Indigenous Knowledge of Livestock Breeding and Management

By Kanna K. Siripurapu, Sabyasachi Das on Aug. 13, 2019

Cow and Calf of Poda Thurpu Cattle with the breeder (Pic by Megavardhan Reddy)


Indigenous livestock breeds represent the collective knowledge and heritage of the communities they had been associated with, and may not thrive separately from the indigenous socio-cultural-economic-ecological production systems. Such breeds will survive only when indigenous socio-cultural, economic, ecological and knowledge systems in which they had been embedded also survives. Indigenous knowledge of livestock breeding is often “tacit” and not necessarily expressed in the conventional form, such as documentation in writing/recording, etc. Indigenous livestock breeding systems rely mostly on qualitative traits (ability to walk long distances over difficult terrains, resistance to diseases, fend off-springs and ward-off predators and animals response and obedience to instructions of the master) than pure quantitative qualities (LPPS and Köhler-Rollefson, 2005). Much of the indigenous knowledge of livestock breeding had been orally transferred through generations, often through the means of indigenous traditions, culture, and practice. Henceforth, the survival of such indigenous socio-cultural systems and people with such knowledge is quintessential for both improvement and long-term conservation of indigenous livestock breeds and germplasm.

The significance of indigenous knowledge had been recognized and applauded by also the modern science and policies at both the national and international level. For instance, the Article 8 (i) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recognizes the importance of indigenous knowledge and the Biological Diversity Act of 2002, of India, provides the local communities, the opportunity to conserve the biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and gives direct access to fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of such biological diversity and associated traditional knowledge(TK). Section (36) of the Act requires the Central Government to promote conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity through in situ conservation and minimize the adverse effects on biological diversity.


Study Area

Amrabad mandal had been designated as the study area of the present study and it is located in Nagarkurnool district the eastern Indian state of Telangana. The study area is located at 16.3833°N 78.8333°E, at an elevation of 576 m, in the Deccan plateau region of India. The topography of the area is highly undulating and hilly, covered in forests and tall grasses. It has an area of 727 sq. miles, comprising 14 villages and a total population of 45,589, (Census, 2011).

Materials and Methods

A rapid survey and reconnaissance study (Holtzman, J.S., 1986) was conducted during the year 2016 – 17, for systemic characterization of the indigenous Poda Thurpu Cattle population of Telangana state. A total of 101 indigenous breeders, belonging predominantly to the Golla and Lambada (also known as Banjara) have been identified from four Mandals of Nagarkurnool District of Telangana. A total of 45 indigenous breeders belonging to the Golla and Lambada communities have been selected as resource persons for data collection. Criterion sampling, a variant of the purposeful sampling technique (Creswell, 2013) has been adopted for the selection of the resource persons. Prior oral consent of the resource persons has been taken for collection of primary data.

Women of the Lambada Community (Pic by Nemani Chandrasekhar)

Data pertaining to indigenous breeding and management practices of the Poda Thurpu cattle had been collected from. Data were collected through personal interviews and focus group discussions administering a semi-structured questionnaire. The data was predominantly qualitative in nature had been analyzed using qualitative data analysis tools. Data were analyzed to arrive at data saturation for ‘shared beliefs’ (i.e. mentioned by two or more participant/sample village in each category), (Francis et al. 2010). Inductive coding method (Leech & Onwuegbuzie, 2007) was adopted to initiate the coding process. Codes necessary for breaking the data into chunks (in this case, the head, gait, hair whorls, the tail of the cattle, etc) have emerged naturally from the data itself (Leech & Onwuegbuzie, 2007; Fereday, Muir-Cochrane, 2006).

Indigenous Knowledge of Breeding and Management of the Poda Thurpu Cattle

Poda Thurpu, an indigenous cattle population, of the draught cattle group is reared by the agro-pastoral Lambadi and Golla communities of the Telangana state of the Deccan Plateau region of India. The population had been maintained almost exclusively under agro-pastoral systems and represents a classic case of community-based improvement and conservation of the indigenous livestock germplasm. The indigenous breeders strictly resist artificial insemination and cross-breeding of the population with the exotic and other breeds. They follow selective breeding for maintaining high genetic purity, preferred physical features such as desired coat colour, orientation of horns, confirmation, and size of the cattle, etc.

Eco-system of the Poda Thurpu cattle (Pic by Nemani Chandrasekhar)

Pedigree is patrilineal and calves are identified after their fathers in Lambadas and mostly matrilineal among the cattle breeders of the Golla community. Although any healthy male calf could potentially become a draught cattle when adult, but the same cannot be said about the breeding bull. Usually, the local breeders do not let the male calves born into their own herd to stay in the herd. The male calves are sold either for draught cattle or breeding bulls (Poti kode). Male calves which could potentially grow into breeding bulls are carefully selected using the age-old indigenous knowledge.  The selected male calves (future breeding bulls) are usually sold to other herders or exchanged but seldom kept in the same herd. The price of calf/breeding bull (2-year-old) could be anywhere between INR 90k – 1 lakh.

