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Indian cow breeds face extinction
January 27, 2013 11:50 AM   Subscribe

The Desi Cow – Almost Extinct "The idea of the cow, of course, is also emotively charged because of its mythical place in Hindu iconography, religion and culture: it is quite literally worshipped as goddess Kamdhenu: the cow of plenty... Again, this veneration is founded in hard pragmatics. Traditionally, India has been home to some of the most varied stock of cows in the world: the red-skinned Sahiwal that milks through droughts, the mighty Amrit Mahal with swords for horns or the tiny Vechur that stands no taller than a dog."
posted by dhruva (46 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is amazing and fascinating article, thank you. But I'm having trouble with a detail or two:
(Indian cows, for instance, are doing really well in Brazil. In 2011, a pure Gir named Quimbanda Cal broke its own 2010 record of delivering 10,230 kilolitres of milk a year, with a daily yield of 56.17 kilolitres.)
Unless this cow is producing milk the way a firehose produces water, 'kilolitres' here must mean what I'd call 'litres'.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:01 PM on January 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


While visiting North Queensland, a local told us that most of the local (diary?) cows are breeds from India, though I don't know what specific breed. They were said to tolerate the climate better than breeds known better in the west like holsteins.
posted by jepler at 12:08 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those are some handsome cows. I've always had a soft spot for cattle having grown up next to a dairy farm. Even after being munched on by a cow once, I love them. It was my own fault for wearing a green sweater (and being a short kid).
posted by arcticseal at 12:19 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Weirdly "Desi" seems to mean the opposite of what I would think it would from slang, where it generally means Induan's raised in the West or with Western attitudes. I guess there is some sarcasm involved there.
posted by Artw at 12:34 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've heard the term used both ways. It literally translates to "countryman" or "from our country", so I guess it's a bit flexible.
posted by Sara C. at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


So it seems there are many endangered species of cows, it appears, because the best breeds are the ones who can produce the most milk, who cares about variety, it's all about bottom line. How stupid and criminal is that?

Once some virus arises and targets one specie and wipes it out we are toast, all genetic engineering notwithstanding.
posted by elpapacito at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


George_Spiggott, assuming that the lactation total yield is correct and a 305-d lactation, that's 33 l/day. That respectable for an Indicine breed under subtropical conditions. The last time I was in Brazil I saw Holstein-Gir crosses that ranged from 1/16 Holstein-15/16 Gir to 15/16 Holstein-1/16 Gir. The environment there (I was in western SP) can be pretty challenging, and any breed (or composite) is going to need good management to perform well.
posted by wintermind at 12:47 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


elpapacito, the market realities are what they are. There are a number of different germplasm repositories around the world that are storing semen and embryos from rare and endangered breeds. The greatest danger to domestic cattle is not a virus that causes very high mortality in one breed and not another (cows of different breeds do not represent different species), but a recessive mutation that manages to spread widely before being discovered. Self-linking is frowned upon, but we recently reported on a mutation in Jersey cattle that has a high minor allele frequency (is fairly common) that negatively affects fertility. (If anyone's interested, it's in PLOS ONE, which is Open Access.) The economic losses are small on an individual cow basis, but add up in the context of a global population. There are a lot of people, some of them colleagues of mine, who are working to preserve rare genetic material so that we have it in the future if it's needed.
posted by wintermind at 12:53 PM on January 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Wintermind, I'm bewildered by your response. The sentence i quoted seems to clearly say that a single cow had a daily yield of 56.47 kiloliters, which by the only definition of kilolitres I know about means a single cow is giving 56,470 litres in a single day. Taken literally it also seems to clearly say that the same cow delivered ten million litres of milk in a year, so have no idea where you're getting your number from.

My guess is they mean kilograms, in which case it's going to be very roughly on the order of 56 litres/day, which sounds like a lot but at least doesn't violate the physical laws of the universe.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:04 PM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Looking forward to the XKCD "What-if...?" article that determines whether a hypothetical 56.47kl/day cow, or array thereof, could generate sufficient thrust to reach orbit...
posted by Ryvar at 1:07 PM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nearly 63 percent of animal protein in the Indian diet comes from dairy products. For vegetarians, there is simply no alternative.

I very nearly stopped reading right here. That is some shockingly lazy writing that is.
posted by Scientist at 1:08 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I never knew there were cows with swords growing out of their heads. Biodiversity is indeed our greatest treasure.
posted by thelonius at 1:09 PM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


That is some shockingly lazy writing that is.

