Livestock Research for Rural Development 6 (1) 1994

Citation of this paper

Studies on the knowledge of rural women regarding local feed resources and feeding systems developed for livestock

Sangeeta D Rangnekar

4, Shobhana Apartments, Nehru Park, Vastrapur, Ahmedabad-380015, India

(This paper was first presented at the "International Conference on Increasing Livestock Production through Utilization of Local Resources". CECAT, Beijing, 18-22 October 1993)


Livestock are not only a part of the farming system in India but are also closely linked with religion and culture. Most of the work involving livestock management is considered the traditional responsibility of women. To make livestock extension programmes effective it is imperative to study the involvement of women, their perceptions and knowledge. This paper describes briefly some studies carried out with women from various communities, in a few pockets of North Gujarat and South Rajasthan. The studies revealed that the women have a great deal of information about local feed resources and a good working knowledge of animal behaviour, feed preferences and production characteristics. Through experience the women have developed feeding practices to suit different types of livestock. They have identified beneficial feed resources, ranging from farm by-products to forest products. The rural men and women have also developed ways of conserving useful feed material for periods of scarcity. This paper recommends that groups of women facilitators be developed as well as suitable extension and training programmes which include women. Likewise, this paper discusses development strategies which may lead to improvement in feeding and management practices suitable for more productive livestock systems. These practices are developed through a participatory approach. Development planners and researchers pay very little attention to women's perceptions, needs and constraints, although many talk about the role of women in livestock production (particularly livestock feeding). This paper strongly recommends more studies on the involvement of women, giving more weight to their views and making use of their experience and knowledge.

KEY WORDS: Women, rural development, livestock, feed resources


Livestock are not only a source of employment, income and food but are also critical to strong socio-cultural linkages in countries like India. These animals were given a place of importance by the society in recognition of their contribution to human welfare. Evidence of this importance is noted by references in ancient scriptures, by their place of prominence among the official seals of the Harappan civilization dating 4000 BC and by the special festivals dedicated to livestock. The involvement of women with livestock is much more than just with crops. This involvement is probably indicative of the same socio-cultural linkage.

While most of us are aware that livestock management is considered the traditional responsibility of women and that women shoulder most of the workload, the subject has been neglected too long by researchers and development planners (Swaminathan 1988, 1990). The involvement of women is just now receiving some attention, as is evident from the number of conferences organized and bulletins published on the subject during the last few years (ICAR 1988; Vishwanathan 1989; FAO 1991).

This paper is based on studies, observations and experiences during the author's involvement in parts of north Gujarat and South Rajasthan, in the Western parts of the country. Studies were conducted in different agro-ecological conditions involving different socio-economic groups with emphasis on tribals and pastoralists. Results of some of the studies have been presented at international conferences (Rangnekar et al 1991; Rangnekar 1992a,b). This paper focusses on aspects related to animal feeding with an emphasis on the ingenious ways women use local resources and optimize this use through the making of mixtures, the processing of various materials and the adoption of new technologies.

Livestock development can be effective only if appropriate extension strategies are developed which consider the involvement of women (Rangnekar 1992b).

Role of women in livestock production

The studies in India on the role of women in livestock production have concentrated mostly on work-sharing (Vishwanathan 1989; George 1990). Very few workers have studied aspects like perceptions of women, their awareness and knowledge; the majority of the reports pertain to large ruminants (Rangnekar 1992a,b).

The results indicate that feeding, cleaning and milking of dairy animals, the care of young animals and administration of medicines are done mostly by women. Observations in both the states show that involvement varies due to socio-economic status as well as region (George 1990; Rangnekar et al 1991; Rangnekar 1992b). It was observed that women from tribal families carry out both indoor as well as outdoor jobs unlike high caste and women from rich families who hardly undertake any work. However, in pastoralist families work is evenly shared between men and women, maybe because livestock is the major source of livelihood. Similar variation in work sharing is reported with respect to goat management (Ahuja and Rathod 1987; Rangnekar 1992a). The feeding of animals (concentrate and roughage) is mostly by women, irrespective of socio-economic conditions. Amongst the poor families fodder is brought mostly by women who go out to work as labor (Rangnekar et al 1991). Preparation of home-made feed is exclusively by women, as is also the processing of feed (wherever practiced) i.e. cooking. A few observations are indicated in Table 1 and 2.

Table 1: Observations on work-sharing and decision-making by income base grouping.


Cleaning W100 W100 O100
Feeding W 80 W 80 O 90
Watering W100 W 90 O100
Milking W 80 W 90 O100
Grazing W 80 W 90 O100
Managing bullocks NA M 90 O100
Disposal of Milk W 80 W100 W 50
Sale of Animal W 40 W 65 M 90
Purchase of Animal W 80 W 80 M 80
Breeding NA W 80 M 80
Vaccination NA W 80 M 90
Type of feed NA W 80 M 90
Type of fodder NA M 80 M 90


1. The figures indicate share in percentage basis.
2. Abbreviations used - W for women, M for men, O for others (usually hired labor), NA - not applicable.
Source: Rangnekar et al (1991).



