Is India’s obsession with the cow getting your goat?

The goat is a poor man’s cow.
The goat is a poor man’s cow.
Image: Reuters/Babu
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The cow has for long been a part of Indian politics. In recent years, with the rise of Hindu nationalism, it has turned into an obsession.

So much so that, besides being a religious motif, the bovine has also become central to the Narendra Modi government’s approach to the development of agriculture and, in turn, rural India.

However, a large section of Indian farmers does not own cows since they’re too expensive. “(These) people have only one asset: goats,” said Antonio Rota, lead technical specialist on livestock at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which offers financial aid for rural development across the globe.

In fact, data from the National Dairy Development Board show that Indians have owned more goats than cows for at least the last two decades.

The bovine problem

To begin with, rearing cattle is not as profitable if the animal can’t be sold for slaughter in its post-productive life when it stops giving milk.

So, with cattle-slaughter laws progressively turning stringent across the country, many cattle owners have been reportedly abandoning their old cows. And even though the Modi government itself has now reversed an earlier move to make the trading of cattle for slaughter extremely difficult, the fear of private vigilantes lingers.

It may be, therefore, a good time to focus on goats.

“India has the second-largest global goat population (after China) and has the potential to increase its role and profits in the lucrative global goat market. There is an increased demand for quality meat and milk products in India,” IFAD said.

There is an expanding export market for specialty and organic mutton and goat meat in the Gulf states, and other Asian countries. This demand is largely met by exports from Australia and New Zealand right now.

Besides, rearing goats cost much less than raising cows. Goats, after all, are smaller animals and, thus, need smaller sheds and lesser feed. Goats also reach sexual maturity sooner and have a good survival rate even in drought-prone areas, according to IFAD. So, the farmer gets to multiply his livestock faster.

Most importantly, there are no religious taboos attached to goat slaughter.

“We were able to demonstrate that by promoting goat production in rural communities, we can double poor people’s incomes, with very little intervention. But, in order to facilitate a vibrant goat sector, we must minimise risks for the producers,” Rota said in an interview published on the IFAD website.