Cows, Calves, Bulls and Bullocks

According to Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations’ International Farm Comparison Network (FAO IFCN) the cattle population in India is the highest in the world. Classified as bovine, it comprises of cows, bulls and buffaloes.


Country Million Bovine
India 281.7
Brazil 187.1
China 139.7


EU-27  87.7
Argentina 51.1
Australia 29.2
Mexico 25.5
Russia 18.4
South Africa 14.2
Canada  13.9
Others 49.8

Cow and Buffalo Populations in India (2012)

The following bovine population figures from the 19th Livestock Census 2012 show the percentages of cows and buffaloes state-wise.

State Cow % Buffalo %
West Bengal 96.51 3.49
Assam 95.92 4.08
Odisha 94.12 5.88


Tamil Nadu 91.87 8.13
Jharkhand 88.04 11.96
Chhattisgarh 87.59 12.41
Jammu & Kashmir 79.43 20.57
Himachal Pradesh 75.04 24.96
Maharashtra 73.46 26.54
Karnataka 73.28 26.72
Madhya Pradesh 70.54 29.46
Uttarakhand  67.01 32.99
Bihar 61.78 38.22
Rajasthan 50.66 49.34
Gujarat 49.01 50.99
Andhra Pradesh 47.46 52.54
Uttar Pradesh 38.97 61.03
Punjab 32.00 68.00
Haryana 22.91 77.09

20th Livestock Census of 2019

According to the 20th Livestock Census of 2019 the total bovine population (cattle, buffalo, Drung ox and yak) increased 1.3% to 303.8 million over the previous census of 2012.

Domesticated breed of Ox, genus Bos

Cow: a female.
Calf: a young male or female.
Bull: an uncastrated male.
Bullock: a castrated male.
Cow Progeny: includes all the above.

Slaughter Prohibited

After Maharashtra extended the ban on slaughter of cows and calves to bulls and bullocks in 2015, various adverse comments were heard from different sections; and unfortunately from animal activists too.

First, let it be known that the majority of those who had so vehemently objected were unfortunately unaware that a similar ban existed in almost the whole of India.

Till then, in addition to Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkand, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakand, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir have totally banned the slaughter of cow and its progeny.

Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Goa, Odisha and Tamil Nadu have banned cow slaughter too, but permit bulls and bullocks to be killed if they are certified as “fit for slaughter”.

However, no ban exists in the north-eastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, as also in Sikkim and West Bengal. Kerala falls in this category albeit cow progeny under 10 years can not be killed in the state.

In January 2017 the Supreme Court refused to hear a PIL seeking a total ban in India on slaughter of cattle or framing a uniform policy to protect and preserve them from slaughtering and smuggling, saying it can not direct the states to frame specific law banning cattle slaughter.

However in March 2017, Gujarat amended its law: for cow slaughter the jail term was raised to 14 years; for illegal ferrying of cows for slaughter, selling, stocking or exhibition of cow beef it was raised up to 10 years, with a minimum of 7 years; and the monetary penalty was increased up to Rs 5 lakh but not less than Rs 1 lakh.

From 1 May 2017 Madhya Pradesh banned plastic and polythene carry bags because they were leading death of cows and polluting the environment. No doubt, no type of plastic should be simply thrown away or even used as a “plate” to feed cattle (or stray dogs and cats). Surgeries need to be frequently performed upon animals for the removal of indigestible plastics from their intestines. Autopsies on cattle have revealed as much as 55 kgs of plastics in their stomachs.

It would not be out of context to mention that BWC promotes reverence for all life. The wrong of killing a cow can not be set right or justified by another grave wrong, that of killing a man who consumes beef. (It is not known how many people were killed by cow vigilantes in 2013, but at least 5 persons in 2014, 20 in 2015, 25 in 2016, 29 in 2017 and 8 in 2018.) In 2019 to crack down on rising cow vigilantism the Madhya Pradesh state government proposed to amend the the MP Gauvansh Vadh Pratishedh Adhiniyam, 2004, to include a jail term of 6 months to 3 years and a fine of Rs 25,000/- to Rs 50,000/- for those who engage in violence against anyone; and the punishment would increase to minimum 1 year and maximum 5 years if a mob is involved in cow vigilantism and in case of repeat offenders the jail term would double. However, in July 2019 the bill was referred to a select committee to address the concerns raised in the Assembly.

