Projects per year
Smallholder cattle farming in Assamese villages is sub-optimal in terms of calf survivability, growth, age at first service, and milk yield. Proper understanding of the local situation is essential to formulate appropriate, locally driven, livestock keeper education to sustainably improve animal health, welfare and productivity. In-depth interviewing and direct observation were used to understand the farming strategies, husbandry practices and challenges to health and productivity in a cluster of typical villages in the Kaziranga region of Assam, India, where resource use is balanced between the needs of humans and livestock, with competition from wild species. Knowledge of the importance of colostrum consumption by calves is poor. Timely consumption of sufficient colostrum (locally called “phehu”) by calves was clearly sub-optimal in the majority of households. The reasons behind this are nuanced, but the practice of collecting colostrum from newly calved cows to make confectionery for human consumption is an important contributory factor. Care of the umbilicus of the newborn is not routine practice in the locality. Local women are the key group assisting with young and sick animals, including cases of simple dystocia and retained foetal membranes. Cows are usually milked once daily, to attempt to balance the needs for milk of household with those of the calf, which can result in suboptimal nutrition for calves. There are clear opportunities to improve animal health and productivity through locally provided farmer education, particularly with reference to colostrum provision, and the engagement of women farmers in any such programme is key to success.