He can pass off as one of the many shepherds one spots on roadsides. But though he may have begun to look like one, Sukhchain Singh (32) is very different from the traditional sheep/goat grazers who abound Punjab.
A marginal farmer with just 2 acres, he runs a successful goatery — a herd of 70 kept in a shed each in two villages. Goat, he agrees, is a difficult animal to handle, but then no business is without challenges, and nothing makes the job easy as regular profit. Every few months, he packs his flock in a small truck and drives out in search of pastures. “These days, Pakhowal has lush green trees and wild grass and my goats are there. Later, I will bring them back (to Rama village in Moga). For many years, I took them out for grazing but now we have a worker who does it. Since the goats need a lot of care, he virtually lives in the sheds with them,” says Sukhchain.
His goatery runs like a well-oiled machine. His well-fed flock carries a fat price. “The last sale I made of my best goat was for Rs 60,000 at the Chappar mandi. The average goat goes for anything between `10,000 and 35,000, and the kid for between Rs 1000 and 2,500. We also sell goat milk for Rs 30 to 40 a litre,” he says.
How he goat it right
Even though he has become an expert at it in only a few years, goat rearing is not easy. “Goats are extremely sensitive to rain and cold, and stop yielding milk if they fall sick or are allowed to graze when it’s pouring. Over the years, I have understood how to take care of them,” he says, “On cold days, we cover them with jute bags. On cold nights, we heat up the shed by lighting a fire. If they fall ill, we have to call the veterinarian to give them medicine. A worker and I help the animals deliver. I am now able to vaccinate the newborn kids myself.” And wild grass and tree leaves aren’t the only feed. “That is only a little one part,” says the prosperous shepherd, explaining: “We grow fodder for them, also feed them maize, pulses, barley and wheat. Goats are choosy eaters. If the fodder is not juicy and soft enough, they all go on a hunger strike.”
Why goat rearing?
Asked to explain his selection of profession, Sukhchain says: “To be honest, my family was left with no choice. We had a few goats and sheep at home that my father had bought from someone in the village. Since I grew up in a house with goats, I found them easy to handle. I know that farmers don’t consider is a respectful thing to do, but I don’t care, since I am very happy with my work. My goats are talked about in the mandis when I take them out to sell. The goat keepers who know the best flock come to me. The goat I sold for Rs 60,000 was the most expensive sold that day, and I still have its kid.”
Sukhchain is among three brothers, who have a typical story of struggle in which the division of land makes farming uneconomical. The family sold off its village house and built another in a field. Sukhchain’s elder brother, Gurtej Singh, tills 2.5 acres left with the three siblings. “The income from Sukhchain’s goats helps me secure more land on lease each year for farming. We grow wheat, paddy and fodder. Though unable to save much from the land on lease, I am happy to be busy and connected to farming,” says Gurtej.
The youngest brother learnt to drive and bought a taxi to contribute to the family income. “We all have to work together on different things, if we have to survive. We are now beginning to prosper, and it is the goatery which has fuelled this growth,” adds Gurtej.
Inspired by Sukhchain’s success, several other farmers in the village have taken to rearing goats but only a few have flourished. “The entire Himmatpura village nearby has taken to goat grazing,” says Sukhchain, “When I started out, I used money from the sale of the house to buy sheep and goats. When I had a flock of 105, I realised that sheep and goats don’t go well together, and the key lies in not quantity but quality. I sold off the sheep and focussed on rearing high-quality goats only. They require expertise to be reared but give good returns.”
Milk the key
The regular earning from goats, according to Sukhchain, is from the milk mainly. Goats can be milked twice a day and a flock of 70 yields 50 to 60 litres a day. He sells it to the government collection centres at the village for between Rs 30 and 40 a litre. However, this milk is sold only for six months in a year and almost half the earning from it is ploughed back into the goatery. A average goat produces one to two kids a year, of which 50 to 60 that survive are sold further for between Rs 1,000 and 2,500 each for additional income. “We do not allow more than one pregnancy a year, so that the kids are born healthy and raised well. The older goats are replaced with the younger lot and sold off. The earning and expenditure both vary a lot. If the milk quality is good, we get a better rate. If there is a risk of illness, we have to sell the kids for a low price. If the spell of rain and cold extends, we have to increase the feed and that jacks up our input cost. If the sheep graze only outside, it is pure profit,” says Sukhchain.
Davinder Singh is owner of a hi-tech goat farm at Nathana in Bathinda that breeds Beatle and Barbari only to sell these animals for slaughter to produce meat. “The easiest way is to sell the goats to the Gujjars (nomadic shepherds), who pay by the weight of the animal and give me even up to `3,000 for a kid,” he says.
Punjab animal husbandry director HS Sandha says goat rearing is a perfect option for the very poor farmer. “There used to be a social stigma attached to it but now it is being seen as a business enterprise by the rich farmers who want additional income. For the poor, it is like ATM. The investment is low. You can purchase a male and a female kid for less than Rs 5,000 and start up. A small, covered room is all you need. Goats can graze in the open, feed on the harvested fields and tree leaves.”
An average goat delivers two kids in less than a year and that is how the goatery grows. “The milk is a source of income because it is a premium product. Though there are no separate government collection centres for it, the regular milk co-operatives accept it. Adult goats are sold off in mandis or as meat. A fair number of buyers come from Rajasthan to look for goat meat. The government gives 25 to 33% subsidy on a unit of Rs 1 lakh where 40 goats can be reared,” adds Sandha.
Collected twice a day
50 to 60 litres a day from flock of 70
Rs 30-40/litre paid by govt collection centres at villages
6 months availability period
50% earning ploughed back into goatery
1-2 kids a year
Rs 1,000-2,500 for each surviving kid sold
25-33% govt subsidy on Rs 1-lakh shed for 40 goats
Rs 10,000-35,000 for average goat, can go up to `60,000 for a very superior goat
Start-up cost: Rs 5,000
Tomorrow: Rose, a budding romance
Read earlier parts of the series