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Cattle Management Systems in Humid Subtropical Areas of Western Bhutan Tamang, N. B.; Perkins, J. M. 2005

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 Cattle Management Systems in Humid Subtropical Areas of
Western Bhutan
Tamang, NB* and Perkins JM"
A study was undertaken to improve understanding on
management system of Mithun (Bos frontalis) x Siri (Bos indicus)
cross-bred and Siri cattle, as reared in typical Bhutanese
farming system. Eighteen households of Jumja, Gedu and
Chasilakha villages under Bongo geog of Chukha district having
over hundred milking cows of different breed types were
purposively selected and interviewed. All farms were also visited
to observe their management practices. Results indicate that
majority of farmer-herders periodically migrated their cattle and
managed them under traditional "low input-low output system",
allowing them to graze freely for most of the year in the natural
grazing lands (tshadrog) in and around the broadleaf forests,
while few farmer-herders with few heads of cattle or with cattle of
higher Jersey inheritance open grazed in the vicinity of the
homestead. The majority of the farms lacked proper cattle
housing and feeding equipment, and the rudimentary nature of
cattle management practices soon becomes apparent. Lack of
Mithun breeding bulls, fodder scarcity in certain areas, labour
shortages on some farms, deficient management and disease and
predator attack were identified as the main management
constraints. Nevertheless, farmers-herders in far flung villages
may continue this simple cattle management system involving
Mithun-Siri cross and Siri cattle because of their adaptability,
hardiness and other significant factors.
Key words: Mithun-Siri cross (Jatsham/ Yangkum), Siri, cattle
management, free grazing systems
Senior Research Officer, CoRRB, Ministry of Agriculture
Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne, Australia
 Jourmal of Bhutan Sstudies
Cattle have long been a central component of many
Bhutanese farming systems. They are used for the production
of milk - most of which is converted to butter or cheese for
consumption and trade - draught power, income and a store
of wealth. Most of the country's 320,000 (RNR statistics,
2000) cattle are Bos indicus types, known locally as Thrabam
which is a Siri breed, but there is also a strong interest in the
Mithun (Bos frontalis). For over a century, and probably
longer, farmers in Bhutan have been crossing Mithun bulls
with Siri cows for hybrid vigour in progeny generations (Roder
et al. 2001). From long time, Mithun-Siri cross and Siri cattle
have been grazed in the broad leafed forest (Norbu, 2000).
However, there is relatively little documentation done to
understand the management of these cattle types plus a
dearth of general information on Siri and Mithun-Siri cross
cattle husbandry practices in Bhutan (Burgois Leuthi, 1999,
Phanchung et al. 2001). This study aimed to improve existing
information on Mithun-Siri cross and Siri husbandry
practices in free grazing system in selected area of West
Materials and Methods
Criteria used in selection of study area
Selection of the study area was guided by the following
criteria: (a) Reasonable access to study area, and (b) cattle
were to be an important component of farming systems in the
selected area; Mithun-Siri cross and Siri cattle are to be
available in appreciable numbers.
Location of study area
The study area was in Bongo geog (smallest administrative
unit) in the Chukha District of Bhutan. Bongo comprises 15
widely scattered villages of which three were selected for
study: Gedu Trashigang, Chasilakha and Jumja. The villages
fall under humid subtropical zone and share similar physical
and social environments and comprise 89 households, with
relatively   high   populations   of  Mithun-Siri   cross   and   Siri
 Cattle Management Systems in Humid Subtropical
Areas of Western Bhutan
Sampling of households for interviews
The sampling frame in this study was the entire list of
households keeping cattle; the sampling unit was households
with Mithun-Siri cross and Siri milking cows. A list of
households owning Mithun-Siri cross and Siri cattle was
obtained from livestock census records maintained by
extension agents. A preliminary visit was made by the
researcher and an extension agent to locate the farm, and
brief the farmer-herder on research objectives and potential
benefits of participating in this research. Herders willing to
participate voluntarily were selected in three strata: small
herds of 1-5 milking cows (eight farms) medium herd of 6-10
milking cows (four farms) and large herds with more than 10
milking cows (two farms). In total, eighteen households (20
percent of total of 89 households) with at least one type of
milking cow were purposively selected for informal
interview/discussions. A few farmers-herders with Jersey
cross cattle kept in the villages were also included to check if
there were any differences in management systems.