In fairness, the full passage says, "Nearly 63 percent of animal protein in the Indian diet comes from dairy products. For vegetarians, there is simply no alternative."

What other animal protein, besides dairy products, is available in the average Indian vegetarian diet?
posted by Houstonian at 1:25 PM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've always wondered what the reaction would be if you were to magically transport a large American steer (such as a Texas Longhorn) into the middle of an Indian city's traffic... The people would be surprised to see it, and unlike the domestic indian cows which calmly ignore the motor-rickshaws, motorcycles and other traffic, the American cow would probably freak out and start headbutting Hindustan Ambassador taxis.
posted by thewalrus at 1:28 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I very nearly stopped reading right here. That is some shockingly lazy writing that is.

Since Tehelka covers Indian news and current events, it may be a good reminder to readers that there are many varieties of "vegetarianism" in South Asia, and the word itself may not mean quite what we expect it to mean in the US mainstream. See this note on Languagelog, for instance, as well as the linked articles and user comments.
posted by Nomyte at 1:34 PM on January 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


So I went looking for more info on this sword cow, and came across this page that not only has a bunch of Indian cow breed info gifs, but outlines the benefits of drinking cow urine.

Of course my first thought was Id like to taste all those different types of cow. Hack off a porterhouse from each, season liberally with sea salt, get a nice sear in one of my cast iron steak cooking pans and go for a multi cow taste test. After all, Angus we commonly eat is fairly different than Hereford or Wagyu. I'm sure a cow with swords on its head or a cow the size of a dog would be even more different. But perhaps these cows are not eating cows, maybe they are looking and milking cows. I guess I don't have to have Amrit Mahal steaks, burgers and slim Jims for them to be cool cows.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:37 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


India, 2004. Having returned from a trip through the Indian portion of the Himalayas, I arrived in Chandigarh. Chandigarh was/is trying very hard to be a modern city-- a hotbed of tech industry, etc- & has more than a few streets on the city block system. Walking to a hotel on foot, I arrived at a four way intersection. Across the street was a free-roaming cow walking. This I swear-- when the Don't Walk sign flashed, the cow stopped before the crosswalk, traffic progressed, & when the light changed, the cow crossed the street-- safer than I've seen many humans do the same thing. Suddenly, the hindu leniency towards cows based on their believing them to be reincarnated humans seemed perfectly plausible.
posted by Perko at 1:48 PM on January 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


Ad hominem, these are not eating cows. Pretty much no Indian cow breeds are eating cows, because Indians don't eat beef. Similar to the way Americans don't eat horse or dog.

I would like to taste the milk of all these different cows, though.
posted by Sara C. at 1:53 PM on January 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Quite a lot of Indians eat beef, the Muslim population of India is nearly as many people in total as the entire population of Pakistan. For example, Kolkata (which is a huge city) is 20% Muslim.
posted by thewalrus at 2:02 PM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Pardon the generalization.

I'd be pretty surprised if there was a ton of beef cattle in India, though.

In fact, I've traveled all over India (including in areas where there are substantial Muslim populations and Islamic culture is still predominant) and never saw any evidence of large scale industrial beef.

I think it's pretty safe to say that most of the breeds discussed in the article are probably dairy cows.
posted by Sara C. at 2:06 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not large scale and organized like an American CAFO, but if you visit predominantly Muslim districts of major cities you will easily find butchers and beef for sale.
posted by thewalrus at 2:08 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even after being munched on by a cow once, I love them. It was my own fault for wearing a green sweater...

Good thing you didn't wear green shoes or you might have lacked toes.

Thank you. Try the veal!
posted by hal9k at 2:14 PM on January 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Self-linking is frowned upon

Only on the front page. Link away in comment threads.
posted by ersatz at 2:25 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


lacked toes

Ha ha ha! Nicely played all around hal9k.
posted by thisclickableme at 2:33 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


George_Spiggott, you and I are not disagreeing, really. I am assuming that the "kilolitres" is an error, because a total lactation yield of 10,230 kilolitres (10,230,000 litres, or approximately 2,557,500 gallons) is biologically implausible. So, I divided 10,230 by 305 to get 33 (the standard lactation for dairy cattle in the US is 305 days). It did not occur to me -- for whatever reason -- that they might mean kilograms, which would give a daily yield comparable to that of a Holstein cow on an itnesive dairy in the US.
posted by wintermind at 3:33 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter is my new go-to for intense discussion of cattle milk yoelds. Yay!
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:48 PM on January 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Induan's raised in the West or with Western attitudes

