Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Read the fine print

Read the fine print.

Read the fine print.


Foot-and-mouth disease claims 2,060 cows; afflicts 16,573 head of cattle  :  The foot-and-mouth disease has claimed 2,060 cows and affected 16,573 animals in 1,304 villages in 19 districts of the State .

Scientists confirm serotype O leading to outbreak of foot and mouth disease :  As officials struggle to contain the spread of foot and mouth disease among cattle, scientists at the Project Directorate on Foot and Mouth Disease, have released initial confirmation that virus serotype O is responsible for the outbreak......    "The virus is airborne and could travel 250km per day depending on the climatic conditions......

High alert against foot-and-mouth disease  : All check posts along the borders with Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been alerted not to let any cattle in from those states. All Deputy Commissioners across the State have banned cattle or sheep fairs.

Foot-and-mouth disease

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



Foot-and-mouth disease or hoof-and-mouth disease (Aphthae epizooticae) is an infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals, including domestic and wild bovids. The virus causes a high fever for two or three days, followed by blisters inside the mouth and on the feet that may rupture and cause lameness.  ............. Though most animals eventually recover from FMD, the disease can lead to myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and death, especially in newborn animals.



........Especially in new born animals...........................................................


How often our eyes skim over headlines like these, scarcely registering its impact on the affected.   And so it was to our ‘city-brains’  that I hardly  gave much thought to the news that a lot of cows in Chitrapur have been afflicted with the disease. And our hectic November schedule had us shuttling between Chitrapur and Chennai twice , a trip to  Mumbai, and Munich. All this hardly left us any time at the farm. When we returned from our Chennai trip, I noticed that Kalindi and Balaram had caught the virus. We went into overdrive, cleaning and disinfecting their feet, cleaning the cowshed thrice a day, spraying neem emulsion and diluted dettol to drive away the flies.  We had only 5 days left for our Munich trip. Could I drop out and stay back?  But no, we had registered well in advance for the training and it was imperative that I attend it. So I spent most of my time in the cow shed, cleaning it, ensuring that all the calves had a dry area to sit and really got rid of the flies.  So everything seemed in control.

The  night before we left for Mumbai, it was almost 11.30 pm by the time I was done with my work.  Should I take a last round and see all the animals? But I had checked on them at 9.30 and they all seemed fine. Besides when I enter the cowshed with my torch, all of them dutifully get up, so I rather let them rest.

The next morning, I woke up at 5.30 am with a very uneasy feeling and rushed to the cowshed, even before I made the morning coffee.  All of them seemed fine and perky. The sores on Kalindi’s and  Balaram’s feet had healed well and they were already chewing on some hay.  Bhuvan – Madhubala’s 20 day old calf seemed fast asleep on his side – he often did that unlike the older calves who never stretch out and sleep on their sides.  But was he really asleep?  “bhuvan – bhuvan” I called  out and shook him, but there was no response. Terrified, I shook him again and shone the torch right in his eyes – no response again. I raced to the house and woke V and  we both tried again – but ......he had already reached a distant world  from where there is no return.  I called our farm hand- Manjunath, who promptly came over. “He was fine last evening” he said his voice breaking.  My heart wept for Madhubala who was looking across with her large luminous eyes.

And so Bhuvan, the little stocky buffalo calf who looked so incredibly healthy succumbed to the dreadful disease.  He was a gentle playful visitor for a short duration of  just 20 days.   

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

And a calf is born!

Although we have been on the farm for almost 2 years now, and have had 4 calves being born, we had not witnessed a single birth. Our farm hand Manjunath, with his unerring knowledge of such things, has always warned us a couple of days before the actual birth.  “Just a few more days to go..”  he would warn us. Godavari, the first one to calve, just a month after we moved in, gave birth to Gomati when she was out grazing in the forest nearby. Manjunath  seeing that she did not return at the usual time, went in search of her and brought her back along with the little calf.


Gomati - born in the forest adjoining our farm 


Shravani  was born when we were travelling out on work, and so was Balaram. 

