This Gujarat man earns Rs 16 lakh per month from donkey milk business

Dhiren Solanki set up a donkey farm in Patan in 2023 after not getting a permanent appointment as a government teacher. He has built a successful business of donkey milk powder, which is exported at Rs 63,000 per kg to Malaysia, China, and other countries

Rashmi Pratap
New Update
Dhiren Solanki at his TDS Donkey Farm in Manund village, Patan, Gujarat

Dhiren Solanki at his TDS Donkey Farm in Manund village, Patan, Gujarat

When Dhiren A Solanki did not get any permanent appointment after clearing the Primary Teacher Certificate (PTC), Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET) and Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) exam, he decided to become an entrepreneur. 

“I was preparing for the post of government teacher. But those who cleared the exams were offered services on a contract basis for 11 months. I did not find it to be a reliable career option. So I thought of starting something of my own,” Dhiren, a resident of Manund village in Patan district of Gujarat, tells 30Stades.

Sometime in 2022, Dhiren’s father Arvindbhai Solanki saw a video from South India where a farmer was selling milk from the Halari donkey breed, which is native to the Saurashtra region in Gujarat. “I then researched the business of donkey milk and its market in India. I also read reports of the National Research Centre on Equines, Hisar, Haryana and learned everything about this dairy farming,” says Dhiren.

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The business of donkey milk

Scientific research has put the nutritional benefits of donkey milk at par with human milk. A female donkey gives between 400ml to 1.2 litres of milk daily for about six to seven months after foaling. 

Pharmaceuticals and the cosmetics industries are the biggest users of donkey milk and its powder.

In Europe, donkey dairies are growing in popularity to produce an alternative milk source for human infants. However, India has a tiny market for donkey milk, concentrated in southern states. While there are about 150 donkey farms in the south, the number is only about five to ten in western and northern India. “People would say I should have opted for cows instead of donkeys or started a café. But I knew the potential of donkey milk business,” says the dairy farmer.

donkey milk bottles
Dhiren Solanki retails milk at Rs5000 per litre on a need basis. Pic: TDS Donkey Farm

“Since there is high demand for donkey milk outside India, I felt that exports could be a good option instead of trying to create a domestic market,” he adds. In 2023, Dhiren bought 20 jennies (female donkeys) from a local trader in Patan. They included animals from the Halari, Desi, Kathiawadi and Rajasthani breeds.

“The cost per animal was Rs 35,000 (around Rs 7 lakh for 20 jennies). I created a farm structure on the vacant land behind my house and named it the TDS Donkey Farm,” the rural entrepreneur says.

Dhiren hired a caretaker to look after the animals. “There is plenty of green pasture around our village. The caretaker takes the animals for grazing in the morning. They roam around freely for three to four hours and then come back. I don’t give them any special feed,” he says.

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The composition of donkey's milk differs notably from that of cow, buffalo, goat, camel, and sheep. Donkey's milk has lower levels of fat, protein, and inorganic salts, but has higher lactose content, resembling that of human milk. Lactose, known for providing quick energy, makes donkey milk sweet and readily liked by children.

donkey farm
The farm currently has 50 jennies and 3 male donkeys. Pic: TDS Donkey Farm

Milking success

Each female donkey at Dhiren’s farm gives 600 ml to 700 ml milk per day including morning and evening. 

“The milk is heated for 2 minutes to kill bacteria and then stored at minus 4 degrees Celsius. It stays good at this temperature for three months,” says Dhiren.

Though he supplies donkey milk at Rs 5,000 per litre to some people in Gujarat and South India on a need basis, over 90 percent of the output is used to make donkey milk powder, which is exported. “I work with a local freeze-drying unit where they convert the milk into milk powder,” he says.

“Sixteen litres of donkey milk gives one kg of milk powder. We sell the powder at Rs 63,000 per kg to exporters who further sell it to pharma and cosmetics companies,” Dhiren says.

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TDS milk powder is sold in Malaysia, China and Gulf countries. Seeing the success of the business, Dhiren has increased the number of jennies to 50 and there are also three male donkeys. “The monthly output is around 500 litres of milk, resulting in about 25 to 30 kg of donkey milk powder,” he says.

milking donkey
TDS Donkey Farm's milk powder sells at Rs 63,000 per kg and is exported. Pic: TDS Donkey Farm/30Stades

At an average rate of Rs63,000 per kg, the monthly revenue from 25kg of milk powder is Rs 15.75 lakh. “I have now employed three caretakers and a manager to work with me and my father,” says the dairy entrepreneur.  

“In about three months, I plan to increase the number of animals to 100. We are also going to start our freeze-drying unit to make the donkey milk powder on our own. This will cut processing costs in the long run and make the business self-reliant,” he says.

As per the 20th Livestock Census, the total population of donkeys in the country was 1.2 lakh in 2019, a decline of 61.23 percent over the previous Census. Their population is declining as machines have replaced donkeys in most areas of their utility and breeders are losing interest in their growth. If the donkey milk business takes off in other areas as well, it will stem the decline in their population as well.

(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial, and socio-economic reporting)

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