That would be an ABC Desi
posted by BinGregory at 4:15 PM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I should mention that most of the meat Indian Muslims in heavily Hindu areas eat is goat, or chicken, and where obtainable, camel. That is because killing a cow in too public a manner can cause difficulties with the neighbors.
I asked my former husband back in the day, why so many Moghli dishes containing meat also contain yogurt or sour cream.
He told me it took away the smell of the beef cooking, and softened the meat's texture.
Which sort of makes sense.
The better grade of beef cattle are only for holiday consumption anyway. There is prestige in paying an astronomical price for an attractive animal for sacrifice.
Even in Bosnia, they show pictures of these auctions in the paper, but in Pakistan and India, full color layouts of very decorated animals are shown in newspapers with their final prices. I found this sort of weird. The animals all had excellent conformation and were better fed than the average cattle for the region.
Shame some of the old breeds are getting rare as many of them are beautiful.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:24 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Granted the article's rightly mostly about the peril that cattle monocropping puts India in, but I thought there was a huge buried lede, perhaps a whole other article, in the mention at the end that A2 milk -- containing a casein produced more by Euro than Indian cattle -- has been linked to autism, schizophrenia, and diabetes. And there's a market, particularly in Australia, for A1, Indo-heritage, cows' milk.

Also, I want a dog-sized cow now. Seriously. This led me right back to all my agrarian fantasies, laced in this case with a desire to maintain endangered heritage species on top of my usual fantasy of growing good tomatoes, running sheep with border collies, and owning a horse.

Dhruva, this was a great article, thanks for sharing!
posted by gusandrews at 5:30 PM on January 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


In addition, what Gus Andrews just pointed out about the A-1 vs A-2 casein issue.

And the drought resistance issue *is* going to increasingly matter, world-wide, not just in South Asia and Africa.

I am HIGHLY sensisitive to casein. I don't get to use powdered coffee creamer because of that. Bovine lactose is another thing my insides can't take. Hence the regular use of powdered camel milk. I simply can't endure goat milk. The taste is more disagreeable to me than plain camel milk.
The fact that this A-1 casein promotes diabetes explains a LOT to me.
1. I never drank lots of milk. Or ate much cheese
2. I have two primary relatives who developed type 2 diabetes.
3. Maybe my low consumption of cows milk accounts for this.

Anyway damned interesting!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:04 PM on January 27, 2013


The fact I don't have diabetes.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:10 PM on January 27, 2013


I want a dog-sized cow too, but what sort of dog are we talking about? I've seen some pretty massive dogs. A cow the size of a labrador would be cool, though.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:49 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


lack toes
*spit-take, dies laughing*

Hal9k, we should get together and trade puns. Just a little teat a teat?

Interesting that none of these Indian breeds are featured in the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy

Myself, I like the looks of the rare Ankole cattle.

I scoffed a bit when I first heard of the casein controversy, as it was presented to me by a known kook, but research from New Zealand appears to verify the link with diabetes. UC Davis does genetic testing on cattle casein variants.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:30 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Commas are used for decimals and decimals are used for commas.
"..delivering 10,230 kilolitres of milk a year,..." means
"..delivering 10.230 kiloliters of milk a year,..."

"Currently, in European countries except for
the United Kingdom, the comma is used
as the decimal separator. In the United
Kingdom, the raised dot is used, and in
the United States, the baseline dot is used.
Australia and most Asian countries use the
dot, South America uses the comma, and
some parts of Africa use the dot and other
parts, the comma."
posted by the Real Dan at 9:08 PM on January 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Katjusa Roquette: "I should mention that most of the meat Indian Muslims in heavily Hindu areas eat is goat, or chicken, and where obtainable, camel."

Also, buffalo. Most "beef" you can purchase (relatively openly, under the euphemistic title of "buff" instead of beef) in North India is buffalo, which doesn't enjoy the same religious protection as cows do. In fact, India exports so much of the stuff that it's already one of the top few beef exporters, and is apparently on track to becoming the world's #1 exporter this year.
posted by vanar sena at 12:23 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Commas are used for decimals and decimals are used for commas.

For heaven's sake. I'm familiar with this practice but it still makes absolutely no sense to apply it to the sentence I quoted. Read it again. Just for example, "a daily yield of 56.17 kilolitres" goes from merely impossible to incomprehensible if you interpret the decimal as a comma.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:47 AM on January 28, 2013


I saw an Ankole bull on display at our Fair. You would not want this majestic animal upset with you. Many exotic animal breeders take on raising unusual cattle like Ankole and Watutsi and mini-zebu.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:13 AM on January 28, 2013


Cow smuggling.
posted by thewalrus at 5:56 AM on January 28, 2013



In Southern California they had some early success crossing the Desi cow with the more popular Lucy cow -- but later had some 'splainin' to do.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:55 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some Indian Hindus and atheists and other things eat beef, too, you know like some Catholics don't stick to fish on Fridays.
posted by sweetkid at 7:40 AM on January 28, 2013


What other animal protein, besides dairy products, is available in the average Indian vegetarian diet?