In 2021 the CM of Madhya Pradesh ordered a tax plan for cow welfare in the state: a cow cess (likely on liquor and vehicle registration) would be levied to mop up funds for cow fodder, construction of 2,200 gaushalas, development of model cow sanctuary and cow tourism. Products made from cow dung and urine like cow phenyl would be promoted.

If we think deeply, the beef-eater is no different to a cricketer because cricket balls are made of cow hide. Let us keep in mind that there are many peaceful and non-violent ways in which to fight for and achieve our goal of no animal slaughter.

Organising beef eating festivals in defiance at colleges and elsewhere has attracted strong objections and has led to violence in various parts of the country. The June 2019 beef festival that was called off citing safety of attendees first changed its name from Kolkata Beef Festival to Kolkata Beep Festival.

It has been pointed out that vigilantism is on the rise signalling two things: abdication by the state of its responsibilities and the take over of the cow protection movement by goons who sense an opportunity to make money by way of extortion. However, some gau raksha dals are no doubt doing genuine work often risking their lives to assist law enforcing agencies apprehend trucks containing cattle headed for illegal slaughter, and they are tirelessly and sincerely running gaushalas taking care of the rescued cattle.

Meanwhile, in March 2017 BJP MP Subramanian Swamy introduced in Rajya Sabha a private member’s bill, The Cow Protection Bill, 2017. The bill seeks “to create an authority to ensure stabilisation of population of cows and to suggest such measures to comply with Article 37 and 48 of the Constitution, to ban the slaughter of cow and to provide deterrent punishment including death penalty for slaughter of cow and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

However, since then a serious matter has been revealed by the Baba Gau Hira Hospital in Jagraon, Punjab: in July 2017 it was reported that farmers were getting rid of their unproductive cattle by deliberately subjecting them to injuries (wounds caused by acid, swords, burning) and calling institutions that rescue and treat them to take them away.

Illegal slaughter houses were eliminated in Uttar Pradesh but by 2019 only 30,000 animals were being taken care of in gaushalas so stray cattle began destroying crops. Therefore in 2018-19 Rs 240 crore was allocated for building gaushalas in rural areas and Rs 200 crore for gaushalas in cities. Meanwhile, people have had to protect their crops against destruction by stray cattle by doing chowkidari in the night.

The Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Ordinance 2020 came into effect in January 2020. One of its provisions stated that people who “act in good faith” to prevent cow slaughter would be legally protected, however, since there were concerns that this would encourage vigilantism the government declared changes would be made if it led to vigilantism and hooliganism. However, when in 2023 the Congress government came to power in Karnataka state, they were planning to amend the law because “if buffaloes can be slaughtered, why not cows?”

In September 2021 the Allahabad High Court recommended that a bill should be brought in the Parliament to include protection of the cow within the scope of fundamental rights under Part III of the Constitution. The Court stated “The work of cow protection is not only of one religious sect, but the cow is a part of the culture of India and the work of saving the culture is of every citizen living in the country irrespective of religion.” In addition the Court expressed disappointment over the state of gaushalas across India. Some of the salient points of the order:
• Fundamental right is not only the prerogative of beef eaters, rather, those who worship the cow and are financially dependent on cows also have the right to lead a meaningful life.
• The right to life is above the right to kill and the right to eat beef can never be considered a fundamental right.
• The cow is useful even when she is old and sick, and her dung and urine are very useful for agriculture, making of medicines, and most of all, the one who is worshiped as a mother, even if she gets old or sick, no one can be given the right to kill her.

In January 2022 the Delhi High Court sought the Centre’s response by March 15, 2022, on a PIL seeking “total prohibition” on slaughter of old bulls and buffaloes because even after becoming old they can assist in agriculture work or breeding, moreover continue to provide dung and urine that can either be used by farmers as manure and fertiliser, or can be sold. The plea also stated that prohibition on slaughter should not be only for female, but also for male.