Milking practices
During the first three to four weeks calves are allowed to
freely suckle their dam, to get sufficient colostrum and milk.
Thereafter calves are subjected to restricted suckling before
and after milking. During every milking calf suckle the dam
for few minutes to encourage milk let-down after which calves
are separated from the cows, which are hand-milked, usually
from right side. After milking, calves are allowed to suckle the
remaining milk.
The number of quarters milked varied between farms. The
frequency of number of quarters milked—two, three and
three/two (three in mornings and two in evenings)—was
observed and confirmed with the herders. The expected
frequencies were calculated and a Chi-squared test
 Jourmal of Bhutan Sstudies
Results revealed a significant association between farm size
and the number of quarters milked (p<0.001). Most medium-
level farms milked two quarters completely; the remaining two
quarters are left unmilked for the calf. One large farm milked
three quarters in the morning and two quarters in the
evening. A few herders milked three quarters, leaving one
quarter to be suckled by the calf. The proportions of cattle
types which are milked for two, three, and three + two
quarters differed (Fig. 1), but differences between number of
quarters milked and cattle types were not statistically
significant (p=0.062 or p> 0.05). Within a farm the same
milking regime is followed in most cases, irrespective of cattle
£    20
□ Jatsham
□ Yangkum
□ Siri
Two Three Three&Two
Number of quarters milked
Fig. 1 Number of quarters milked, by cattle type
Cattle Management
Cattle migration and grazing management
Mithun-Siri cross, Siri and Jersey-cross with low exotic
inheritance are generally migrated. The seasonal pattern of
cattle management involves upward migration from lower
valleys (homestead) of 1600-1700 m asl to 2000 m asl, where
many farmers had access to natural grazing lands (tshadrog)
in the higher altitudes in the vicinity of broad leaf forest.
Cattle are kept there for about two months or until grass and
 Cattle Management Systems in Humid Subtropical
Areas of Western Bhutan
tree fodders are no longer available nearby. Each section of
tshadrog is quite distinct, being separated by ridges, rivers,
gorges or cliffs. These boundaries are respected by herders,
who confine their animals within their own areas.
If herders do not have access rights to grazing lands, or small
areas inadequate for their herds, they usually hire additional
areas from others. Annual hiring charges were five to six kgs
of butter or 40 dre (a standard dre contains 1.68 kg rice)
locally grown milled rice per season. Some herders were also
reported to be paying cash (TVu.900) for a season's access.
During migration, cattle are allowed to roam freely in the
designated grazing areas. In May or June cattle are migrated
further up the hillside, to altitudes of about 2500 m asl and
kept there until July. By August the herd will start to
descend, halting at about 2000 m asl until late October. By
November-December the days gets colder, the principal crops
are harvested and the herd is migrated to the village. Similar
cycles are repeated every year.
Shortage of fodder is the principal cause of migration but
other reasons include the utilization of available land,
improve health and production of the animals and avoid
damage to cultivated crops. Most herders (67 percent) follow
traditional patterns of cattle migration within the district
boundary. The other 33 percent have either completely
stopped or reduced migration of their cattle.
Near the town and also in villages, herders who only had few
heads of cattle with higher exotic (Jersey) inheritance were
managed under sedentary system. Cattle are kept near the
home throughout the year, grazing them in nearby scrub
forest, fallow and barren lands and road side during the day
and tethering them at the homestead at night.
Supplementary feeding
Most herders (61 percent) provided supplementary feed to
milking cows and calves while 39 percent of herders fed only
 Jourmal of Bhutan Sstudies
the calves. Breeding bulls were given special care and
periodically fed with raw eggs, butter and milk, in addition to
supplementary feed. Feeds given were mostly wheat flour
mixed with whey. Some herder also mixed mustard oil cake,
maize flour, crushed maize, rice bran and local brew residues,
depending on availability. The feed was cooked into porridge
and salt generally added. Dry cows are not offered
supplementary feed but occasionally are given salt.
Most farms (67 percent) had temporary housing for adult
cattle and calves made of wooden poles, singles (crudely-
made planks) with bamboo mat and plastic sheet for roofing.
Sixteen percent had semi-permanent houses made of roughly
finished timber, with stone or plank flooring. Rooves were
made of bamboo mat or banana leaf, which were invariably
covered with plastic sheet (Fig. 2). The external plastic sheets
were clamped with poles, tree branches and stones.
