The balance sheet of the Shri Gopal Gaushala which houses 1258 cows and employs 25 people to look after them on the outskirts of Barmer town in Rajasthan impresses not because of its size but for its self-sustaining nature. In 2017-18, it earned a profit of Rs 5 million on revenues of Rs 35 million. Almost a third of these revenues of Rs 11 million came from the sale of milk and manure (bio fertiliser made from cow dung). It received Rs 8.3 million in grants from the state government – Rs 32 a day for every cow and Rs 16 a day for a calf. It spent Rs 20 million on feeding these cows and is spending almost Rs 2 million a year building a new cow shelter in the vicinity. Shri Gopal Gaushala officials say the new one will be even bigger than the existing one. There were 31 founding members of the gaushala with each contributing to Rs 1,00,000 as seed capital to establish it in 1998. The committee to govern the gaushala is chosen from among these members.
Inside the gaushala, things work with clockwork precision that ensures cows stay in good health and spirits. Leela Rai, a caretaker in the gaushala agrees to play guide. Inside the gaushala that is spread over a two kilometre radius are two huge warehouses – each big enough to accommodate a commercial aircraft. The warehouses are brimming with cattle feed which Leela Rai says is the best in town. “We purchase the best cattle feed which doesn’t have any trace of dust or soil in it. Most of it is bought from farmers after the post monsoon harvest season for Rs 11 a kg. This stock will be enough to feed all these cows for three months.” Sacks of pellets made from corn and mustard lie stacked nearby. These pellets are an additional dose of nutrition for cows and given to them before feeding.
Cows being fed alum to prevent seizure | Photo: Sai Manish
Further down the gaushala is a big pool of water fortified with chuna (or lime) that provides an extra dose of calcium. There is a separate shelter for sick cows – a handful of them under rehabilitation. “Whenever a cow gets sick, a veterinarian is called from Delhi who administers antibiotics, vitamins and other medicines. We pay him Rs 6,000 for every visit” said Rai. A separate shelter for newly born calves sits nearby where they are separated from their mothers for a few hours every day as calves constantly pester their mother for milk. Almost 100 to 120 calves are born every year here. A separate feeding zone exists where cows are busy licking fitkari (alum or aluminium sulphate) - used in saloons as an after shave. Rai says this maintains optimum salt levels in their body and prevents seizures. Despite the large number of cows, all the milching is done by the staff without the use of machines. Almost 600 litres of milk is produced everyday here which is distributed to booths in the city.
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There is a separate shed that houses only bulls. They are always kept separately except when they are let loose for mating. Most of the time, bulls at the gaushala are used for harvesting their semen. In Shri Gopal Gaushala, the bulls command a better diet than the cows. In addition to fodder, they are fed a diet of coconut, yashvagandha, mustard oil and special cattle feed. As soon as they attain three years, they are fit to mate.
Cattle feed warehouse at Shri Gopal Gaushala | Photo: Sai Manish
There is a guesthouse for people who come from outside town, primarily Gujarat, to perform religious functions on occasions like a new moon (amavasya) or full moon (poornima). At the entry of the gaushala lies a weighing scale used to calculate donations. A cow and her calf are put on one scale and the donor can donate whatever they wish for the weight of the cow and the calf. Often people donate jaggery, cattle feed and other things. If they wish to donate something they cannot transport to the gaushala, officials calculate a market value of whatever they wish to donate equivalent to the weight of the cow and her calf and accept cash. In 2017-18, this gaushala received almost Rs 8.7 million in donations. In the middle of the Shri Gopal Gaushala sits a small temple dedicated to Krishna – who is believed to belong to the community of cow herders.
What does the gaushala think about the Vasundhara Raje government’s decision to establish a separate cow ministry? Om Prakash Gupta, a retired government official from the district collectorate who now overlooks the functioning of the Shri Gopal Gaushala says, “A separate ministry has made little impact. After all the ministry’s decisions are taken by bureaucrats who have no knowledge of cows. Any government aid means frequent visits by government officials. Political interference in our functioning is not desirable.”