Shravani and Gomati both a few weeks old

Balaram enjoying some sunshine while Phoenix and Zuki watch over him protectively
 Kalindi’s birth was the quickest, because although I was checking on Kaveri, every hour, she had shown no signs at 8 am, but by 9 she had delivered the little one and both were already up and perky. Incidentally during that time we were getting the cow shed renovated and all the cows were tethered out in the farm.
Kalindi born out in the farm where the cows were tethered during the renovation of the cow shed
The Cow shed before renovation
The spanking new cowshed inaugrated by 5 day old Kalindi


Then finally this May we were expecting Kaveri to calve any time. We took turns during the night to check on her every few hours. At around 5 am, it was V’s turn and he came back rushing to say that Kaveri seemed extremely uneasy. Both of us rushed to the cow shed.   Kaveri, although uneasy,  appeared in total control of the situation. Most of the times, these animals do not need any help with their delivery.  But still . .....niggling doubts  assailed my mind. What if it was a breech presentation? What if the hind legs appear first, what if........?  Should we call the vet right away?   If there was a need, it would take him at least an hour to get here.  But fortunately all seemed in order. Two little hooves appeared, followed by a tiny limp head.  Does the head always look so limp?  Is it alive?  The eyes were shut tight. Then a slight twitch of the tiny nostrils!   Yes it was alive.  The miracle of birth was unfolding in the quiet stable with a whole bunch of unperturbed cows silently chewing their cud.   A few more minutes and the calf was out!   Come on folks aren’t you all going to applaud?  But no,  the new member of their clan did not yet merit a second glance.  The dark brown, ungainly little creature, still damp struggled to look around.  Large eyes blinked as I shone the torch to examine it.  All seemed in order.   The mother nuzzled it and it responded by craning its neck in her direction.  She proceeded to give it a rough rub down, licking it thoroughly and it seemed to get more and more alert and perky with every passing minute. I took a gunny sack and did my bit of rubbing the little one. In a few moments, it was ready to try out its legs.  The floor was too slippery but this little one was not to be deterred.  It raised itself up and promptly slid down with its long skittle legs going in different directions. Worried that it might injure itself, we spread a thick layer of dry hay  around it. Yes, that did help and on the fourth or fifth attempt, the calf actually stood up and nuzzled close to the mother.  Now the mother and baby could be left alone. As the first rays of the morning sun began to light up the world, the little one gave a tiny barely audible bleat.  A baby born at dawn – the only name I could  think of was Bhairav –the beautiful morning raga which heralds the arrival of dawn!   And so Bhairav completed the trio of male  calves – Bheem, Balaram and Bhairav!

Kalindi has a little brother now - Bhairav

Monday, 4 November 2013

Moving a Mountain.

I pushed and heaved and pushed again with all my might.  I might as well have been trying to move a mountain, for the large grey expanse in front of me refused to budge even an inch. It was Madhubala our buffalo who had broken free and walked out onto the pathway. It seemed as if hours had passed since I had  been startled by the sudden rustling noise while I was  giving  the 4 dogs their evening meal. The noise sounded very close and I could only make out a large heavy shape in the darkness. The dogs were barking thru the small gate.
The small gate which opens onto the pathway leading to the big gate which is on the left.
 With a thudding heart, I took the torch and went to see who the intruder was.  It was a relief to see that it was just Madhubala. But there was no way that I could leave her out of the stable the whole night. So began my struggle to get her back in.

I did not want the dogs to scare and chase her so I put them all inside first. I switched on the porch light, the stable light and the newly installed light near the gate. Now I was prepared to lead her nicely into the stable. But what I was not prepared for was her utter stubbornness!  First I tried pulling on the rope which hung from her neck. But when she raised her head and lowered it with her eyes still on me, I chickened out. What if she gives me a little thwack with her huge head? With hubby out of town and no one around, I didn’t want to risk annoying her anymore. So I tried pushing her from behind. I don’t think she even registered the puny push and continued grazing on tufts of grass. Every few minutes, she would seem to move a little so I continued my efforts. But after some time i realised that we weren’t going anywhere. Probably I could tempt her with some feed. So I went into the stable, took a tub of feed and walked thru the side path.

