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Symbiotic Relationships Between Man, Animal and Nature

A Study of the Gujar of Garhwal... 

R. S. Negi

Table 2.7

Distribution of Livestock on the Basis of Data from Five Families in Each Region

Sl.No. No. of Families Area Per Family Buffaloes Per Capita Buffaloes Herd size Income
    Milking Dry Milking  Dry   Per Family Per Capita
1 5 Haldu Godam 7.8 5.4 0.88 0.61 25.8 464.09  
2 5 Kuluwala 18.6 19.4 1.93 2.02 53.6 4391.33 472.91
3 5 Mohand 19.0 8.0 0.78 0.54 32.6 311.64  
    Total 15.13 10.93 1.19 1.05 37.33 416.21  



The pastoral Gujar of the Siwaliks like those inhabiting other parts of the Himalayan region, are Muslim by faith and claim to belong to the Sunni sect. They observe Ramzan and Moharram and celebrate Idul Fitr, Idul Zuha, Shaberat, etc., according to the tenets of Islam. A Gujar would like to offer Friday namaz in a mosque. They would also like to perform haj, but ordinarily a Gujar cannot raise the money required. There are few hajis among them. Some of the Gujar, specially those belonging to the Bania clan, celebrate Diwali a day after the Hindu Diwali. In the past the Gujar also celebrated Lohdi and Baishakhi, which signal the waning of harsh cold weather and herald the joyous spring so important for a pastoral community. However, now these celebrations remain only in people’s memories, specially in that Islamic fundamentalism is slowly creeping into the lives of the community due to the frequent visits and religious preaching of maulvis from the neighbouring region of Saharanpur.

The seasonal migration to high altitudes plays a determining role in the education of Gujar children. They engage maulvis for the purpose, and education remains confined to religious teaching. Apart from the dominating influence of maulvis, Islamic institutions like Madarsa Islamia Lateefya Ahya-Ul-Islam are becoming popular amongst the Gujar. These also impart only religious (Islamic) teaching. One such school is running in Mohand.

Concepts of Space and Time

Concepts of space and time have special significance for pastoralist people like the Gujar, who follow seasonal migration between two distinct ecozones. "Most, perhaps all, concepts of time and space are determined by the physical ambience . . . ." (Evans-Pritchard, 1969).

Let us first consider the concept of time. There is a clear-cut dichotomy in time reckoning among the Gujar, and the two divisions can be termed ecological time and structural time, a scheme devised by Evans-Pritchard in his seminal work. The ecological time frame is in the form of both annual cycle and daily routine. The Gujar year has two major and almost equal divisions, defined by their mobility between two different ecozones. One, the winter months, from mid-September to mid-March, when they inhabit the winter camps in the Siwaliks and the lower regions of Garhwal; and the other from mid-March to mid-September, when they migrate to the high-altitude bugyals. These two divisions include the up and down journey time, which may be 15 — 20 days each way. The two major divisions are further divisible into two each, and the four divisions so arrived at coincide with the four major seasons, that is, winter (October — February), spring (March — April), summer (April — June) and rains (June — September). Time reckoning in the four seasons is important, because that is an index to the state of availability of the two main resources for the herd, that is, pasture and water.

During the winter months (the first major division of the year) the Gujar, while in the Siwaliks and the lower parts of Garhwal, graze their herds in the forest areas allotted to them in groups of families. As the grass in the forest is not plentiful it is supplemented by the tender leaves of trees. As the winter months pass there is a depletion of grass as well as leaves on the one hand and drying up of water sources on the other. This makes it necessary to first make minor movements in the lower regions, which can be termed horizontal migration, followed by the major vertical movement through the middle-altitude valleys to the high-altitude pastures. Migration to the high-altitude bugyals does not only ensure pasture and water for the herd but also allows the regeneration of resources in the lower regions during the rainy season. When the herds are brought back to the lower regions around mid-October, fresh regenerated grass, tender leaves of trees and recharged water sources are available to them. At the high altitudes also the pastures have time for regeneration during winter and spring in the absence of grazing activity. The Gujar also claim that their buffaloes are conditioned to the changing weather conditions, and therefore when there is a rise in temperature in the lower regions towards the end of spring, the animals start getting restive. It is even claimed that as the animals know the routes, some of then may even start to move towards the hills on their own. Whereas the annual time cycle is closely related to the needs and welfare of the animals, the daily time cycle is associated with the routine of both humans and animals. The twenty-four hours of the day are reckoned in four divisions:

1. Bada pahar (morning — pre-dawn to sunrise)

2. Dopahar (day — sunrise — afternoon)

3. Sham (evening — afternoon — sunset)

4. Navasa (night — after dusk)

The Gujar day begins at dawn, when the loi tara (morning star) is positioned above the dera. The loi tara is located next to girgiti, a constellation of six stars.

