The sleepy, dusty town of Uruli Kanchan came alive yesterday, awash in pageantry and humanity as an estimated million Hindu pilgrims strolled through on their way to Pandharpur, approximately 200 kilometers away. Propelled perhaps by dogmatic devotion to tradition, the mostly elderly lot will continue their journey for two weeks, stopping for food and water in the villages they pass through, eventually joining with other pilgrims making their way on other routes through Maharashtra. Other than the question of lost economic productivity, I am bewildered that these folks have the physical ability to walk so many hours through alternating extreme heat and rain.
The local diet may not be the best fuel for intense physical exertion. The food in the BAIF mess, for instance, is almost exclusively vegan, low in saturated fats and protein, but high in carbohydrates and oils. Though ostensibly salubrious, it probably prevents its consumers from performing feats of strength on Festivus or training to become Olympic athletes. Still, it is certainly enough to carry on a day’s work and keep off excess weight.
While local humans deal with a constrained — yet adequate — diet, local cows fare much worse. Many of the milking animals in the Uruli Kanchan area are Holstein-Friesian, a European breed known for its high milk productivity. Their milking potential in small farms in India, however, has yet to be unlocked. Nearly all of the cows I have seen to date have been inadequately or inappropriately fed. This leads to emaciated (BCS 1 or 2) cows, in stark contrast to the healthy behemoths at Marshak Dairy at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s clear that one of the key factors in improving productivity of small Indian dairies is ensuring appropriate nutrition for dairy cattle.
Farmers report that they are constrained financially insofar as the amount and types of forages and concentrates they can provide as feed. Therefore, I have begun to explore the economic and political issues that limit farmers’ ability to acquire appropriate rations for their cattle. Releasing these constraints may be the key to more healthy, happy, and productive cows.
Perhaps the only animals here that eat undoubtedly well are the mosquitoes, devouring my blood as if it were a delectable imported red wine. I coat my exposed skin in DEET nightly, but often awake to find the defense ineffective. Like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, the mosquitoes never attack the same place twice. They test the skin for weaknesses, systematically. They remember.
Will give milk for food