From teaching the German language to running a dairy farm is a big leap. But that is the leap of faith that Milan Sharma took when she converted her family’s four-cow farm into an organic dairy business in 2017.
For someone who was even scared to go near cows, Milan has come a long way as she expertly handles all the 164 bovines each of whom she has named herself, in her 15-acre Revnar dairy farm in Faridabad, Haryana.
“I used to be afraid of cows. I never went near them. But after I took over the dairy, I realised what loving creatures they are. They recognise me and whenever I go to the dairy, they surround me and rub their necks against my body lovingly,” she laughs.
Milan owns 156 Sahiwal and Rathi breed cows with daily milk production of 200 litres. She supplies milk as well as dairy products to customers in Faridabad and Noida besides selling online.
Her Revnar Farm has cows of only desi or indigenous breeds like Sahiwal, Gir, Tharparkar, and Rath, which offer milk with the highest nutritional content.
“We need to preserve our indigenous cows as the quality of their milk is best for human consumption,” says the 52-year-old.
Learning the ropes
The start was, however, not easy. Milan has a master’s degree in biochemistry. But after marriage, she devoted her time to her family. After her sons started going to school, she used her free time to learn German and took up a job as a German language teacher in a school. She also worked with the German government on an educational project under the HRD ministry.
Her family owned a resort in Faridabad where they also had a cowshed with four desi cows. After Milan’s father-in-law passed away in 2017, her husband, Chetan, an engineer, did not want to sell the cows.
“We bought two more Sahiwal cows and slowly the number rose to 30 by March 2018. They were looked after by the staff at the resort. Then in March and April 2018, five calves died. That came as a jolt. And then I thought either we should do this properly or not at all,” says Milan.
She decided to quit her job and upgrade her knowledge of dairy farming. She took two courses on commercial dairy farming and value addition to milk at the National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal.
Milan is all praise for the government institutes and the staff. She says they have been extremely cooperative and helpful whenever she has needed their assistance.
“Labour we get is untrained on many aspects of farm work. They do not have a scientific approach. For instance, they might not take care of hygiene and that could pass on some diseases from one animal to the other,” she says
She underlines the need for institutions to train agriculture and dairy farm labour where certification courses on good practices can be offered. “This will be a great help to dairy farm owners as well as the labourers. Once they are trained, they will get better wages and stable employment,” she says.
Processing organic milk for value addition
Initially, the family used the milk for its own consumption. But when the number of cows increased to 10 and then 30 and more, they would give the excess milk to neighbours, some of whom would pay.
As the milk production increased, Milan started her farm Revnar in 2017 and took over operations full-time from August 2018. Milan started selling the milk and also started making other products such as paneer (cottage cheese), ghee, curd and buttermilk.
“We supply the milk in glass bottles through our own delivery channels,” she says.
Milan has set up a small processing unit for the milk. About 50 litres of milk is processed and made into dairy products. The rest is supplied to customers.
The farm has bulk milk coolers, refrigerators, an oil expeller, a rice mill, atta chakki and wooden churners for buttermilk. While milk is not supplied online, other products are available on Revnar’s Facebook page and website.
Of the 15 acres, the dairy and processing units are located on three acres. The remaining 12 acres are used for growing fodder and medicinal plants and heritage trees such as Neem, Tahli, Kadam, Papaya, Giloyi, Amla, Guava, Bel Patra, lemon, tamarind, and Jamun. Milan adds leaves of these trees to cow urine to prepare Jeevamrit which is sprayed on crops. She also sprays buttermilk in the fields instead of pesticides to protect the crops.
Using traditional wisdom
Milan is a firm believer that most illnesses in animals can be cured by ayurvedic medicines and antibiotics should be avoided. She has studied ethnoveterinary medicine at NDRI and National Dairy Development Board.
“I’ve tried it over the past eight months and I’ve seen that it works. In the past too, people cured animals using these herbs and medicinal plants. But now we have become lazy and take the easier route by giving antibiotics which is harmful to the animal as well as the consumer,” she says.
She is also teaching other dairy farmers to adopt Ayurveda treatments for their bovines. “Antibiotics eventually find their way into the milk which we drink. I tell farmers to use Ayurveda instead. It is a bit laborious but safer for the animals and humans and saves money,” she says.
Milan says plants like turmeric, ginger, aloe vera, neem, bel, moringa and jamun are mostly used in treatments and are easily available on farms.
Along with dairy farming, Milan and her family are also doing natural farming. “We could not sustain only with dairy farming and natural farming was a natural extension of dairy farming. We have 21 acres of land in Mathura where my husband’s uncles and brothers live. We have heaps of cow dung and urine which I thought could be used to make organic pesticides and jeevamrit fertiliser for the crops. So, we started natural farming,” she says.
Given her long experience, Milan is passing on her knowledge to scores of farmers through training sessions and talks at various institutes such as NDRI, the animal husbandry department of Haryana and CIRC, Meerut. The institutes also arrange visits of farmers and veterinary surgeons to her farm to learn from her practices.
She was also felicitated by NDRI as a progressive farmer-entrepreneur.
Now Milan plans to set up a community biogas plant in her village with help from the state government. The project will provide free gas to villagers. “The farmers will learn proper utilization of cow dung. And they can use the waste of the biogas plant as organic manure in the fields, cutting the use on fertilisers,” she says.
Milan admits that running a farm is hard work. “I work 24x7. But it’s been a wonderful, learning process, I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says. I tell people, “Associate with a family farmer and reduce your dependence on the family doctor.”
(Urvashi Dev Rawal is a Jaipur-based journalist specialising in development, gender, and political reporting)