The National Statistical Office for 2020-21 declared that the Gross Value Output (GVO) of livestock dung was more than the total value of fodder the livestock consume. The valuation of dung keeps rising due to its increasing use as bio-gas and bio-fertilisers. Except for FY17 and FY18, the output value of livestock dung has consistently grown. Growth in the value of dung was led by Tamil Nadu at 64.6%, followed by Jharkhand at 38.01%, Bihar at 28.5%, and West Bengal at 19%. However, in value terms, Rajasthan continues to be at the top in dung production with a real GVO of Rs 10.126 crore in FY21, followed by Uttar Pradesh at Rs 1.145.19 crore and Maharashtra at Rs 3,022 crore.

Earlier the Khadi and Village Industries Commission had launched Khadi Prakritik paint, the main ingredient of which was cow dung. The Chhattisgarh state government had also launched the Godhan Nyay Yojana under which dung was sourced from farmers.

Damned if we Do, Damned if we Don’t!

Below are responses to some of the comments made following the President of India’s assent to The Maharashtra State Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 1995 (click here to read updated Act):

The ban is religious and political.

To animal activists the reason for imposing a ban to save any species should not matter in the least. Our focus should be on the fact that thousands of lives will not end in abattoirs. So let’s praise the ban, celebrate life and stop mourning slaughter. And, stop bashing Hindutva and seriously think about the ill effects of beef consumption on human health, not forgetting the extensive environmental damage caused by meat production in general and beef in particular, upon our environment.

What will happen to the animals that are not killed?
Nothing worse than slaughter – they will live and not die of starvation. If abandoned or confiscated, they will be kept in gaushalas. Their dung and urine will be sold to offset as much of their upkeep as possible. Dung is important because 10,000 cattle can produce enough to set up a 1MW power plant. (Given the number of cattle in India, we could obtain 28GW of power from dung.) Some states like Haryana have begun issuing unique indentification numbers to its indigenous cattle.

The ban will result in unchecked cruelty to cows and their progeny. As it is they are left free to roam the streets and eat garbage.

Killing in itself is cruelty and happens in every slaughter house. It can only get better, not worse, for the animals. Owners of stray cows are breaking laws and the authorities have hardly bothered to take them to task – this is irrelevant to the ban. (Surprisingly 76 stray cattle in the tourist belt of Calangute and Candolim in Goa that became non-veg after eating leftover hotel food had to be treated under a government initiative in 2019 to turn veg again at a gaushala.)

Farmers will not be able to sell cows that have stopped giving milk, and bulls that can no longer work in the fields.

This statement has not originated from farmers, but from middlemen who purchase cattle without declaring it is headed for the slaughter house. Farmers have never knowingly sold their aging cows and bulls to be butchered. Many are known to keep them till they die naturally since they consider them family members.

Illegal slaughter and smuggling out of the state will occur.

Just because the law may not be upheld, it does not mean it should not have been passed – that too after a long nineteen-year wait. Implementation, rather non-implementation of the law where bans exist, is the bottom line.

The media often equates cow-killing and beef-eating with minority rights, so it must be so?
The media is mischievous. Let us not be carried away into believing that allowing cow slaughter and beef consumption is a test of our nation’s secularism. Article 48 (Directive Principles of State Policy) exhorts the state to take steps to prevent cow slaughter and no where is a fundamental right to eat beef stated. Moreover, the Supreme Court has in 1994 stated that sacrificing cows for Bakri-Id is not a religious necessity. If slaughter is disallowed for a holy festival, it can never been condoned at other times in states where it is prohibited.

Beef will be unavailable. The ban is a violation on people’s right to eat it.