The side path with its uneven steps, leading from the stable(the white tile-roof structure) to the main pathway

Now this side path is a narrow path leading to the main pathway which in turn leads to our big gate. I would have to entice her with the feed down this narrow lane and then into the stable. The narrow path joins the large one in a series of uneven steps and is overgrown with bushes. So when I stepped out of it right in front of her with the tub of feed, she was startled! She took off in a gallop and if wasn’t for the big gate being securely closed, she would have bolted out of sight.  She ran upto the gate and seeing it closed , tried to find a way to escape. The wall separating our neighbours compound is uneven and at a couple of places, she looked over seeming to contemplate jumping over the wall.

The big gate at the end of the pathway, with the low compound wall on the right.

Now this was too much for me to handle. So finally I called our farm-hand Manjunath  on his son’s cell phone. He had just finished his dinner and said he would come immediately.  I stood watch over Madhubala to ensure that she doesn’t escape into the darkness. The dogs having lost interest in the proceedings curled off in their respective places to sleep. Madhubala continued grazing on the little tufts of grass growing along the wall. The night owls hooted back and forth a couple of times and the stars and the fireflies twinkled merrily.  The moon gazed over the dark shadowy landscape.  The calm silence punctuated by distant hoots of the sentinels of the night and the gentle breeze, Madhubala seemed to enjoy this bit of freedom... 

The moon throws the tall  jamun tree into an imposing silhouette

Finally Manjunath came. He is a man of few words when he has his betel leaf in his mouth. A sharp clicking sound and a  loud hmmm and a gentle prod is all Madhubala needs to follow him meekly back into the stable. He ties her with a spare cord, replacing the earlier frayed one, gives her an extra bunch of hay, which awakens all the others in the cow shed, so he gives them all a little bit and walks back to his home. I switch off all the lights – porch, gate and stable and get back to the kitchen to prepare dinner and catch up on my work. The clock has moved ahead by a whole hour and I have a lot of catching up to do!      

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Colours of Harvest

The endless variety of farm produce never ceases to amaze us.  The first year that we were here was a real learning experience for us.  We made countless ‘Farm-visits’ to well established farms to learn more about managing such a farm, browsed the net and read thru pages and pages of ‘Cultivation  Manuals’  gleaned great information from the websites of the Spice Board of India, TamilNadu Agricultural University(TNAU) and so many others. We learnt to manoeuvre  the long ‘Harvestor’  (which is a basket with a blade tied to the end of a pole) thru the branches and tug at the ripe fruit. It needs more skill and strength, than we imagine to neatly hook the fruit and pull it off without damaging the unripe ones near it. But we are slowly getting good at it.
The Harvestor at the end of a 15 feet long bamboo

The cashew needs to be plucked as soon as it ripens or else it falls to the ground where the fruit is eaten by the cows during the day or the wild boars at night. The nut which contains a very abrasive, acidic oil is slit open and eaten by the porcupines – probably the only animal who eats the cashewnut. Even the monkeys throw the nut, eating only the fruit. So apart from plucking the fruit from the trees, we have to check the ground below to pick the nuts. The fruit is then separated from the nuts. Bucket loads of the fruit which in Goa would have been converted to Feni, is given to the cows. Oh what joy to see them slurping and chomping on the juicy tidbits, they just love it!
The Cashew fruit with the nut on the outside

We learnt how to make Organic fertilizers like Jeevamrut and Panchgavya which have shown fantastic results – for instance we had four really tall  Clove trees approx 17 years old.  The Clove Cultivation Manual had stated that cloves buds appear on the trees in January and need to be harvested (hand-plucked) before they flower. Clove is valued only when it is dried in its bud stage and has the globular tip (remember Promise Toothpaste ads?).  Of course we scarcely notice this when we dunk cloves into the frying pan while cooking.  So well, the first year that we were here, the whole of January had me scanning the trees to see if flowers had appeared.  No luck!  Finally our farm hand Manjunath sheepishly admitted that these trees had never produced any cloves all these years.  Well........ Anyway we kept up with the Jeevamrut and Panchagavya spray all through the year.  And surprisingly this Jan we had a great harvest of cloves. 
Clove buds just harvested
Sun drying the clove buds 