Seventeen percent of farms did not have housing for adult
cattle but had temporary sheds for calves.
Fig. 2 Temporary housing of cattle at the village farms
Breeding management
Natural servicing was widely used in the study area. More
than 50 percent of herders managed their own breeding bulls.
Most had one or more Siri bulls; some had Jersey-cross bulls
and one herder had a Mendha (Mithun-Siri, 75:25). Bulls were
locally bred. At least three herders were reported to have had
Mithun bulls but these had died in recent years, probably of
 Cattle Management Systems in Humid Subtropical
Areas of Western Bhutan
old age. Use of Al services was uncommon.
Herders with no breeding bull (44 percent) hired them from
neighbours and relatives. If service of pure Mithun bull is
utilized, herder had to pay Nu.500 for every Jatsham (Mithun-
Siri 50:50, female) born and TVu.400 for a Jatsha(Mithun-Siri
50:50, male). The services of a Mendha (Mithun: Siri, 75:25)
are also used: the owner expects to collect Nu.200 for a
female and Nu. 100 for a male calf if mating is successful. In
addition, herders are usually obliged to take mustard oil and
eggs to feed the Mithun bull and a bottle (750ml) of alcohol
locally brewed from grains (ara) to please the owner. Services
of other types of bull are reported to be free.
Tradition of back-crossing for several generations with Siri
bull are also not regularly followed. Backcrossing is stopped
at the Yangkum (Mithun-Siri 25:75, female) generation in
most cases. Some farmers have also started crossing Jatsham
with Jersey bulls and their progeny is known as Jersey-
Yangkum. Emphasis from Government agencies is for
introduction of Jersey blood and farmers' curiosity on
improving milk yield were reasons for trying the scheme.
Animal health
Herders in the sample reported that some 13 adult cattle had
died in the previous year. Causes included accidental falls,
being caught in hunter's traps, attacked by predators,
Enzootic Bovine Haematuria and bloat. Around 33 calves had
died in the same period. Calf mortality rate was estimated at
24 percent. Highest incidences (31 percent) of calf mortality
were due to attack by wild dogs, and diarrhoea (25 percent).
Bloat, weakness, coccidiosis, accidental fall, liver flukes, and
natural calamities such as hailstorm also killed some calves.
Severity of wild dog attacks on cattle was estimated by noting
the observed frequency of severity (severe, moderate, mild) on
calves and adults. The expected frequencies were calculated
and a Chi-squared test applied. It revealed a significant
association (p=0.04 or p<0.05) between wild dog attack and
 Jourmal of Bhutan Sstudies
age of cattle. Attacks on adult cattle were generally mild to
moderate but severe in calves (Fig. 3).
%   40 ~
J   30 -
*   20-
10 -
■ Calves
□ Adults
Severity of attack
Fig. 3 Severity of predator attack on cattle
Management constraints
Most herders believed that a good Mithun bull is preferred
over other breeding bulls and have requested the government
agencies to supply them one. Many herders however had their
own breeding bulls other than Mithun bull. Herder narrated
that some locally available bulls sired undesirably small
calves and in other cases cows failed to conceive after the
services probably due to the use of young or infertile bulls.
Fodder scarcity is reported to be a problem in the vicinity of
the town and areas where there is commercial logging. Over
the years there had been increase in the time required for
fodder collection.
Many herders said that labour shortage is an emerging issue.
Changing expectation and lifestyles of young people often
means they are not keen to remain farmers. They prefer to
live in towns and look for easier jobs. Most children who help
the family in herding must also  attend school.  Thus,  the
 Cattle Management Systems in Humid Subtropical
Areas of Western Bhutan
limited labour available in small isolated communities
strongly affects management options.
Milking practices
Calf survival strongly affects milking practices of village
farmers. Cattle are very significant items of capital and
wealth: death of calves often leads to cessation of lactation.
Ensuring survival of calves dominates the suckling regime of
village farms for sustained milk production, especially in early
lactation. The conventional wisdom among Bhutanese
herders is to not milk cows for about three to four weeks,
allowing calves to suckle freely and gain a healthy start.