Bullock of the Poda Thurpu Cattle (Pic by Nemani Chandrasekhar)

The selection of breeding bull is a very meticulous and lengthy process, which may last up to two years. Either for a calf or an adult breeding bull, indigenous breeders use their own knowledge and characteristics of selection. For instance, the number and position of hair whorls are examined. The calf/adult selected for breeding should have a single hair whorl on the forehead and one on the back, right behind the hump. There should not be two hair whorls together and there should not be any hair whorls over the tailbone. The gait is also observed carefully, the strides should be composed and firm. The stride should resemble a trot, lifting the feet off the ground and stepping firmly back, as if rocks would be crushed under the feet. There should not be any staggering or dragging of feet. The knees/limbs should not touch each other while walking. Horns should be strong, curved and pointed forward and the forehead should be convex, with a deep furrow in the center. There should be speckles/spots on the cheeks and shoulders. The tail should be lean and short, with the tip ending above knees. The short and lean tail represents activeness and agility.

Traditionally breeders find it a bit unacceptable to let animals’ in-breed, as they consider it morally wrong because it is equivalent to incest. Therefore, calves selected for breeding are usually sold or exchanged with other breeders and seldom kept in the same herd in which they were born. This traditional practice prevents inbreeding and helps to maintain healthy genes.  The breeding bulls are kept with the herd for 10 years and not slaughtered even after it pasts its prime and grow old. Cattle (cows/bulls/oxen) are not slaughtered when they grow and allowed to die a natural death. In addition to impregnating cows, the breeding bull plays a major role in maintaining and protecting the herd. Breeding bulls usually lead the herd, warns/alerts and protects the herd from predators and other dangers. Cattle breeding is the domain of men among the indigenous communities (Golla and Lamabada) and women do not interfere inbreeding, however, they play a significant role in nurturing the young, old and sick cattle. Women, in general, have a better sense of cattle health and wellbeing than their men counterparts.

Hard Hooves – one of the unique features of Poda Thurpu Cattle (Pic by Nemani Chandrasekhar)

Indigenous Criteria For Selection of Breeding Bull of Poda Thurpu Cattle

1 Head Large and prominent.
2 Forehead Convex with a deep furrow in the center.
3 Hair whorls Should have single hair whorl on the forehead and one on the back, right behind the hump. There should not be two hair whorls together and there should not be any hair whorls over the tailbone.
4 Hooves Should be hard, thick, large, and firmly together, should not be split wide, and should not be loose.
5 Tail Should be lean and end above the knees – symbol of agility.
6 Gait Strides should be composed and firm. The stride should resemble a trot, lifting the feet off the ground and stepping firmly back, as if rocks would be crushed under the feet. There should not be any staggering or dragging of feet.
7 Legs Should be thick and stout, and knees should not touch each other.
8 Horns Should be strong, curved and pointed forward.
9 Speckles

Breeding Bull of Poda Thurpu Cattle with the Breeder (Pic by Nemani Chandrasekhar)


It was obvious from the study that indigenous knowledge of livestock breeding of the Golla and Lambada communities is “tacit” and does not necessarily exist in written or scientifically documented from. Certain preferences of the breeders like the number and position of hair whorls on the animal and their relevance to health and desired qualities of the animal have to be investigated more scientifically. The indigenous traditional knowledge of livestock breeding should be documented, preserved and included in the conventional education curriculum of veterinary and animal sciences and animal breeding.


Census, 2011. Amrabad Mandal – Mahbubnagar. Population Census 2011. Govt. of India. Accessed online:

Cresswell, J. W., Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design, Choosing Among Five approaches. CA: Sage, 2013.

Francis, J., J., Johnston, M., Robertson, C., Glidewell, L., Entwistle, V., Eccles, M. P., and Grimshaw, J. M. 2010. What is an adequate sample size? Operationalising data saturation for theory-based interview studies, Psychology & Health, 25:10, 1229-1245, DOI: 10.1080/08870440903194015

Fereday, J., and Muir-Cochrane, M. 2006. Demonstrating Rigor Using Thematic Analysis: A Hybrid Approach of Inductive and Deductive Coding and Theme Development. International Journal of Qualitative Methods 5 (1).

Holtzman, J.S., 1986. Rapid Reconnaissance Guidelines for Agricultural Marketing and Food System Research in Developing CountriesFood Security International Development Working Papers 54741, Michigan State University, Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.

Leech, N. L. and Onwuegbuzie, A. J., 2007. An Array of Qualitative Data Analysis Tools: A Call for Data Analysis Triangulation. School Psychology Quarterly. Vol. 22, No. 4, 557–584.

LPPS (Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan) and I. Köhler-Rollefson, Indigenous Breeds, Local Communities, Documenting Animal Breeds and Breeding from a Community Perspective. LokhitPashu-PalakSansthan (LPPS) P.O. Box 1, Sadri 306702, District Pali, Rajasthan, India, 2005. ISBN No. 81-901624-1-1.

First published by Revitalising Rainfed Agriculture on 13 Aug. 2019

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