. So, the animals are not eating it. More dry fodder is needed immediately. And while these can be managed by getting them from neighbouring states, green fodder cannot be transported. It will take at least 30 days for the grasslands to grow back here. Till then, the animals and people will struggle because if the animals’ health is affected, so is the milk production,” explained the veterinarian, who wished to remain unnamed.

A woman stands amidst her cattle in Kottayam

He added that a healthy cow or buffalo would need 7-10 kilos of TMR per day, or 5-7 kilos of dry fodder per day to survive. The quantity may vary as per the milk production by the animal. “But the Animal Husbandry Department is able to give only 3 kilos per day per cattle right now, which is not enough,” the veterinarian said.

Is the Animal Husbandry Department doing enough?

Most of the people TNM spoke to said that they would want the Animal Husbandry Department to provide more assistance, or that the assistance they were provided was not adequate.

Thomas argued, “If we were able to help so many people and their cattle with the limited food and medicines that we had, then the Animal Husbandry Department with its resources could help much more. They could tie up with the milk cooperative societies to assess the cattle and the feed needed, set up vaccination centres at the district vet centres and so on.”

Both, Thomas and the veterinary surgeon from Aymanam agree that there will be more of cases of infections and sickness in animals in the coming days. “Hopefully, the medical camp being organised by the department at the Parittu Milk Cooperative Society on Monday will have more resources as people will be coming with sick animals from several nearby areas,” the veterinarian said.

When asked about these concerns, an official from the Animal Husbandry Department admitted that they were not stocked with enough fodder in the aftermath of the flooding. “There was no connectivity in many places, we were not able to provide the available cattle feed in the most flood hit districts – Alappuzha, Wayanad, Idukki and Pathanamthitta,” the official told TNM.

Now, however, the official said that they were working hard to meet the fodder requirements.

A challenge however is to procure green fodder. “Unlike in other states, the major cattle feed in Kerala is cultivated green grass and straw. Now, our cultivation grounds in Idukki and Wayanad have been destroyed. Regarding fodder, the production by Milma and Kerala Feeds, which is under the government sector, is not sufficient enough to meet the demand. But we are addressing the situation with the supply from outside. Neighbouring states like Tamil Nadu and Telangana have pitched in,” the official said.

More than 300 relief camps have been set up for cattle and which are now being sent back to their owners, the official added.

(With inputs from Saritha S Balan)

This article has been produced in partnership with Oxfam India. In the last 10 years, Oxfam India has delivered over 36 impactful humanitarian responses in India.Oxfam India is providing critical relief to the affected families and communities in Kerala: clean drinking water, sanitation, and shelter kits. Click here to help #RebuildKerala.

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