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Dairy farmers face unprecedented crisis in Kerala due to heat

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Livestock farmers in the State are facing an unprecedented crisis as intense heat and humidity are having a deadly effect on farm animals. While dairy cow mortality has hit an all-time high with thermal stress killing around 500 cattle across the State in two-and-a-halfmonths, poultry producers are also in distress.

Farmers say the cows, mostly crossbreeds, just started collapsing and deaths are rather unusual.

As temperature and humidity continues to soar, two worst-hit districts are Kollam and Palakkad that reported105 and 67 cattle deaths respectively. “I have been rearing cows for over 30 years, but I am seeing heatstroke deaths for the first time,” says Nizam, a dairy farmer from Kollam. His cow had delivered a calf on April 6 and last week it started to slobber while the breathing became very laboured. Though Mr. Nizam kept the cow hydrated and used to pour water on its body three to four times a day, it soon collapsed and died. An autopsy conducted by the Animal Husbandry department confirmed that the animal died due to extreme thermal stress. “The cow had cost me ₹75,000 and it was producing around 20 litres of milk a day. I have 14 more cows and I can see them struggling to tolerate thermal stress,” he adds.

While methods like installing fans and sprinkling water on the animals are not working for many, the situation is more critical in some parts. As record-breaking heat sweeps across the State, many parts are facing acute water and fodder shortage. Though the department has issued guidelines to protect the animals from scalding heat, some people are unable to afford it. While an adult cow requires around 50 litres of water a day, farmers in some areas cannot provide even half the quantity. “Many panchayts in Kerala are currently reeling under severe water scarcity. When they don’t have access to enough drinking water, feeding the cattle is never a priority. In such conditions, the animals get less than 15 litres a day leading to dehydration,” says a senior official with the Animal Husbandry department.

Scarcity of green fodder

Green fodder becoming scarce is another challenge as most farms cultivating fodder grass have recorded a 60 to 70% dip in production. “Cattle usually get a considerable percentage of water from green fodder and when they don’t get needed amount of both, their immunity declines making them susceptible to a range of diseases. When a secondary infection occurs to dehydrated animals, they will not survive,” he adds.

Poultry farmers say the situation is alarming as broilers are highly vulnerable to thermal stress. “Their productivity and weight gain are usually affected during summer months. But this time they are easily succumbing to the heat. Transportation is also an issue as half the chicken in a consignment from Tamil Nadu arrived dead at our farm in Ernakulam,” says Kumari, poultry farmer.

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