The majority of the farm produce is harvested in the hot summer months, nature’s great timing at work so that we can sun dry most of the produce and store it for the  whole year. So as you can imagine, the work multiplies multifold.
Fresh Kokum fruit (Garcinia Indica) 
 Kokums need to be cut open, the seeds extracted and the outer peels are sun dried.  The pulp surrounding the seeds  has a lot of juice which needs to be  squeezed out.  Each evening, the partially dried kokum peels are soaked back into this juice, to be squeezed out next morning and dried again.  4 to 5 days of this treatment and the kokum is ready to be stored in bottles. This method imparts a really rich lovely colour to the peels. The seeds are dried separately and used for making Kokum butter – a product which has been used since ages in India and is now gaining popularity in the western cosmetic world.


Basket loads of Vatamba

The ‘Vatamba’ , used as a souring agent , a fruit that I had never seen or heard of before, grows abundantly. The first time I saw it, our farm hand Manjunath explained that it needs to be sliced thin and then sundried. He had harvested a basketful and I took half of it to the kitchen. It was far tougher than I thought and by the time I finished slicing the pile, my hands were quite sore. I went back to the outhouse to see a staggering pile of harvested vatambas. How on earth was I going to slice all of these?  But Manjunath  was prepared with a very sharp traditional cutter ‘Adli’ and sliced his way through the pile merrily chomping on his betel leaf&nut mix.


All sliced and out in the sun

As for some of the other items that we get from the farm, see the pics below.

Nutmeg (Jaiphal) with its red, delicate outer aril which is the exotic spice Mace (Jai-patri)

Nutmeg and Mace being sundried

Stacks of freshly plucked Betel Leaves
The worlds largest 'Sprout' - Coconut sprout a rare delicacy. We were lucky to get a couple of these when the stored coconuts got drenched in a heavy shower resulting in some of them sprouting.


Sunday, 13 October 2013

Farm Visits

A large part of our ‘learning’ about agricultural practice has been through ‘farm-visits’.

Shy little kids watching their father take us around his farm

  There is quite a Green-Organic movement here and most local farmers are very willing and happy to share their knowledge and experiences, the language-barrier notwithstanding. They happily explain in kannada as they take us around their farms and the visit always ends with the curious question “Why did you leave a city like Bombay and come here?”.  

Taking us around the farm

The Organic farmers mostly use the standard composting method since they invariably have a small herd of cows. 

The compost pit behind the cow shed just topped with a layer of dry leaves

 The variety of crops grown is also similar across this area – Arecanut and coconut intercropped with Black pepper, Bananas, Pine-apples and the occasional Vanilla.

 Yet each farm visit shows us something different, opens our eyes to things which we never knew before and could never hope to find even in a million google searches.  The hardiness, perseverance and resilience of these simple folk is worth admiring. While we lament about small inconveniences, these people take daunting events in their stride. One farm that we visited was located in the forests enroute to Sirsi.  About 12 kms from the tiny village of Katgaal,  the young lad Vishwanath who helps his dad to manage the land was enthusiastic about our visit.  As he took us around right to the edge of his farm which was several levels lower than where we had begun, I noticed all the pineapple plants looking battered. The ground too was much squelchier in the lower level. When I asked him about it, he pointed to a swiftly flowing beautiful stream just beyond the boundary of his farm.