By dhyada chadna (sunrise) the Gujar household is agog with activity. The animals are given feed and soon are taken to the forest for grazing and feeding on leaves.

Before noon, that is dopahar, the animals are brought back to the dera for milking and are then led to water and again to the forest.

In the evening or sham, the animals are brought back to the dera and herded into an enclosure for the night.

The structural time of the Gujar is the usual division of a year into twelve months, a month into weeks and a week into seven days. The Gujar being followers of Islam, follow the Hijri calendar, but ecological time reckoning is according to the Gojri calendar (Table 2.8), a derivation of Vikram Samvat. Time reckoning in the annual cycle of subsistence activities is according to the Gojri calendar, whereas the Hijri calendar is followed for religious pursuits. All days of the week have Gojri (Hindu) names, but Friday is known by its Islamic name (Table 2.9).

Likewise, there is a recognisable dichotomy in the Gujar concept of space, which can again be defined as ecological and structural. Ecological space is defined ar various levels, beginning at the level of living space. The hut (zhonpri), followed by the homestead (dera); a group of deras (tol); Forest Compartment; Forest Range; Forest Division; and the seasonal encampment areas in different ecozones.

 Table 2.8

Names of Months

Gojri Calendar Islamic Calendar  
Chaitar Moharram March - April
Baisakh Safar April - May
Jeth Reviyolabbal May - June
Arh Raviyosani June - July
Sann Jamadiyolabbal July - August
Bhado Jamadiyosani August - September
Asu Razar September - October
Kaliyado Sahban October - November
Mangeru Ramzan November - December
Pau Shavval December - January
Mago Zokayada January - February
Phagunn Zilhijja February - March

Table 2.9

Days of the Week

Tar/Atwar Sunday

The Gujar recognise two important dates in a year. These are nauroz (21 March) and Het (21 September). Nauroz heralds the migration to high-altitude pastures and Het signals the journey back to the winter camp.

Swar Pir Monday
Mangal  Tuesday
Badhar Wednesday
Jammerat/Virwar Thrusday
Jumma Friday
Hafta/War Saturday

Since the Gujar are transhumant they have two seasonal encampment locales, one in the forests of the Siwaliks and the lower regions of Garhwal and the other in the high-altitude pastures (bugyals) of the Garhwal Himalayas and Himachal Pradesh. But unlike other pastoral communities the world over, the Gujar have no locus standi in the spaces on which they are totally dependent for life support. They do not own land anywhere, either in the forest area or elsewhere. In the Garhwal region they entered about over a century back. Initially they may have followed their mode of subsistence freely, but after the colonial power formulated a revenue-earning forest policy the Gujar also came under it and a grazing fee of Rs. 2 and a lopping fee of Rs. 1 per buffalo were levied in the Siwalik forest as per Government Order No. 884-C dated 13.5.1921. Prior to this there was already a fee of 8 annas per buffalo on account of wood or grass for the construction of sheds, which was amalgamated with the new rates (Bhasin, 1979). As per C.O. No. 1119 XIV-332 dated 223.11.1937 also, the Gujar were granted the right to graze their buffaloes in the Dehradun forests on a year-to-year basis (Dang, 1991).

In the high-altitude pastures also the entry of the Gujar is on a year-to-year basis on permits issued by the Forest Departments of Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh for their respective areas against payment of fees per buffalo. It is interesting to note that both in the low forests and in high-altitude pasture, the right granted to the Gujar is on an annual basis and for grazing their buffaloes. The Gujar thus cannot have a permanent settlement in either location. Both remain just encampment areas.

