INVESTIGATION: The Missing Cows of Gujarat

How Cow Protection Laws have failed to protect the animal in the state


Gujarat’s farmers, hindered by an unrealistic legislation steeped in rhetoric and a dishonest objective, are illegally culling and disposing off the bovine animals: a close scrutiny of the 2012 Livestock Census data figures on breeding cows and female calves, the expected population are revealing: whereas in 2019 the figures of cows in the state should have been 114.04 lakhs, in reality only 76.26 lakhs cows were reported in the census.  The data shows that around 37.78 lakh cows went missing during the period, which means these were illegally culled and disposed of by the farmers.   The missing cow phenomenon was not a one-time aberration but consistent. 

An In-depth Investigation

History of protection law: The state of Gujarat has been a torchbearer of the cow-protection movement right from the pre-independence period. Until 1976, the state of Gujarat followed the Bombay Cattle Preservation Act, 1954, later retitled Gujarat Cattle Preservation Act, 1976.  The original law protected cows, calves, adult useful males, whereas, the bullocks were permitted for slaughter after veterinary certification. In 1991 an amendment was inserted prohibiting slaughter of bullocks below 16 years of age.  In 1995, the law was further amended to ban slaughter of even aged bullocks. This was challenged and the Supreme Court in their historic judgement, delivered in 2005, upheld the total-ban on cattle slaughter.  Subsequently the state passed amendments to make the law for slaughter stricter with even harder punishments.

Evaluation and Methodology: Although the law has been implemented over the last 70 years, been amended and made more stringent, its efficacy has not been really put to the scrutiny of various courts.  The periodic evaluation of economically important policies and laws is an integral part of legislative quality assessment, but at no stage has the effectiveness, efficacy and impact of this Act given its ambitious target, been independently assessed or investigated.  Neither the court the state legislature has demanded rationally culled out information on the efficacy of the law given its stated goals which are the preservation of bovine life.

At periodic junctures, the state has enhanced the severity of punishment on those implicated in slaughter. However, this law was not truly invoked in its true spirit, scrutinising the role of farmers, given their primacy in rearing (or disposing of) unwanted cattle.

In this article I report results of a methodical quantitative study on the impact of the Gujarat Cattle Preservation Act on the state’s cow population. The cattle population data published in 1997, 2003, 2007, 2012 and 2019 livestock census reports have been analysed (  The effectiveness was measured by quantifying the cow growth rates and population proportion rates, whereas the impact was measured by estimating the proportion of unproductive cow population.

For calculating the growth rates, the methods employed by the officialdom are deceptive. The official reports employed a static method wherein the net number of cows were counted and recorded during the two censuses periods, after which the data was compared.  This method was not a true estimate of the cow growth as it did not take into account any new births and culling. Since cattle growth is exponential and compounded, the correct method should have been to estimate the ‘expected population’.  Cow growth is a function of the number of breeding cows and the young replacement female calves and the rate will depend on fecundity parameters, hence understanding this process is critical.

To produce milk, a cow must deliver a calf, hence continuous calf births are inevitable additions in the population.  A crossbred cow calf will attain maturity and deliver its first calf by age 2.5-3.5 years, whereas an indigenous calf’s first calving age is reported to be at 3.5-4 years.  Each productive cow must deliver a calf at least every 16-18 months. 

Missing Cows in Gujarat State Employing Exponential Growth (Figures in lakhs)







1997 baseline

Young calves (up to 3 years in indigenous and 2.5 years in crossbred cows






Young breeding calves (80% of young calves)






Breeding cows (Lactating + Dry)






Breeding cows (80% of the breeding cows)






Births consequent to completing average two breeding cycles by young female calves






Additional births in average three breeding cycles during the census period






Total Births






Previous census cow population






Forecast population (Total births + Previous census population






Cull due to deaths 20%






Expected population Lakhs






Actual Census Lakhs






Missing Lakhs






Missing % of Actual Census






Aged-non-productive % of total cow






For estimating births during the census periods, the female young calves and breeding cows in the starting census period was considered. As per the census data the proportion of infertile cows were around 6%, but for conservative estimate 20 % infertility was assumed.  The standard mortality in cattle is assumed to be 5% but in the non-culling state, a mortality rate of 20% was assumed. 

2012-2019 the census period was 7 years whereas 2003-2007 the census period was 4 years and the 1997-2003 the census period was 6 years.  The data was proportionately adjusted.