Swiftly flows this stream

He explained that after every heavy rain the water in the stream rises and floods his land.  The arecanut plants are not too badly affected but the smaller ones are.  And hence he could not use the lower levels of his land for any other intercropping.  It was sad because there could have been a good source of income  from the intercropped plants.  I asked him about his education – he could only study till 4th standard as the closest school offers only that. Beyond that, he would have to either move to a relatives house or shell out almost 25 rupees a day - bus fare for the 30 km journey - something that they could ill afford. Yet his sparkling humour and happy nature shone through. I asked about the bus connectivity to his farm.  “Like Doctors medicine – 3 times a day – morning noon and night” he laughed. His knowledge about vanilla cultivation, medicinal plants and herbal pesticides was amazing.    We returned with a wealth of knowledge and a large collection  of plants, saplings and cuttings for our farm.

 The other noteworthy visit was to a farm in the fairly developed village of Sorab near Sagar (of the Jog Falls fame).  Here the father and son duo manage their farm without any outside help and have been mentioned in local Kannada newspapers as the “Ideal Organic farm”.  The 72 year old father is one of the first to convert his farm to totally Organic. He is passionate about Jeevamruth – the best fertilizer for plants and agreed to explain the procedure on condition that we actually put it into practice. “I am fed up of people coming and asking me out of curiosity and then totally forgetting what I have said” he lamented.  But I was ready with  my notebook and pen and had a most interesting biology lecture on the merits of helpful soil microbes, and  creating the perfect liquid fertilizer which allows these very microbes to multiply exponentially thus enriching the soil and eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As we discussed I was amazed to know that he had attended one of Masanobu Fukuoka’s Lecture Demonstrations and also read his book “One straw revolution” which has been translated into kannada.  As we walked around his farm, we understood the true meaning of ‘Sustainability’, how a sprightly 72 year old who has seen his land turn fallow with chemical fertilizers succeeded in turning it around into a green Organic-Certified Wonder!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Animal Tales - 3

Johnny joined our gang of dogs as the previous owner left him behind – he was a part of the ‘Package Deal  - Take  the farm and get one dog free!’.
Johnny Wafadaar
Surprisingly he took to us and our dogs immediately – none of the territorial nastiness that canines sometimes exhibit.  He was utterly untrained and did not hesitate to help himself to any food kept on the coffee table if no one was watching.  But he learnt very fast and soon became as disciplined as Misty and Phoenix. And he followed my instructions in Konkani much to the amazement of the locals with whom we had difficulty conversing in Kannada.  “The dog can follow Konkani..” they would exclaim in Kannada.

One of our friends had a very lovely Mudhol hound who had just had a litter. When the daughters saw the little pups, they just could not resist and came back with one. They named her Zuki.
 Phoenix acted like a grumpy-grampa with the playful pup and Misty ignored her initially. Both were despondent after Snoopy’s disappearance and seemed to resent the pup. But Johnny tolerated her antics and they both became fast friends. 
 Phoenix and Misty did come around eventually and accepted her and today all four of them frolic around and have fun.


When a new member joins the gang, it is always the youngest one who is the friendliest with the new member, the older ones act like the big bosses and look down their nose at the newcomer. So it was when Posha joined the group.
 Zuki and Posha would play together and tumble around while the others generally ignored them. 
  But it wasn’t long before Phoenix joined them and Posha although a bit wary of him, still enjoyed playing with him.


Favorite Places

Chewsticks and nibbles and Whiskas and kibbles

A yard full of sunshine and a field full of fun,

Vast open spaces with a view  from the top,

these are a few of my favourite spots

Warm sunshine on the window sill

Even better when someone leaves a cushion on it for me
The size seems just right - I guess I can fit into it
Oh Yes I can, and it even has a velvet lining
Oh those days! I could even fit into the cupboard.
A Yard full of sunshine


3600   World view

See what I mean?

My favorite chair

I could not get the sun rays to bend and come to my favorite chair, so I have to make myself comfy here
The Sand pile - Believe me, they used to take Misty and me to this place where there was miles of this same stuff.
Be absolutely still and it wont be long before I catch that little bird.
Clumsy dog!!!  You just don't get it do you?
Posha says if you sit still for long enough, you can actually catch that bird


A field full of fun

Visit to discover Indian blogs