CHENNAI: The most prominent of the arguments in support of Jallikattu has been that the sport is important to preserve the native cattle breeds. How true are these arguments?
Experts Express spoke to concur with the popular narrative and say Jallikattu helps breeders overcome the burden of rearing native breeds, which yield high-quality, but much less quantity of milk.
A typical native breed cattle would yield nine times lesser quantity than exotic breeds.
“Native breeds give 500-600 kg milk per lactation (308 days) approximately. A pure Jersey could give up to 4,500 kg in the same time period,” says a professor of livestock management at Tamil Nadu Veterinary Science (TANUVAS) University, who wished not to be named.
Without an incentive to preserve a pure breed, a farmer may opt to cross his native bull with an exotic or cross breed. “The offspring of a pure and exotic breed is only 50 per cent native. Say, the half native is again inseminated with an exotic breed’s semen, the third generation is only quarter native. If this continues, the percentage of nativity in bulls’ and cows’ blood will keep diminishing,” the professor adds. “Tamil Nadu is dominated by neither natives nor exotics, but by cross-breeds like these.”
Dr K Anbarasu, a quality control manager at Aavin (the largest milk producer in the state) says that most families that supply milk to them have only cross-breeds.
“It is a wonder that the dairy industry thrives so well. There are three major hurdles that cattle-rearers have to deal with: First, milk can easily get spoilt as the temperature here is about 32-37 degrees celcius. The ideal room temperature is about 25 degrees or lesser for milk.
Second, the milk produced in villages must reach towns and cities that are far away. The third problem is that the dairy industry is water-intensive and we don’t have enough water. It is next to impossible for breeders to overcome this hurdle and supply milk regularly if the cow only gives 2-3 litres of milk a day,” he says.
“It is a myth that our state is filled with pure Jersey bulls and cows. Jersey needs colder temperature and it’s only being experimented in places like Ooty. Tamil Nadu doesn’t even have prominence of buffalo milk for mass production. Cross-breeds of HF (Holstein Friesian, a Dutch breed) are what dominate our supply these days.
You can easily spot them by appearance; they are white with black patches,” he adds saying that these cross-breeds have best adapted to the temperature and terrain and still produce reasonable yield. Although cross-breeds and exotic cows succumb easier to diseases, the yield compensates for the maintenance cost.
“A total of 25,000 pure native-breed bulls contest in Jallikattu every year. If you add the calves that are training, the number increases by about threefold,” says P Rajasekaran, president of the TN Jallikattu Federation.
Bos indicus bulls such as Kangayam, Umblachery, Bargur, Alambadi and Pulikulam are the only genus used for Jallikattu. These bulls that are endemic to South Asia are characterised by the prominent hump on their back.
There are five (existing) native species of bulls in TN which have defined characteristics and several more which are not very defined. There are breeds from Sind, Ongol and other parts of India.
For a bull to contest in the sport, the owner will have to produce the proof of its pure-breed ancestry for three or four generations.
Every village has only one or two bulls trained for Jallikattu. “They live in temples and we treat them like kings,” says Rajasekaran. He adds that people who are passionate about bulls like himself grow more than one to train.
Does Jallikattu increase native breed count?
If these bulls win a game, they are fed and cared for till death. Jallikattu is a major incentive for bull breeders. “We don’t see an economic profit. Don’t you expect your children to win competitions and show excellence? These bulls are a part of our sentiments and pride,” says Rajasekaran.
Natives that are not grown for pride are sent for slaughter causing drastic decline in sex ratio. Jallikattu enthusiasts claim the sport help to sustain bulls for longer.
“The bulls that don’t win the game are not used for pure-breed next generation natives. Each of the strong, pure natives are used for inseminating 10-15 cows. Let’s say half the bulls win human beings. Each of these will give rise to 15 more pure natives,” says a professor of Dairy Technology at TANUVAS. Going by Rajasekaran’s number, more than a lakh-and-a-half pure natives are produced by every batch of Jallikattu bulls.