Of course it will be unavailable, that’s the aim: no slaughter, no beef. So what that beef of the cow progeny is unavailable? Carabeef obtained from slaughter of water buffalo has not been banned although a self-imposed ban on slaughter of buffaloes by butchers in some cities like Mumbai occurred – good from our point of view. In any case, as supporters of animal rights, we should be against the eating of every creature. With regard to people’s rights, do a small section of humans have the right to eat beef while a large section of humans starve because of them doing so? What about the fundamental right to food for all? Over 7 kgs cattle-feed and over 1,600 litres of water are required to produce just 1 kg beef. If there was no meat production, the produce from the land would suffice for all humans.

Everyone is free to eat what they want – this is a secular country and how can the fringe dictate dietary preferences?

Such statements betray a complete lack of understanding of legislative and judicial processes that are the lynchpin of democracy. They betray a complete lack of sensitivity towards the emotions of a vast but silent majority of Indians who are strongly rooted to their religious beliefs. Various states keeping in mind the wishes of their people have by legislative majority passed laws to protect cows and their progeny. In some North Eastern states the majority did not want such a law and it has not been passed. That’s the essence of democracy. Where it has been passed it needs to be upheld without question.

WHAT you eat is your personal choice.
WHOM you eat can not be your personal choice.
This is just so because it is an animal that you are eating.

More buffaloes will be killed.
The domestic consumption of buffalo meat/veal may increase, but its export will lessen, resulting in no difference in the numbers killed. All unproductive and spent buffaloes (male calves included) of the dairy industry are disposed off via slaughter.

[As expected, a year after cow slaughter was banned in Maharashtra the state witnessed the highest number of buffaloes killed in nine years. 1,90,486 buffaloes or 26,549.56 metric tonnes of buffalo meat was produced for export and domestic consumption for quarter ending December 2015. However, buffalo meat/carabeef export from India was down from 14.76 lakh tonnes in 2014-15 valued at $4,781.16 million to 13.14 lakh tonnes valued at $4,068.64 in 2015-16.]

Buffaloes should have been included.

If tigers are saved, do lions need to be also saved just because they are both big cats? No doubt, it would be good if when tigers are helped, lions were also helped, but it doesn’t make saving tigers a bad move worth criticism, does it? The same logic should apply to cows and buffaloes. Moreover, all those who want to help buffaloes should first give up consuming milk because the dairy industry is the backbone of the meat industry.

Possession of beef should not have been included as an offence.

If a law is to be implemented all loopholes must be effectively plugged and this is but one of them which will stop illegal slaughter from taking place. (If Government was not serious in this matter, the Forensic Science Laboratory, Kalina, Mumbai, would not have obtained kits that determine the exact origin of meat samples – not only that of cow, bullock and buffalo, but also wildlife.) Again, such objections have originated from those in the trade who were planning illegal slaughter, sale or even consumption. In fact, possession of fresh and raw calf leather could have also been made an offence.
In November 2023 the Allahabad High Court pointed out that in the entire Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act 1955, or Rules there exists no provision barring transportation of beef, the restriction under the Act is only in respect of transportation of cows, bulls and bullocks.

The pharmaceutical industry will suffer because gelatine, derived from cattle bones, is used to manufacture capsules. Similarly, the leather industry will suffer.

Gelatine capsules and other animal ingredients utilised by the pharmaceutical industry can be substituted with easily available capsules and other substances of plant origin. Every one knows veg is healthy, and non-veg is not. If it is made mandatory to mark medicines with the green and brown symbols, manufacturers would immediately shift to using plant derived ingredients. Such diverse objections to the ban and tightening of laws to save lives clearly indicates that a lot of illegal killing – young and healthy cattle for meat and leather – was taking place and now the offenders are scared they’ll get caught and thrown in prison. Despite receiving pleas against the law from every angle possible, the government must not relent.

People will economically suffer.

Trade in narcotics and ammunition, or killing animals and selling their carcasses have never been considered noble professions although they generate lots of money. Alternative work can always be found. In the long run, no one will suffer.

Since desi cows are sacred to Hindus and the ban is on cow and its progeny, there should not be objections to slaughtering progeny of Jersey and other cows of foreign origin.
When all pleas to lift the ban on cow and its progeny failed, and beef traders realised there was no chance whatsoever of the ban on slaughter being lifted, in desperation they asked for this ridiculous “solution”. If this was voiced in relation to humans it would positively be considered racial so why not for this?