Calves with free access to the dam's milk have better weight
gain than calves which are subject to restricted suckling
(Coulibaly and Nialibouly, 1998). Such a healthy start is
essential for survivability of calves because they do not get
extensive care afterwards, due to constrained resources and
inadequate knowledge of herders on modern husbandry
practices. Once calves are about one month old they are
subjected to restricted suckling: typically two quarters are
milked if the calves are less than five months of age and two
quarters are left for calves to suckle. The dam's milk provides
the major share of supplementary nutrition because herders
cannot provide appropriate replacement feeds. By about six
months of age calves are considered mature and able to graze
and manage their own feed; one quarter is left available to
suckle until lactation ceases.
Cattle management
The most common cattle management practice is though
periodic migration. But unlike high-altitudes herders, mid-
altitude herders in the study area did not migrate their cattle
over long distances but manage them within the periphery of
the villages, and the forest and natural grazing lands in the
same district. This might be a result of congenial weather
conditions, especially rainfall and temperatures adequate for
grass growth in nearby forests, plus favourable weather for
cropping in the lower valleys.
 Jourmal of Bhutan Sstudies
The majority of the farms lacked cattle housing and feeding
equipment and the rudimentary nature of cattle husbandry
practices soon becomes apparent. For farms with no housing,
adverse weather such as rain stressed the animals and there
were reductions in milk yield. Damp and narrow sheds
resulted in overcrowding of calves, making them vulnerable to
Fodders grazed under forests are coarse and could have lower
nutritive values than pasture grasses. Supplementary feeding
is necessary to meet nutritional requirements if farmers are
aiming for increased production levels. But the low milk
yields of local cattle do not encourage farmers to offer
adequate quantities of protein-rich feed stuff such as mustard
oilcake. The diet remains largely unbalanced with high
proportions of roughage and fibre, low levels of protein, and
no vitamins and minerals except salt. The poor performance
and early drying-off of cattle is inevitable when the availability
of good quality fodders is low and nutrient demand is high.
Breeding is mostly undertaken through the natural service.
Artificial insemination is not used because of the distance
from Al service centre. The traditional breeding practice of
successive backcrossing for several generations appeared not
to be common in the study area. In the word of 60 years old
herder Ap Khandu of Gedu Trashigang village, "progeny
generation after Yangkum is useless and has no economic
value' (Ap Khandu, pers. comm., 2004). The small number of
milking cows in the sample villages between the Yangkum to
Siri generations also supports the views.
Many herders still prefer Mithun bulls for crossing with local
Siri cattle at the village farms. The low output from
Government Mithun breeding farms has made it difficult to
meet herders' strong demands for Mithun bulls (MoA, 2001).
As an alternative, the importation of Mithun bulls continues
but it is becoming more difficult to obtain good quality
Mithun from their home tracts in India. As a result of the
 Cattle Management Systems in Humid Subtropical
Areas of Western Bhutan
destruction of habitat through uncontrolled hunting and
slaughter during periods of elections and religious
ceremonies, the Mithun is believed to be under threat of
extinction in India (Gupta et al. 1999).Uncertainty about the
availability of replacement stock for the government's Mithun
breeding farm and the lack of quality breeding Mithun bulls
at the village level is becoming a cause for concern.
Calf mortality in particular was seen as causing double loss,
i.e., for families with small capital reserves, the death of a
young calf represents a two-year investment gap plus the loss
of food and income from one season's milking. The high
mortality of calves could be attributed to poor management
and lack of proper care. In the tropics, Williamson and Payne
(1965) mentioned that mortality of calves can be as high as
50 percent due to poor management.
Herders frequently mentioned predator attacks but other
major diseases of calves are diarrhoea and coccidiosis, which
probably result from inadequate housing and sanitation.
Young calves were more vulnerable to predators such as wild
dogs because they cannot defend themselves or escape, as
adults do. Though adult cattle especially Jatsham and pure
Mithun according to farmers are very self defensive and
predators cannot attack them easily, they cannot protect their
calves as they are grazed in different area to prevent suckling.
Traditional approaches to cattle management are inevitably
changing. A number of herders have now stopped migrating
cattle to their family home in the north during the summer
and to the lower areas in winter. They have been permanently
settled in the study area for about a decade. The reduction in
the transhumant system is an indication of herders' gradual
shifts in attitude, now favouring a more modern, market-
based production system. Such changes are welcomed by
development agencies, as they ease the introduction of crossbreeding programs and health monitoring.
