Shraddha Dhawan was around 11 years old when she began helping her father milk buffaloes and supplying the milk to nearby dairies. Her father Satyavan was a buffalo trader and sold milk whenever he had surplus animals.
Since he was differently-abled, Shraddha was involved in the business from a young age. She would accompany her father when he went to buy and sell buffaloes, asking him all about the trade.
“I would ask a lot of questions related to the business. My father would share his tips. I also learned the code language used in buffalo trade negotiations. So from milking buffaloes to supplying milk and bargaining with traders, I learned everything by the time I was 13-14 years old,” says Shraddha.
That curious and hard-working girl is now 24 and has turned her father’s small buffalo trading business into a Rs 1-crore dairy and vermicompost enterprise.
She has a two-storied buffalo shed with 80 buffaloes and her Shraddha Farm is an inspiration for dairy farmers. A native of Nighoj village in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, Shraddha’s family lived a comfortable life in their small home. “My father would earn about Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 per month depending on the season,” she says.
However, the number of buffaloes was always one or two, just about enough for trading because the family could not take up the milk delivery business due to her father’s condition. And her brother was too young to help at that time.
From buffalo trading to dairy farming
“We did not have a buffalo shed for many years. They were kept around a tree near my house. When I grew up a little and started supplying milk to dairies, the family income increased and we could retain buffaloes for milking instead of selling them,” she says.
Consistent sale of milk improved the family’s finances and they began to buy more buffaloes for rearing them. By 2014, the number of buffaloes had gone up to 22. “That’s when we constructed a small shed for them,” she says.
With no employees to help her, Shraddha would wake up at around 4 in the morning, milk the buffaloes, and then get ready for school. She learned to ride a bike and drive a car and tempo at an early age.
“I used to supply milk to dairies on my bike on the way to my school,” says Shraddha,” who completed her MSc in Physics in 2022.
“I would come home from college and then do the rest of the work at the shed. For the first four to five years, I did not attend any weddings or parties because I had no time,” says the rural woman entrepreneur. Over time, they began to hire other people for work.
By 2016, Shraddha Farm had 45 buffaloes and the family constructed the two-storied shed to house them.
Cutting costs to grow profits
Shraddha did not take any loans to grow her father’s trade business into a dairy farm.
“I did not want to get trapped in the interest payments cycle which would eat into my profits. Instead, I chose to grow the business by investing the profits in buying more cattle,” says the agri entrepreneur.
By 2017, she had about 30 buffaloes. “At that time, we would earn about Rs3 lakh by selling milk and trading buffaloes. However, after meeting the expenses, there was hardly any profit left. I had no idea how to cut down expenses to increase profits,” she says.
That’s when she decided to focus on improving the quality of milk. “The market price of milk depends on its fat content. If the buffalo milk fat is less than 6 percent, it is sold at the price of cow’s milk which is way lower than the buffalo milk’s price,” she says.
She began feeding the buffaloes with cottonseed meal, corn and corn powder, and methi grass to increase the level of fat in the milk.
The results were not achieved overnight and with time, she started getting higher rates for the milk. “We need to be consistent with our strategies. That’s the only way to get good results in dairy farming or in any other field,” she says.
To cut costs, she began to buy fodder when it was available at the lowest price and would stock it for the future. Similarly, even for buying buffaloes, she began to keep track of traders who were selling at lower costs due to emergencies or other issues. “So I could save more money to grow my dairy business,” she says.
Currently, her dairy produces about 350 litres of milk daily. She supplies about 100 litres to her uncle’s factory and the rest is sent to a company’s milk collection centre.
Vermicompost and biogas plant
About three years ago, Shraddha forayed into another business built around her dairy farm. The dairy farmer also began to prepare vermicompost -- manure made using earthworms that decompose organic matter.
She has set up 32 beds to produce vermicompost from the buffalo dung from her shed.
“We sell around 30,000 kg of vermicompost per month in wholesale to farmers across Maharashtra. It is priced at Rs 8 per kg,” says Shraddha.
The vermicompost is sold under the name of CS Agro Organics, which is managed by her husband Chaitanya Dhormale. She got married last year and is all praise for her in-laws for supporting her.
She has also set up a biogas plant to cut electricity costs and ensure on-demand availability of power. The slurry (urine and wastewater from the buffalo shed) is collected and supplied to the biogas plant to generate eco-friendly fuel. The biogas from the outlet pipe is collected and stored in elastic balloons. It is then converted into electricity. The farm’s biogas plant has two digesters of 30,000 litres each.
“All the electrical equipment in the farm is run using the electricity generated through biogas. The electricity supply in the village is irregular. Now, we are not dependent on that supply anymore and work as per our own schedule. This also saves electricity bill, which was around Rs10,000 per month earlier,” she says.
Through the biogas plant and vermicomposting, Shraddha has turned her dairy into a zero-waste business.
She also runs offline and online training programmes for small dairy farmers who want to grow their businesses. The fee for two-day training is Rs 3499.
“We train the farmers about the buffalo trading business, dairy entrepreneurship, feeding buffalo for high-fat milk, making vermicompost, biogas, and electricity,” says Shraddha.
Dairy, vermicompost, and training businesses generated Rs1 crore in revenues last fiscal.
“Before we started the vermicompost and training ventures, our annual revenue was around Rs 60-70 lakh. In the last fiscal (FY23) our revenue was around Rs 1 crore,” says Shraddha, who currently employs 22 people.
While milk contributes about 60 percent to the revenues, the rest is from vermicompost and training. “Although milk is the biggest contributor, it gives lower profit compared to vermicompost. I keep the accounts of different businesses separately to get better clarity about their performance,” added Shraddha.
Work at Shraddha Farm starts at 3:30 in the morning. “Our workers milk the buffaloes, bathe them, and clean the shed. This work is done by 7 am. In the evening, the same work is done between 3:30 pm and 7 pm,” she says.
Shraddha has not faced any discrimination at home or in her village for her work or for driving vehicles. In fact, people admire her hard work and enterprising spirit. “My father never discriminates against me and my younger brother. My relatives and villagers also support my work,” she says. Now she wants to grow her business and also make her village a hub for buffalo trading.
(Bilal Khan is a Mumbai-based independent journalist. He covers grassroot issues, the LGBTQ community and loves to write positive and inspiring stories.)