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Livestock of Bundelkhand

  Population of buffaloes in Bundelkhand has increased by nearly 40% since the 1980s 

In any subsistence-based, traditional-agriculture economy, livestock plays an important role. Draught animals are used during sowing, to draw water from wells, and to transport people and goods. Dung is used as fuel. Some supplemental income can come from sale of milk. For these reasons, and also possibly due to traditional Hindu reverence for the cow, Bundelkhand has had a high livestock population for ages.

It is often said that there is more livestock than human population in Bundelkhand. This was certainly so till the 1980s -- the total livestock population of the region in 1982 was 8.96 million [Tyagi, p 142], close to the Census 1981 human population figure But since the 1980s the livestock population growth rate has generally declined in comparison to the human population growth.

As the table below shows, the total livestock population of Bundelkhand, excluding some minor animal categories, was 10.78 million in 2003, or around two-thirds the human population in 2001, and divided roughly in equal proportion in UP and MP Bundelkhand. The livestock population was highest in Chhatarpur district. In UP Bundelkhand, the highest number of animals was in Jhansi.

Comparing the 2003 figures in the table below with 2001 human population figures (see table in Current Population of Bundelkhand), and ignoring marginal variation due to difference in years, we can see that per capita ownership of livestock was much higher in MP Bundelkhand districts than in UP Bundelkhand,  at 0.75 and 0.65 respectively. The highest figure was in Chhatarpur district, with around 0.80 animals per capita.  

(If we consider only rural human population, and assume that practically all livestock is found only in rural areas, then according to Census 2001 and Livestock Census 2003 figures, the number of animals owned per capita in rural Chhatarpur was close to 1, and in rural MP Bundelkhand as a whole it was 0.95. In rural UP Bundelkhand as a whole, it was 0.84 animals per capita).

What these figures mean is that per rural household of five to seven persons, there are four to seven animals on an average. It is however more meaningful to relate ownership of animals to size of holdings. Analysis of data from Agriculture Census Input Survey 2001-02 (Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India) shows that in Banda, 76% of operators of marginal holdings had livestock, accounting for nearly 50% of the total livestock in the district. The number of animals per marginal holding was 3.91, and increased to a little over 6 animals per medium and large land holding.

In comparison, in Chhatarpur, which had a far higher livestock population, though 77% of marginal farmers had livestock, their livestock accounted for only 30% of the total livestock in the district. However, even so, animals per marginal holding was higher than in Banda, at 5; animals per medium and large holding were also higher in the district, at 7 and 9.7 respectively.

Livestock population under main categories (2003)

  Total animals % cross-bred
% indigenous
% buffaloes % sheep % goats % poultry % pigs
Jhansi 952206 0.04 30.89 19.15 5.85 22.98 19.61 1.47
Lalitpur 805402 0.13 52.72 20.33 1.52 16.84 8.08 0.37
Jalaun 804254 0.36 27.79 26.60 3.74 32.00 6.20 3.30
Hamirpur 653277 0.13 39.67 20.42 3.97 19.70 12.27 3.84
Mahoba 576451 0.04 33.31 17.86 4.12 26.81 13.38 4.47
Banda 838080 0.09 45.02 27.76 1.50 18.17 5.33 2.13
Chitrakoot 709102 0.12 59.93 19.58 2.66 13.51 2.79 1.45
UP Bundelkhand 5338772 0.13 41.13 21.88 3.35 21.41 9.80 2.29
Datia 419556 0.03 30.08 33.96 3.49 26.95 4.63 0.85
Chhatarpur 1141667 0.10 43.78 13.78 2.08 29.44 9.14 1.68
Tikamgarh 1081718 0.22 40.28 16.82 4.09 26.07 11.84 0.68
Panna 1075057 0.25 49.53 18.26 0.67 17.21 11.92 2.16
Damoh 796298 0.10 64.58 12.71 0.90 12.58 8.09 1.03
Sagar 930909 0.35 63.57 14.49 0.19 11.48 9.28 0.64
MP Bundelkhand 5445205 0.19 49.59 16.79 1.83 20.62 9.75 1.24

Source:  Livestock Census of India 2003.  Minor animal categories like donkeys, horses and camels not included in total. Percentages derived from absolute figures and rounded off. 'Cattle' refers to cows and bullocks.

As figures in the table above show, indigenous cattle (cows and bullocks) accounts for the largest proportion of animals owned in all Bundelkhand districts, followed by goats and buffaloes.

Among other animals, 'Jalauni sheep' is one of the recognised sheep breeds of India, and there was traditionally high sheep population in Jhansi district, which had a sizable woollen carpet industry in the 19th century. However, the market for coarse wool obtained from Jalauni sheep has greatly diminished and sheep are reared mostly to meet demand for meat. Goats are more useful for this purpose, and outnumber sheep by a ratio of 10 to 1. Goats are reared more by SC and ST than general category households, providing them relatively quick and assured income for low investment.

High ownership of goats and other animals is not matched by fodder resources. As shown in the table in Land Use in Bundelkhand,  grazing land in UP Bundelkhand is negligible. As a percentage of total area, MP Bundelkhand had five times more grazing land than UP Bundelkhand in 2004-2006; it also had more land under forests, which are also used for grazing. This accounts for higher animals per capita in MP Bundelkhand. In the southern Bundelkhand districts, there are some big farmers with as many as 50 to 100 animals.

