Rearing Practices of Small Animals in Himalayas

Anup Katoch and Pardeep Kumar

Hilly areas of the Himalayas provide a suitable niche for a number of agro-economic activities. Lahaul Valley is one of the tribal belts of Himachal Pradesh. In Lahaul & Spiti district this valley is situated at an elevation between 2100 m to 4600 m. The sole access to this valley is the 3,978 m high Rohtang Pass. The Valley is freakish because of the fact that it is cut off from the rest of world for about six months (October-March), due to heavy snowfall on Rohtang Pass. The temperature in valley varies between below minus 20 degree Celsius during winters and 26 degree in summers. Summers in the valley are cool and gratifying with green grass, alpine flowers and a variety of crops. There is no monsoon in the valley. The valley is covered with snow during winters, and no crop husbandry can be practiced.

One cannot conjure up of life without rearing of these small animals in the cold deserts of Himachal Pradesh. But rearing of livestock under such harsh climatic conditions demands an indigenous wisdom. The tribals of Lahaul valley are custodians of practical knowledge of rearing of these animals based on the experiences of generations’ altogether and continued experimentations. They have developed their own best-adapted technology suitable to their location-specific environment, resulting in outnumbering of livestock animals than the human beings in such hostile environment.

Keeping in view the significance of these small animals in the Himalayas an attempt has been made to observe the rearing practices of their owners in nine villages namely, Udaipur, Kukumserei, Kishori, Triliokinath, Pimal, Bardeng, Hinsa, Lobar and Shakoli in Udaipur tehsil of Lahaul and Spiti.

The farmers in these villages are mainly marginal having average land holding of less than one acre as cultivated land and from 0.5 to one acre under grasslands. During summers they grow mainly cash fetching crops like Peas & Potato. Maize, barley and buckwheat are grown, for purposes of consumption and fodder.

The animals are taken out for grazing in the morning and are housed during night only. Houses are generally closed with little ventilation and usually built as a part of human residence. Livestock are housed either in basement or ground floor and human habitation is on first floor. The houses are katcha structure with similar flooring. The drainage arrangement is also very poor.

During summers (April-September) sheep and goats are taken out for grazing on common lands. Villagers have a fixed system to graze the animals. Sheep and goats of a particular village are pooled together. All the families put some identification mark on their sheep and goats.. One person from within the owners is deputed for taking the flocks for grazing. Normally this duty is performed by that person for 7-30 days depending on the number of families involved.  This is an informal arrangement for labour sharing and the person involved is not paid anything. This practice not only save labour but also facilitates sharing of labour among the entire village in rotation.

During grazing, animals are carried to long distances (5-6km. /day) for better fodder availability. The animals have characteristics of thriving on limited but highly nutritious forage available in the pastures. During summers these animals gain weight with excessive fat deposition. No supplementary feeding is done during summers.

Rearing practices during winters vary a lot. In winters, pastures are covered with heavy snowfall and practically no grazing can be practiced. During winters, nothing is grown in the region. Whatever is fed to the animals is stored in the houses used during this period. They are doing it for centuries and have a good knowledge and idea of the quantity required for the animal consumption. The animals are kept in houses and stall fed.  No green fodder is available at this time. The animals are fed with branches of Salix tree, crop residues (barley straw, pea straw), and local pasture grasses along with feeding of grains like barley. The excessive weight gained during summer helps the animals to maintain the body condition during lean winter months on little feed intake. Whatever excreted pallets (partially dehydrated dung balls) are there, they are removed in the month of March (after six months) and are used as manure in the fields. Even the human excreta during this period is also added with excreted pallets of animals and used as manure in the farms. Practice of sheep penning on other fields is not prevalent in the region.

The tribals depend on indigenous knowledge in managing these small animals. During winters when there is little possibility to take sick animal to veterinary dispensary, they themselves treat them with local herbs. They have a clear cut idea of their animal requirement and keep their numbers accordingly. With experience, they store the fodder in the houses, as per need for winters.

These animals, besides producing meat, also provide wool, milk, hide, skin etc., and are of immense economic value. The tribals slaughter the animals for meat during winters, as no other supplementary protein rich source of diet is available. During summers they get the wool and use it to make carpets, blankets and woolen clothes (pullovers, caps, socks, gloves and shawls etc.). These are sold in the local market as well as in Kulu Dusshera, an international fair in Himachal Pradesh. But the earnings from these products are meagre. Hide/skin is also used as carriers for grains. In summers, the animals are slaughtered only during special occasions. 

Thus, small animals have been a source of livelihood to the tribals of Lahaul valley, living  in a hostile environment, with little or no investments, mostly depending on indigenous methods and knowledge.

 Anup Katoch, Assistant Professor (Sociology)

Pardeep Kumar, Assistant Scientist (Soils), College of Agriculture, CSK Himachal Pradesh Krishi Vishvavidyalya, Palampur-176062 (H.P.), E-mail:





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