Banning cow slaughter will add to greenhouse emissions.
Cows, especially desi ones, that graze on natural grass roaming free do not emit methane. (Despite this fact, international research has been going on to breed cows by altering gut microbes so that they emit less methane.)

Step by Step Solution

Beneficial and practical solutions can easily be implemented – in fact, must be implemented fast. Every year at least 1 crore uneconomical cattle that is otherwise slaughtered (officially or unofficially) in India would require to be rehabilitated.

Step 1: The government, gaushalas and pinjrapoles should, without fail, purchase each and every “unwanted” cow, calf, bull or bullock. (They would be replacing the middle men or brokers who used to buy such cattle for sale to butchers.)

Good news: The Maharashtra state government has decided to set up permanent shelters in 34 districts for old cows. Rs 34 crore has been allocated for this Govardhan Govansh Raksha Kendra project in the budget for 2016-17. (It may be a good idea to have shelters close to garbage yards so vegetable waste can be consumed by the animals.)

In May 2017 the Government of India notified the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 to ban sale of cattle for slaughter at animal markets all over the country. The animals covered were bulls, bullocks, cows, buffaloes, steers, heifers, calves and camels. However, the Madras High Court immediately put a stay on the ban making the Government re-examine the rules. A day later, the Rajasthan High Court went to the other extreme saying the cow should be declared as the national animal. Whereas the Kerala High Court dismissed a PIL while observing that the new rules did not stop one from selling cattle outside the animal market. However, in November 2017, the Government of India stated that the Ministry of Environment had sought feedback from the states on its Notification and they were thinking of withdrawing it due to several issues.

In February 2018 the Government planned on relaxing rules on cattle markets and dropping a reference to slaughter.

In tune with the central law which made a distinction between cows and buffaloes and excluded the latter from the list of bovines, the Rajasthan government proposed exclusion of buffalo from the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995. However two other amendments proposed in the Act gave powers to the competent authorities to seize the vehicles used for illegal export of cows and their progenies and also arrest people engaged in the illegal activity.

In 2019, the Uttar Pradesh state government’s desire to help cows in addition to promoting gaushalas, made them announce the Besahara Govansh Sabhagita Yojana under which those adopting stray cattle would be given up to Rs 3,720 per month. This was because their numbers had been steadily rising for few years and they were found to be destroying crops and causing other kinds of damage.

Step 2: Having acquired them, they would be duty-bound to take proper care of them so that they live their normal life spans. This can be achieved by giving them appropriate shelter, adequate fodder and water, and timely medical aid. Feed per animal, per day is at least Rs 60/- plus other expenses.

Good news: In May 2016 the Government of India announced a slew of measures including the creation of exclusive dairy plants for desi cows, empowering organisations to take action against illegal smuggling and slaughter, and the production of fodder under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGRA). A plan was being put in place to ensure that gauchar bhoomi (grazing land for cows even in the periphery of jungles) is protected and government programmes under MGNREGRA are utilised to produce grass for cows which can be given free to farmers and gaushalas.

Step 3: In order to offset the high expenses involved in implementing Step 2, the commercial exploitation of cattle dung or gobar needs to be undertaken in a big way. From electricity generation (using a turbine) and bio-gas to traditional uses of manure as fertiliser (each animal produces approximately 8 kgs manure per day which is worth at least Rs 15/- per kg) and for plastering walls of huts, to its medicinal uses, and even for making cow dung tennis courts; and last but not least, the use of gobar in all its applications has no adverse effects upon our environment and can in fact act as a radioactive shield. In Ayurveda dried cow dung mixed with camphor is prescribed as an air cleanser.

Good news: In 2008-09 Gujarat’s Navli village in Anand district began packaging and selling cow dung mixed with poultry waste, castor oil cakes, sugar cane paste and gypsum as organic manure. The bag of this fertiliser sells for about one-fifth the price of chemical fertiliser but the cost is not the sole reason for its demand but that it is organic and not harmful. In fact, the demand for dung cakes is picking up in cities, but unfortunately, some online sellers are hawking them for up to 50 times more. Interestingly, upon burning them, the temperature never rises beyond a certain point thus ensuring that overheating does not destroy the nutrients in food.


