Some time ago, local breeds had little to no market against smuggled Indian cows. Now that is history, said Marfot Ali, a cattle and dairy farmer from Ailchara village in Kushtia's Poradaha.
Marfot, whose main source of livelihood is cattle fattening and selling, mainly ahead of Eid-ul-Azha, said they had to cut a lot of corners for the cattle's diet to compete with Indian cows. However, the situation has improved.
Cattle fattening is the process of converting a 1-2 year old undernourished cow into a fattened one by providing specially managed food within a specified period of time to produce more meat. This practice is the source of income of hundreds of families residing in villages in Kushtia Sadar and adjacent Mirpur.
In the traditional fattening process, farmers rely on mass-produced cattle feeds from various companies and some even use unauthorised drugs and steroids to hasten the process.
"We are traditionally cattle farmers. However, our family farm shut down some 7-8 years back as we were losing money. Our rice business also took a hit and we had to inject money there from the farm. As Indian cattle were abundant, to compete with them we had to cut costs. Even then we just couldn't keep up. Now times have changed," said Marfot.
With a soft loan from Desha, a local NGO working to implement the Sustainable Enterprise Project practices, Marfot and his brother Mohin Uddin restarted the farm in 2021 and have seen only profits since. The farm now has seven cows.
"I am confident about making a profit of at least Tk2 lakh by selling five cows this Eid-ul-Azha," Marfot told The Business Standard.
"Our only cow provides about 5 litres of milk per day, which is plenty thanks to the better diet," said Marfot's wife Nasrin Akter, who takes care of the cattle and feeds them.
Like Marfot, Mohin and their families, some 1,300 families in Alampur, Barkhada, Ailchara, Ujangram, Battail, Jhaudia, Patikabari under Sadar upazila and Poradaha, Chhatian and Baruipara under adjacent Mirpur upazila are seeing a turnaround in their lives through cattle fattening.
Their method of fattening up cattle can be called a "safer" process since it deviates from the traditional way in a healthier manner, producing more meat free of any chemical residue.
"We do not feed our cattle company feed [low-quality cow feed] at all. Instead, an organic diet of wheat husk, khesari, and corn is fed. Only the most essential drugs are provided to the cattle. They are also taken out for walks and grazing on the fields," Afroza Khatun, another cattle raiser, said.
This year, she and her husband will be selling just two cows in expectation of a profit of at least Tk4 lakh.
"As part of the safe diet, the cows are fed large quantities of high-quality grass like Napier and Para. Their waste is managed in a way that has birthed a different local industry," Md Masud Rahman, her husband, told TBS.
Under the Sustainable Enterprise Project (SEP) of the Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), the beef fattening sub-project encourages farmers in processing the cattle waste efficiently without polluting their environment.
The manure is used for vermicompost, which is later used to fertilise soil while their urine is developed into bio-pesticides.
"We even use the manure for biogas plants to generate electricity and use at home. The excess grass from the grassland is sold at nearby haats for profit," Anisur Rahman, another farmer, told TBS.
Desha, as one of the partner organisations of PKSF, distributed assistance to the 1,300-strong families starting in 2019. It had planned to reach 1,500 families by 2022 and is near the goal already.
The project is scheduled to be phased out this December after three years.
"We insist that the farmers only pick the better, healthier but also cost-saving breeds. Among the families that have collaborated with us, Red Chittagong Cattle (RCC), Pabnai, and other domestic breeds are preferred. Of the foreign breeds, only Friesian is popular because of size and meat volume," said Md Saidur Rahman, project manager (SEP) of Desha.
The 1,300 farmers have been taught to calculate the amount of meat and the exact price to ask, eliminating the need to get the help of middlemen.
SEP has been operating to improve conditions at the local haats and deal with mismanagement.
"Four concrete ramps have been built in four nearby haats alongside sanitary latrines and waste dumping stations. The traditional makeshift ramps have a tendency to fall apart owing to excessive load, and without it, cows cannot be boarded on to trucks," Md Saidur Rahman told TBS, adding that after using these facilities people will understand their values and infrastructural development will be done at a more rapid pace.
To get the cattle treated should they fall ill, five veterinary physicians, including para-vets, are on standby under SEP. This is because of the collaboration among local NGOs.
"Indian cows used to flood the market before Eid even 7-8 years ago. That came to a halt after BGB personnel were posted in the nearby border camps," said Marfot.
With the supply of Indian cows going down to zero, local breeds and crosses are gaining popularity ahead of Eid-ul-Azha.