The analysis of the census data from 1997-2019 shows that the breeding cow population in Gujarat narrowly varied between 40-45% of the total cow population. During the census period of five-six years a breeding cow would complete at least three breeding cycles (calving interval 20 months) adding three calves to the herd.  A female calf in the last census, would have attained maturity and completed an average of two breeding cycles by the next census. The number of young female calves is also reported in each census.  To give a simple example, if a farmer had one female calf and one breeding cow in his herd, in the next five-year census period his herd size would become seven (two old and five new), provided none had died or been culled and eliminated.  Using this exponential equation and considering equal sex ratio in the new births, the expected cow population has been estimated for each census period. 

For example, using the 1997 census, 80% of the breeding cow numbers and 80% of the female calves, the expected population for the census 2003 census was predicted, and so on.  A standard census is expected to be carried out every five years.  Since the 2003, 2007 and 2019 censuses were carried out after six, four and seven years, respectively, census, the number of the breeding cycles completed by the female calves and the breeding cows were correspondingly scaled down or upped.  Since in Gujarat the cow numbers could decline only from natural deaths, the expected population need to be adjusted assuming an overall mortality rate of 20% of the expected population (considering higher proportion of aged cows).

Missing Cows in Gujarat: From the data it is evident that there was a wide gap between the expected and the actual population. The estimate show that based on 2012 census data on breeding cows and female calves, the expected population in 2019 should have been 114.04 lakhs, whereas in reality only 76.26 lakhs cows were reported in the census.  The data shows that around 37.78 lakh cows went missing during the period, which means these were illegally culled and disposed of by farmers.   The missing cow phenomenon was not a one-time aberration but consistent as the missing cow proportions were very high during all the census periods studied. 

Another measure to evaluate efficacy and impact of the cow preservation law is to examine the proportion of aged unproductive cows.  In the census process this information is collected and published under the category, ‘Others’.  The lifespan of a cow is reported to be 20-22 years and average productive age 10-12 years. If the farmers were complying with the law and did not cull but reared even unproductive cows, its proportion should be 20-25 % of the total cow population. The Census, however throws a up a dismal picture. In the Gujarat state during the last 22 years, the aged cow population never exceeded 2.4% of the total cow population.   Comparing the unproductive cow population from 2007 to 2019 prove that much celebrated landmark 2005 Supreme Court judgement banning total cattle slaughter which subsequently led to the passage of stringent laws did not reverse the trends.  Rather it had negative effects as the unproductive cow proportion fell from 1.95 % in 2007 to 0.85% in the 2019 census.  The severity of the unproductive cow culling can be measured from the data that in 2019 census, as against the cow population of 76.6 lakhs, only 0.51 lakhs were aged unproductive cows.  Since female calves and breeding cows are an economic asset, their numbers have shown an increasing trend.  The census data also showed that the proportionate rates of other cow categories (such as lactating, dry, infertile) had remained more or less stable, suggesting that the legislation did not result in any genetic improvement.  It is therefore almost certain that the farmers culled >90% of the unproductive cows, illegally. The results are in line with the common perception that, like any global farmer, the Gujarat farmers have understood economics and their decisions on culling and herd size restrictions are rational.  The results also show that there was zero compliance of the law and also debunks the state’s theory that the farmers in Gujarat respected cows beyond economics.

Conclusion: The data unequivocally establishes that even after 70 years of stringent implementation of cow protection laws, the law and subsequent amendments have been totally ineffective and failed to achieve the goal of protecting Gujarat’s cows. The RTI enquiries with the state Department of Animal Husbandry (dated July 12, 2020) did not elicit any explanation about the missing cows and their fate (vide their reply No. PVG/VHT/RTI/80/2020 dated August 4, 2020.  The analysis of the census data supports the apprehension that the true goal of the law was not to protect cows, but to target the beef trade and make it vulnerable to corruption to nurture through bribes a network of informal cow vigilante elements. It is very clear that the law has created a corrupt ecosystem wherein, the farmers are permitted to dispose their unwanted cows free from any fear of law; the meat traders are occasionally exposed to physical harm to create fear, to compel them to pay huge bribes to continue in the trade.  Unfortunately, the farmers do not realize that they are the ultimate losers, as neither have they been able to add cattle wealth nor were they able to legally monetise from the sale of unwanted cows.

In the next Part the Series, the author will debunk the Gujarat state’s hollow claim on the male cattle utility and preservation .

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About the author:

He obtained Masters in Veterinary Science from Bombay Veterinary College and Ph.D. from Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, Canada, under the Commonwealth Fellowship Program.  He was Dean of the Bombay Veterinary College, Faculty Dean and Director of Instruction at Maharashtra Animal and Fishery Science University.  He has more than 35 years of experience in veterinary research and has authored several original research articles and book chapters.  



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