In October 2016 at Mukhmelpur village in north Delhi, a professor of the Delhi University’s Shivaji College decided to start a biogas plant by investing Rs 12 lakh which helped rid the village of the smell of dung. The plant processes 500 kgs of cow and buffalo dung daily and produces gas which is utilised for cooking mid-day meals for municipal schools in the area. The by-product, bio-manure, is used for organic farming.

In February 2017 the Government of India set up a central body co-ordinated by the Centre for Rural Development and Technology (CRDT) at IIT Delhi, comprising of scientists and health experts, in order to evaluate whether Panchagavya (cow urine mixed with cow dung, milk, curd and ghee) can cure diseases. This research in Panchagavya covers agriculture, medicine and health, food and nutrition, and other utilities. The aim is to validate the scientific credentials of Panchagavya which so far have been termed traditional knowledge.

It is understood that two US patents on cow urine (No 6,896,907 and 6,410,059) have been granted for its medicinal properties, particularly as a bio-enhancer and as an antibiotic, antifungal and anticancer agent.

Jeevamrut and Beejamrut are natural farming fertilisers and are considered superior to organic farming practices. The basic formula is: 50 kgs desi cow dung, 40 litres desi cow urine, 10 kgs gram flour, 10 kgs jaggery, and 4 kgs mud taken from under a banyan tree.

Rashtriya Gokul Mission is for Livestock development - not saving the Cow!

Way back in 1960 the Government of India launched a scheme to conserve indigenous cattle and improve their productivity but it failed.

In 2000, the Government of India tried to improve their genetic make-up by cross-breeding them with foreign species. This resulted in more milk but fewer indigenous bulls continued to be robust and fit to work. Meanwhile, tractors, etc. had taken their place.

In 2013, the Planning Commission suggested conserving and enhancing the productivity of indigenous cattle and the National Programme for Bovine Breeding and Dairy Development was launched.

A year later, the programme was re-named Rashtriya Gokul Mission. Rs 150 crore was allocated (although double this amount would probably have be required) to set up 15 gokul grams or cattle conservation centres in the country. Each gokul gram was proposed to be spread over 200 hectares and house 1,000 heads of cattle. Probably due to lack of funding and resources, states have been reluctant to set up the gokul grams.

Astonishingly, one of the provisions states that gokul grams must keep 60% productive (milch) cattle along with only 40% stray (abandoned) cows, calves, bulls and bullocks.

In October 2019 the new Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying stated that cattle saw a small decrease in population but the population of cows increased by about 18% since 2012. West Bengal had surpassed Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in cattle population, possibly as a result of restrictions on butchery and tannery industries. Animals used as beasts of burden and in agriculture hardly increased in number and in some states decreased because of not being bred. However, the total cattle population (including camels, horses, ponies, mules and donkeys) in 2019 was 192.5 million.

At the National Conference of Agriculture held in New Delhi in the beginning of 2020, the Animal Husbandry (Govt of India) declared plans to undertake pilot projects in government owned farms to use stray cows between 2 and 12 years as surrogates. A multi-pronged strategy which included promoting sex-sorted semen and back-crossing of cross-breeds with indigenous breeds to improve fertility was simultaneously recommended.

In 2021 The Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aaayog (RKA) under the Ministry of Animal Husbandry & Dairying announced a national-level online exam on cow science to be conducted in different state languages. The purpose was to make people aware of the scientific approaches to handle desi bovines. However, the exam was put off presumably because several organisations had criticised government’s reference material as “superstition and unscientific” information on cows!

Cow Safari

In 2016 thousands of cows had died due to mismanagement at the Hingonia Gaushala. But this did not stop Rajasthan’s Cow Ministry (the only state in India that has such a ministry) from promoting their cow safari in 2018: another venture that may not actually save the cow, but land up exploiting it.

Page last updated on 27/11/23