It is widely accepted that natural farming remains incomplete without integration of animals . When it comes to choice of animals, the cow enjoys the greater heart-share of an Indian farmer. My interest is not so much in its milk or its muscle power; I value its dung the most. A cow is the quickest converter of biomass into manure. In about 8 hours after grazing it drops fibre rich dung.
We buy in well rotted manure from a village nearby. Households with cattle save the daily drop in a heap by their roadside. There the dung pile grows until farmers nearby are readying their fields. Then the piles are sold, so much per tractor tipper load. With each passing year, I find demand for rotted manure increasing. Which is a good sign that means our farmers are reconnecting with traditional farming, after seeing the limits of chemical farming.
I too buy in a couple of loads of manure every year. The distance it travels is not more than 3/4 kM but the loading and transport charges are as much as the manure itself. But what repels me is what I get, unasked with the manure. Out of 240 cubic feet, I had to sift out 10 cFt of consumer trash- plastic sachet covers, bottles, shopping bags, broken plastic household wares, maimed dolls, cycle tyre bits, cardboard boxes, disposable razors, tooth brushes and paste tubes. About the only angerless thought I had staring at this sifted trash, was that a market researcher advising the consumer goods industry might want to buy it to discern buying trends. This heap certainly belonged on his plush table.
How wonderful it would be, if I could keep cows on this land! They would add a gracious presence, chomp on the wild growth and offer up dung and urine. Why don’t I keep them? Because, pointReturn is not manned round the clock- not yet, anyway. And, cows need caring. They must be grazed under supervision, milked regularly, watered, washed and their shelter maintained, . The tiny local breeds are a hardy lot but even they need some attention.
Then recently one day, the obvious occurred to me: one need not own cows to have them on one’s land. My neighbour Saminadhan farms eight acres. He has a herd of five – two bullocks, a cow and two calves. His home is half a kilometer away and he is too busy to nip over there often and mind them. pointReturn is next door, has enough grazing land, is fenced in and therefore keeps them from wandering.
So we worked out a win-win deal. He may graze them in ten acres, rotating the area, ensuring they don’t encroach the growing areas. The milk is his. We get the dung and of course all the urine.
Chellamma, in the mould of a classic Indian country woman, is a compulsive gatherer of cowdung. Off she goes browsing where the cows are tethered and returns with head loads. The land beyond pointReturn’s fences is grazing grounds for the village cattle. Chellamma collects cowdung from there as well.
Our treasure of cowdung grows by more than a cubic foot a day.