It was rather difficult to gather factual information about the decision-making process and the technique of "socializing and kitchen talk" had to be used to break reservations (Rangnekar et al 1991). The results indicate that the generalizations made in some reports (Punia and Yadav 1990) that most decisions on livestock production are made by women, was not noticed in the area of study. The aspects related to disposal of milk and milk products and feeding of animals were decided by women in most cases (except in commercial operations). The decisions about disposal of other products like meat, hair and wool were made by men. Decision-making regarding sale and purchase of animals varies between region and socio-economic groups. Similar observations are reported by George (1990) who has tried to draw attention to the marginalization of the women with progressive development. The decisions on use of income varies widely with the socio-economic status of the family (Rangnekar et al 1991).

Table 2: Observations on work-sharing and decision-making by social base grouping.



Cleaning W100 - W100 W100 W100 -
Feeding W100 -        
Watering W100 - W100 W 50 W100 -
Milking W100 - W100 W 50 W100 -
Grazing W 50 - W100 W 70 W100 -
Managing bullocks Very few     NA NA -
Disposal of Milk W100 - W100 W100 W100 -
Sale of Animal W100 - M 80 W 50 W 60 -
Purchase animal M/W - M 70 W/50 W 60 -
Breeding M/W - M100 W/50 W/50 -
Vaccination NA   NA      
Type of Feed M 80 - M100 M 80 M 80 -
Type of fodder NA   NA      
Use of income W 70 - M100 W/50 M 80 -


Abbreviations used:
1) B: Baroda district, A: Ahmedabad dist., U: Udaipur dist.
2) W: women, M: men, NA: not applicable.
The figures indicate share on percentage basis.
Source: Rangnekar et al (1991).


Awareness, perceptions and knowledge of women

Livestock management was always perceived as the traditional responsibility of women. For women, livestock are important as a source of fuel, food and as a source of supplementary income for the family. For most of the women high fat in milk is more important than quantity of milk (Rangnekar 1992a,b). Many women prefer keeping goats due to ease of handling, low input need, cheap source of good quality food for the family and also the manure (Rangnekar 1992a).

Women possess good knowledge of various aspects of livestock production management and particularly of feed resources. They know each animal's production characteristics, temperament and feeding behaviour. Most women are aware of the need for good quality feed to achieve better production but feel that feeding to a non- producing animal is not necessary.

Women's acumen about feed resources and feeding strategies

The salient features pertaining to information gathered from women regarding local feed resources, the traditional practices observed for conserving useful feed material, methods of processing feeds, ingenuity of women in adopting new processing technologies, and strategies of partitioning available feed resources for optimal utilization will be described. Critical studies and proper understanding of traditional methods, which have emerged out of long-standing experience, supplemented with newer knowledge could help in developing effective animal feeding strategies for more productive animals (Rangnekar 1991). Such efforts are necessary simultaneously with breeding improvement efforts and need to be taken-up on a large scale in livestock development programmes.

Identification of beneficial feeds and local feed resources

Besides the major feed resources like crop residues and cultivated fodder, the women were found to be well aware of locally existing grasses, creepers, bushes, weeds and tree species which could be utilized as supplementary feeds and drought feeds. Besides popularly known trees, grasses and bushes, women have identified a number of local species as beneficial for dairy animals. Interestingly they point out that tree or bush species beneficial to or liked by the cow, buffalo or goat, are different. A few species extensively used in many villages of north-east Gujarat were chosen for study. The benefits claimed were ratified with the help of extension officers and women workers, who discussed their observations with women farmers from several villages. These observations on a few of the feed materials are summarized in Table 3.

In tribal areas women collect creepers like Tinosperma and leaves of Alangium and Moringa species for feeding milch cows and buffaloes. The pods of Acacia and Prosopis species are mostly fed to goat and buffalo. The leaves of Azadirachta and Acacia species are fed mainly to goat. The Bassia latifolia tree commonly known as Mahuva tree is fascinating and there is a social taboo against the cutting of this tree probably due to the recognition of its value in tribal areas. The leaves, flowers and fruit covers are used for animal feeding and the oil from the seed is used for cooking; its oil cake is fed to livestock in some areas but considered toxic in other areas. The flowers are known to be rich in energy and are used for human consumption in scarcity, for preparing local alcoholic drinks and also for animal feeding. The flowers are mostly fed to bullocks during the working season and if surplus quantity is available these are offered to milch animals. Farmers have been using cotton seed and cotton seed cake for a long time and always claimed beneficial effects for the animal and for the fat content of milk. Researchers have only recently realized the usefulness of these materials as a protein source (Rangnekar 1991).