Well legumes, for one. Eggs, for another. The sentence would've been less lazy if he'd said something like "For those who follow Hindu dietary practices, dairy products are an indispensable protein source," or "For many vegetarians in India, dairy products like milk, yoghurt, and cheese are the primary source of protein."

He didn't, though. He said "For vegetarians there is no alternative," despite the fact that there are many millions of vegetarians in this world who obtain protein from sources other than dairy, including many in India, and indeed many vegans who dispense with dairy altogether and yet manage to live healthy lives by obtaining their protein from other sources.

I maintain that it was a really lazy bit of writing and it soured me to the whole piece because if the writer is too much of a hack to avoid the tired cliche "there is no alternative" even when it renders the sentence totally, obviously false then how can I trust that he's put any kind of thought or fact-checking into the rest of the article?
posted by Scientist at 8:09 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


While visiting North Queensland, a local told us that most of the local (diary?) cows are breeds from India, though I don't know what specific breed. They were said to tolerate the climate better than breeds known better in the west like holsteins.

There are numerous Australian cattle breeds based on Indian stock. Beef cattle tend to be Brahman based (Adaptaur, Australian Brangus, Braford, Greyman) while dairy cattle breeds include Sahiwal. (Australian Milking Zebu, Australian Friesian Sahiwal.)

The Lowline and the Square Meater have nothing to do with India, but I like talking about them anyway, because they're tiny.
posted by zamboni at 9:15 AM on January 28, 2013


Scientist: definitions vary. See the language log article linked above.
posted by dhruva at 9:43 AM on January 28, 2013


Scientist: The article is meant primarily for Indian readers and very few people in India would have problems understanding that line. A vegetarian in India, almost exclusively, is someone who doesn't eat any kind of meat or eggs. You can classify it further with more restrictions, but everyone would readily understand that's what you won't eat if you say you are a vegetarian in India. In which case, I don't know what alternatives are left for them to get *animal* protein.
posted by v9y at 11:30 AM on January 28, 2013


Scientist: "the tired cliche "there is no alternative""

I get where you're coming from, but if you told the overwhelming majority of Indian vegetarians that there'd be no milk in the cha, no desi ghee EVER, and that 99% of the contents of the local Bengali Sweets were permanently out (no barfi, ladoo, gulab jamun, rasmalai...), the above sentence would make perfect sense to them.
posted by vanar sena at 12:03 PM on January 28, 2013


Scientist: I hear you. I initially read it as a cheap ploy to draw in readers and I was mildly annoyed, but upon rereading it I mainly find it awkward and in need of additional editing and supplemental info.

Nearly 63 percent of animal protein in the Indian diet comes from dairy products.
This would have been fine on its own.

But then immediately attaching, "For vegetarians, there is simply no alternative" — wait what? Why he is suddenly writing about vegetarians? I thought he was talking about "the Indian diet", which has greater diversity than various modes of vegetarian.

Maybe the eds at Tehelka somehow know the diet of their target demographic to be primarily veg though, and in that case, it begs the question, why should anyone care about where the Indian veg populace acquires their protein? Dairy or plant protein, does it matter as long as minimum protein intake is met? Why are they stressing the importance of animal protein for a vegetarian?

Well, the Tehelka is probably primarily read by Indians who are already aware of the existence of regional-specific, cultural understanding among some Indians that dairy protein is superior to plant protein in some ways. Many Indians will argue the other way around, but generally it depends on an individual's culture. Try talking to a veg Indian who grew up in Punjab eating dairy-rich paneer subjis, creamy dals, and cool lassis, versus a veg Indian who grew up in Karnataka with a diet rich in pulses, rice, millet, coconut shavings and they're likely to have different opinions on this matter.

But even so, Indians would generally be pretty alarmed if they could no longer have dairy in their lives; so embedded is the importance of dairy in Indian culture. For religious Hindus, ghee is used uh, religiously, and I can't tell you how many times my Indian relatives and fellow desis (from up and down India) thought I was an alien when they found out I voluntarily don't drink milk.
posted by mayurasana at 12:14 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


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