Some herders have also begun diversifying their range of
economic activities, establishing shops at the roadheads and
 Jourmal of Bhutan Sstudies
towns, while others are involved in contract and other off-
farm work. It is very likely that the traditional systems of
cattle herding and management will decline as alternative
economic opportunities emerge in the future.
Farm labour shortage
Limited labour availability is one of the key issues faced by
the herders. As most farms are family managed and part of
very small communities, family size largely determines labour
availability. With the high priority now given to education,
most children who would have helped in farming—especially
animal herding—are now enrolled in schools and only
available to help the family during vacations. Some educated
children are employed in government and private
organizations away from home and their ageing parents are
unable to extend their range of activities. Herders now face
options such as hiring labour, changing farming practices or
leaving land fallow and renting out cattle to tenant herders.
Traditional free grazing practices involving mostly Mithun-Siri
cross and Siri cattle is a dominant cattle management system
at the village farms with only few farmers practising
sedentary system. Limited labour availability could have
contributed to the continued practice of conventional "low
input—low output" cattle management systems, with slow
adoption of intensive cattle management practices in the far
flung villages.
In the vicinity of town, farmers are increasingly rearing few
but higher yielding Jersey-Siri cross cows which are better fed
and housed. Close to the town there is real demand for liquid
milk and also the price incentives. Their access to a ready
market for liquid milk seems to be a driving force in
restructuring the traditional herd. It is forecast that
traditional cattle management system may not continue long
near urban milk markets. However, most Bhutanese rural
families live some distance from urban communities. For
these people,  the tradition of Mithun-Siri cross cattle will
 Cattle Management Systems in Humid Subtropical
Areas of Western Bhutan
continue because of real benefits obtained from combinations
of milk yield, draught work, adaptation, hardiness, market
value and other significant factors. It is therefore becoming
clearer that promotion of high yielding exotic breeds in remote
rural areas is unlikely to be successful if no substantial
market for liquid milk is available. The cattle development
interventions should designed to benefit both peri-urban and
rural households.
There are indications that changes are occurring in
traditional cattle herding lifestyles. There is a gradual
reduction in transhumant systems in some areas and some
farmers are diversifying their economic activities such as
opening shops for additional source of income are some of the
examples. In future, some farmers may also invest more on
cash which has high market value, such as cardamom. It is
likely that, as more alternate economic opportunities emerge,
traditional cattle herding systems may continue a slow
decline although not disappear completely.
The authors thank the Asian Development Bank-Japan
Scholarships Programme and University of Melbourne,
Australia for their generous financial support to undertake
the study. Field support of Krishna Rai, Research Assistant,
RNR Sub-Centre Drala; Ramesh Urao, Extension agent,
Gedu, Dadi Ram Sharma, Extension agent, Drala is duly
Burgois Leuthi, N. "Bovine and Equine in Bhutan", in Special
Publication No 2: Renewable Natural Resources
Research Centre, Jakar, 1999
Coulibaly, M., & Nialibouly, O. "Effect of Suckling Regimes on
Calf Growth, Milk Production and Off-take of Zebu
Cattle in Mali", in Tropical Animal Health and
Production, 1998, 30(3): 179-189.
 Jourmal of Bhutan Sstudies
Gupta, S. C, Gupta, N., & Nivsarkhar, A. E. 1999. Mithun: A
Bovine of Indian Origin: Indian Council of Agricultural
Research, New Delhi.
MoA (2000) Renewable Natural Resources Statistics, Thimohu:
Ministry of Agriculture
MoA (2001) Ninth Five Year Plan for Livestock Sub Sector,
Ministry of Agriculture, Thimphu, Bhutan.
Norbu, L. (2000) Cattle Grazing - an integral part of broadleaf
forest management planning in Bhutan. Ph.D Thesis,
Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich.
Phanchung,   Dorji,   P.,   Thubten,   S.,   &   Pelden,   K.   (2001)
Sustainable development of small holder dairy farming
in Bhutan, Kathmandu: ICIMOD, Nepal
Roder,   W.,   Wangdi,   K.,   Gamtsho,   P.,   &   Dorji,   K.   (2001).
Feeding  the Herds.   Improving  Fodder Resources  in
Bhutan,      Kathmandu:      International     Centre     for
Mountain Development, Nepal.
Williamson,  G.,  &  Payne, A.J.W.   (1965)  An Introduction to
Animal Husbandry in the Tropics, London: Longmans,
Green and Co. Ltd.


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