Sri Lanka Children's Trust

Hybrid Milk Cow Project

'Sponsor a Milk Cow' was an Anathi Project scheme whereby donors abroad sponsored the cost of purchasing and delivering ten Government-bred hybrid Jersey-Sahiwal heifers (young milk cows) to five needy children's home on the east coast of Sri Lanka.

The project began in August 2005 when we realized that donating milk cows would be the best way (indeed, the only way) to ensure that children's homes have a guaranteed sustainable source of fresh milk. We began our research by meeting an old gentleman who had been involved in livestock production since the 1940's. It was he who suggested that we approach the Chairman of the National Livestock Development Board in Colombo to explain our project and request that they sell us pregnant hybrid heifers cross bred between Jersey cows (for milk production) and Indian Sahiwal cows (for resistance to heat and disease).

After first meeting the Batticaloa district Government Agent and obtaining his letter of endorsement, I went to Colombo and met the Chairman of the National Livestock Development Board on 5 September. Mr. Wickramanayake was very sympathetic and, although the NLDB in order to build up its herds was no longer selling these hybrid cows to the public, he offered to make an exception and agreed to sell us up to ten Jersey-Sahiwal heifers "at such time when you are ready to purchase them".

We asked around and found that one liter of milk can serve four or five children. One hybrid cow, therefore, can provide enough milk for twenty to thirty children. Most homes have around 40 or so children, and would require two such cows; in any case caring for two cows is not much more trouble than caring for only one cow.

Cost of sponsoring a Milk Cow

Now, each sponsor wanted to know the cost of sponsoring a cow. This in turn depended upon a number of variables. The cows are sold by the NLDB according to their body weight, and a full grown heifer might weigh around 250 kg on the average, we were told. The cost per kilo is Rs. 100 or about one US dollar. So the cost to us of buying from the NLDB is around US$250 or so. Then we would have to hire a flatbed truck with driver to transport the cows from a NLDB breeding facility and distribute them to the homes here on the east coast. We estimated that if we are moving ten cows then this would cost us around US$50 or so per cow. Then there are a host of administrative costs and other overhead that we simply could not predict until we had actually done the project for one full cycle.

We therefore called for donors to put up US$400 or 230 UK pounds sterling or 350 euros per cow, which we hoped would cover all associated costs of purchase, delivery, and setup, but would not include recurring costs of monthly fodder, rice bran, or whatever the homes may require to keep the cows healthy and productive. This is part of our understanding with the homes (formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding signed by each home's administrators), that they must accept responsibility for caring for the cows and that our project cannot be responsible for the cows once they have been delivered.

Late 2005

In late September the Anathi Project was advised by NLDB officials that their decision whether to sell hybrid milk cows to Anathi Project would have to be deferred until after Presidential Elections on 17 November. On 5 December Anathi Project Coordinator Patrick Harrigan again visited the National Livestock Development Board in Colombo and met NLDB General Manager M.G. Chandrasena, who accepted Anathi Project's formal written request for hybrid milk cows to be sold to the Anathi Project. Mr. Chandrasena also confirmed the NLDB's earlier assurance that it will release up to ten hybrid cows for sale to the Project, and that the sale and delivery would likely take place in January 2006.

On 19 December Patrick contacted NLDB General Manager Mr. Chandrasena for an update. Mr. Chandrasena informs us that subsequent to the election of a new President of Sri Lanka, the former NLDB Chairman has been replaced by a new Chairman, Mr. Patirajah. Mr. Chandrasena said he would present our request letter of 5 December to the new Chairman and come back to us with the Chairman's response. We are currently anticipating the NLDB's positive response.

Meanwhile, we are not sitting on our hands waiting. In case the NLDB can not deliver on its promise, we are also meeting with local Livestock Development Officers in Batticaloa district, who are quite willing to help us to source hybrid milk cows even locally on the open market if the purchase arrangement with the NLDB does not work out.

As of mid February 2006 we were no longer counting on the NLDB to sell us the cows as promised. In addition to asking local Livestock Development Officers for help in sourceing hybrid cows for sale, we were asking beneficiary children's home administrators to look for suitable hybrid cows for sale in their areas. When they identify cows for sale locally, they would inform us and we would make the purchase and deliver the cows to the homes. This was communicated to the administrators only in mid-February.

April-June 2006: Success!

Finally, in April 2006 Patrick went yet again to meet the General Manager of the NLDB in Colombo to ask for them to definitively tell us if they would sell us the heifers as promised, or not. To our astonishment, the new General Manager Mr. Perera happily agreed to issue a letter at once authorizing the Manager of the NLDB's Polonnaruwa Farm to issue ten heifers on payment.

After obtaining in April from General Manager Mr. Perera the long awaiting letter authorizing the sale of ten hybrid heifers from the National Livestock Development Board's Polonnaruwa Farm, delays ensued in May when it was alleged that cows from the Polonnaruwa Farm were having a condition called Brucellosis, which causes them to have abortions. The Joint Secretary then obtained the NLDB's firm assurance that the Brucellosis outbreak in Polonnaruwa occurred many years ago and had since been eradicated.

With this assurance, Patrick Harrigan and Mr. P. Balachundaram (who also holds a degree in agricultural science) on 3 June 2006 went to the NLDB's Polonnaruwa Farm where they selected and purchased ten Sahiwal-Jersey hybrid heifers averaging 65 kg each, paid Rs. 65,500 and delivered two heifers each to three boys' homes and two girls' homes in Batticaloa District. Each home was required to sign an MOU with the Trust to ensure that they take proper care of the heifers and do not sell them, etc.

Note that the Trust obtained the ten hybrid heifers at far less cost than we had originally anticipated. The project budget raised by subscription from individual donors was approx 10 x Rs. 40,000 = Rs. 4 lakhs. But because the NLDB sold us yearling heifers (weighing ca. 65 kg each) instead of full grown heifers (weighing much more) and because we took delivery from Polonnaruwa instead of from a more distant farm, our direct costs (excluding considerable overheads incurred in administering the project since August 2005) amount to only Rs. 72,580.

We have therefore proposed to individual donors that the excess monies collected be utilized as a fund for various small scale mini-projects to benefit needy children in the three districts in which we operate. This will be useful, as we frequently encounter ill or handicapped children from poor families who need medical assistance, or other opportunities where a relatively small sum can be put to good use to benefit a number of children's needs in terms of improving their education, nutrition, health, etc. We would use the money to purchase more heifers at this cheap rate of Rs. 100/kg only, but the NLDB says they can sell us more heifers only next year.

Report to be continued. More information, contact Project Manager Patrick Harrigan