However, as noted in Grasslands of Bundelkhand, the amount of grazing land in MP Bundelkhand is reducing at a rapid pace. Land used for cultivation of fodder is also negligible across the region, except in Tikamgarh and Sagar districts (See Tables 3 and 4 in Agriculture in Bundelkhand). 

Grazing Practices

  Open grazing, including stray grazing, is the norm across Bundelkhand

A notable feeding practice, found in parts of  MP Bundelkhand, is the 'gwari' system. Cattle from black soil areas of plains are sent to particular pasturelands in plateau and hilly areas, known as gwaris, during the monsoons, under supervision of  'charwahas' who build temporary shelters for themselves and the animals. Animals from several neighbouring villages are so fed for a period of three to four months.

According to one study, there were around 350 gwaris in MP Bundelkhand in the 1980s; the largest number, nearly 100, were found in  Damoh district [Tyagi, p 149 ]. However, since then the numbers of gwaris is said to have declined.

Excluding pockets where gwaris exist, across the region, open grazing is the norm, including stray grazing, a practice known as 'annapratha' - animals are left to roam around and find food for themselves. A 2007 study of 240 livestock-owning farmers in Jhansi district found that animals were sent for grazing for a period of 5 to 7 hours daily [Meena et al, pp 63-66]. Stall-feeding was done only for bullocks, which are used for agriculture operations, but in this case too, the animals were sent for grazing.  

Forage Availability

As a result of all the above factors, overall availability of food for animals in Bundelkhand is much below minimum requirement. Assuming 7 kg of fodder as the optimum requirement per adult cattle unit per day, studies done by the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute (IGFRI), Jhansi, indicated that total forage supply from all sources - fodder crops, grasslands and agricultural wastes - met only 50% of demand in UP Bundelkhand and around 65% of demand in MP Bundelkhand in 1987-88 and 1984-85 respectively [Tyagi, p 80]               

Benefits from cattle

Poor food supply is reflected in poor milk yields. A 1997 IGFRI study reported that average daily milk yield was only 1-2 kg per cow and 4-5 kg per buffalo [Tyagi, p 101 ]. In the absence of any large-scale programme since then to protect, expand and enrich grassland resources, and extremely low percentage of crossbred cattle (see table above), there has been no major improvement in the situation. Most animals are of poor quality.

Hence, direct economic benefit from cattle is low, even in Chhatarpur, which has highest livestock population in the region.

A 1991-92 sample study of nine villages in the Ken river command area in Chhatarpur and Panna districts, by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), for the National Water Development Agency (NWDA), found that average annual income of  households from 'livestock and allied activities' was around Rs 3000 in case of families that enjoyed irrigation facilities and around Rs 1800 in case of families that didn't; the total annual income of families, from all sources, was around Rs 30,000 and Rs 14,000 respectively. That is, livestock provided around 10-12% of total income. About 35% to 60% of the surveyed households owned some animals that provided only 'motive power'.

Thus, one can say that, overall, the economic benefits of Bundelkhand's cattle are largely indirect. Cattle is mostly useful as draught animals. Another important benefit is that they supply cowdung, which is used as compost and fuel, and in flooring of houses.

Livestock ownership trends since the 1980s indicate a shift towards greater realisation of direct cash benefits. A comparison of 2003 Livestock Census of India figures with 1982 figures quoted in Grassland & Fodder Atlas of Bundelkhand [Tyagi, p 142 ] shows that while overall livestock population increased by  around 20% in this period, the population of buffaloes, which supply more milk than cows, increased by nearly 40%.

In 1982, 'other' animals, which included poultry and pigs, numbered around 1.50 lakhs. In 2003, the combined population of poultry and pigs was close to 12.50 lakhs - an increase of 750% and most of this would be accounted by poultry, which numbered 10.54 lakhs in 2003. Goat population increased from around 9 lakhs to over 22.5 lakhs, an increase of 150%.

In comparison, as in the rest of the country, cattle population declined from over 51 lakhs to around 49 lakhs. Population of sheep declined by around 35%, from 4.28 lakhs to 2.77 lakhs.

Nevertheless, there is a large cattle 'stock' from the past, and this along with rising goat population is a reason for big concern as, in the absence of awareness or social  mobilisation to control open grazing, the animals are further reducing the region's diminished natural vegetation. Arguably, Bundelkhand's cattle population is more a liability rather than an asset from a macro perspective that looks at long-term effects of environmental degradation.

There has been some talk of turning the cattle stock to an asset through development of a leather industry, but that is a very sensitive issue, especially in Bundelkhand's predominantly Hindu cultural ethos. A few NGO efforts have been limited to promoting utilisation of 'fallen carcass'.

Rising poultry ownership is a significant trend that has not been capitalised by government, NGOs or organised industry. Poultry rearing in Bundelkhand remains a 'backyard' activity unsupported by sizeable investments in breeding, hatching, rearing, processing, or complementary supply of veterinary health services, poultry feed, and poultry equipment. 


  • Tyagi Raj Kumar, Grassland & Fodder Atlas of Bundelkhand, Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute, Jhansi: 1997
  • Meena BS, Kundu SS, Chauhan Jitendra, 'Existing Seasonal Feeding Patterns of Dairy Animals in Jhansi District of Bundelkhand Region' in Indian Journal of Animal Nutrition, 25: 2008

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