Table 3: Observations on traditionally used feed resources
1. Cotton Seed   Improves milk fat %,
  Cotton seed cake Buffaloes body condition
2. Pods and Seeds   Improvement in milk
  of Acacia &   yield, fat % &
  Prosopis species Buffalo & goat induces heat
3. Tinosperma   Improvement in milk
  Cordifolia   production &
  (creeper) Cows & buffaloes inducing heat
4. Leaves of    
  Alangium salvifolium,    
  Bassia latifolia,    
  Moringa tomentosa, Cows, buffaloes, Improvement in milk
  Butea monosperma goat production
5. Azadirachta indica Mainly goat Improves milk
      production, dewormer
6. Flowers of Preference to Improves health,
  Bassia latifolia bullocks & milk working ability of
    producing animal bullocks & milk
7. Bushes & shrubs   Improves milk fat
  i) Lana grass, i) Buffalo Better
  ii)Zizyphus ii) goat growth in
  numularia   goat


Conservation of feeds

Conservation of feed and fodder is usually discussed by most technicians as a new technology (to be transferred to the farmers). However, while studying the traditional practices of feeding animals it was noticed that conserving supplementary feeds for use during the dry season is a traditional practice.

Through their experience, women have identified supplementary feeds beneficial to animal productivity. Most of these are available seasonally and are generally dried and stored for use in the dry season. On laboratory analysis it was found that most of these materials are rich in protein and a few are rich in energy and minerals and thus they are bound to have a beneficial effect on animals that usually are kept on a straw-based diet (Rangnekar 1993). Table 4 summarizes information on some of the commonly stored feed materials.

Table 4: Characteristics of feed resources that are usually conserved and stored
Name of feed Season Nutritional Characteristics
material availability  
Mahuva flower April/May Rich in energy
Pods of Acacia March/April Rich in energy & Protein
& Prosopis    
Leaves of April/May Rich in protein
Leaves of Prosopis March-May Rich in protein & Minerals
Leaves and pod October/ Rich in protein and Minerals
covers of Pulses March/April  
and Oil seed    


Feed processing - traditional methods and adoption of new technology

Studies on traditional systems revealed that processing of feeds, although projected as a new approach has always been used by the livestock owners. They have devised and adopted processing methods found to be useful for feeding management as well as animal productivity. The processing work is usually done by women. Some of these methods have been studied and found to be scientifically sound and beneficially effective (Rangnekar 1993).

The commonly processed materials are a mixture of concentrates and roughages like wheat straw, pulse pods and maize cobs, which are mixed and cooked on low heat for a couple of hours. In maize growing areas it is a common practice to cook maize cobs mixed with Tamarind, salt, brans and sometime cereals. Another commonly used material is cotton seed where cooking does have beneficial effect.

Soaking the feed for a few hours or sometimes over-night is another common practice. Soaking reduces dustiness, prevents wastage and improves intake.

The women were also found to be innovative in the adoption of new technologies. In the BAIF project, while on-farm trials with urea treatment of cereal straws were in progress, there was need to find out simple methods for measuring water and ensuring uniform spraying of urea solutions. The women farmers devised simple ways of overcoming this problem. In some areas they started making use of used oil cans which had fixed volumes and the water could be measured easily. The bottom of the can was perforated for ease of spraying. In other villages they used water buckets, which also had fixed volumes and spraying was done with the help of broom sticks. The result of the on-farm trials showed that the treatment was effective since the spraying was uniform. The experience clearly indicates that the ingenuity of women could be effectively utilized when taking a participatory approach to development or to the introduction of beneficial technologies.

Partitioning of feeds

Availability of good quality feeds and fodders is always a constraint in rain-fed and under-developed areas. Feeding accounts for almost 70% of the cost of livestock production. While farmers are usually blamed for keeping an unnecessarily large number of animals (many of which are considered unproductive and who eat away the feed which would have been available for productive animals), a critical look at the practices adopted by the farmers, particularly the women, indicates that through experience they have developed effective ways of optimising utilization of available feed resources. A few examples of strategies that partition available feed resources for optimal use will be described to illustrate the ingenuity of farmers.

Cereal straws are the staple feed for livestock in India and a major source of bulk and energy. The farmers are aware of variation in digestibility and nutrient availability between the varieties and parts of the plant. In western India it is a common practice to offer sorghum straw, which is known to be of superior quality, as a whole plant. The animal eats by preference the more nutritious parts (leaves and upper portion) and the remainder of the plant, the main stem or stubble, is left over and offered to non-producing animals.

The milch buffalo, the main dairy animal in India till recently, is usually stall fed. Available concentrates and good quality fodder are offered to these animals. High producing animals, recently calved animals, or those in late pregnancy are offered special supplementary feeds like edible oil, jaggery, grains and oil cake. Materials like cotton seed, cotton seed cake, copra cake, and rice polishings were recognized historically as beneficial and have been traditionally used for buffaloes or high producing cows. Researchers have realized their value as a source of undegradable protein only recently.

These practices are clearly indicative of the farmers' wisdom and show that their approaches are exercises of resource optimization. Hence before we criticize them for resistance to change or try to forcefully introduce systems according to our own thinking, it is essential to critically study the traditional practices. It is possible to find solutions to many constraints from the farmer themselves and particularly from women (especially about the feeding of livestock). For effective extension work and the effective use of farmer's experience and knowledge, it is necessary to establish rapport, to socialize with the farmers and to learn from them. Many women farmers can be effective resource persons and extension agents. An initial attempt at developing a small group of young women in a few villages of Gujarat and Rajasthan to work as facilitators was very encouraging (Rangnekar 1992).


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(Received 13 November 1993)