In the Siwaliks, the winter encampment area, the Gujar deras are semi-permanent in nature. Previously they were temporary in that they were dismantled when the Gujar migrated to the high-altitude pastures. The timber was either taken away by the Forest Department and auctioned or simply stolen by nearby villagers. The sites, however, remained permanent, as families returned to them with the onset of winter and rebuilt their deras afresh, for which they got timber and thatching grass free or at nominal cost from the Forest Department. Gujar deras are invariably located at the perinneal water-holes on the hill slopes or at the seepage springs along the courses of small streams or rivulets (sot), thus known after them, e.g., Munal Sot, Amla Sot, Papri Sot, Mang Sot, and so forth. Such locations, although they facilitate the availability of water for humans and for watering and laving the animals, nevertheless do create environmental problems. The matter is dealt with elsewhere.

The Gujar homestead is both an organic and a spatial concept. Although the Gujar are organised in groups of families known as tol, inhabiting particular localities on allotment by the Forest Department, the homesteads are far apart from one another. Once a number of families are issued permits by the Forest Department for a particular locality in the forest, the Gujar partition the locality into family (dera) territories where the sole right of grazing and lopping is bestowed on the dera. The area of these territories can be 2 — 5 sq km. This way ample forest space is available to each dera.

A homestead is a composite space and is comprised of several structures:

  1. Chhappar (hut), the main living space of the family. It is a large squarish structure between 15' x 15' and 25' x 25' depending upon the economic status and size of the family. It has a conical shape, 15' — 16' high at the centre post; the walls are about 12' high. The chappar has a large entrance at the front and smaller door in one of the side walls. This smaller door serves as an escape route in case wild elephants attack the dera. The inner space is partitioned by a wall called androthi to demarcate about one-third of the rear space for the rasoi (kitchen). The androthi is usually 5' — 6' high and is not built from side wall to side wall, in order to leave space on both sides to enter the kitchen area. The front area is used as sitting as well as sleeping space on one side and for storing the household equipment, animal feed, etc., on the other. In the centre, just in front of the entrance, is a dug-in roundish fireplace where fire is kept burning throughout the night in order to ward off wild elephants and other predators. In some cases a separate rasoi may also be constructed.

  2. Baithak (sitting place). This is smaller structure than the chappar but similar in shape. The walls of the baithak do not reach up to the roof and are only about 5' — 6' high. The baithak is used to receive guests and also for social occasions.

  3. Nikki chhan (small byre). This is small covered structure to house calves.

  4. The twala (feeding platform for the animals) is a sizeable raised platform made of logs or stone and mud on which the buffaloes are given food. The twala normally is open to the sky.

  5. A Store shed for khal-chokar and fodder may be constructed by well-to-do households.

In the high-altitude pastures the Gujar homestead has only two compartments, the chappar for humans and the nikki chhan for calves. The chappar is on a smaller scale but usually of the same design as in the Siwaliks. There is no need of a twala, as in the pastures the grass is much more nutritious and the buffaloes are not required to be given any feed of khal-chokar. The building materials, timber and thatching grass, are available from the forest.

Life Support Strategy

The Gujar subsistence pattern, characterised by a near-total dependence on buffaloes, is so remarkable that their relationship with the animal may be regarded as parasitic, the Gujar being parasites of buffaloes. But through a close examination it is seen that the Gujar life-style includes the care and welfare of their herds. They build sheds for adult buffaloes and special enclosures for calves to protect them from predators as well as the elements; they take the animals for grazing and watering; they feed them with fodder, leaves, oilcake and bran; they shave them periodically to ensure protection against lice; they move with them from one locality to another in search of pasture and water; and so on. In a sense the buffalo also becomes dependent on the herder. As the herd and the herder actually sustain life by their reciprocal services to each other, their relationship can only be termed symbiotic; and man and animal form a single community of the closest kind.

In the Gohri range of lower Garhwal, the Gujar move horizontally to at least three encampments during their winter sojourn in order to ensure adequate fodder for their herds, before undertaking the vertical move to the high-altitude pastures. The first move of the Gohri range Gujar is within the Kunao beat along different sots (small rivulets). The buffaloes are fed with the leaves of the bankuli (Anogeissus latifolia) and the haldu (Adina cordifolia). When lopping of these trees is no longer possible they move towards the bank of the Ganga and to the Haldugodam beat of the Barkot range across the river. In Haldugodam it is mostly the leaves of the sain (Terminalia tomentosa) and the sal (Shorea robusta), even through lopping of sal trees is prohibited by the Lopping Rules. In the Haldugodam beat fodder is also supplemented by pural (paddy stock). It is from Haldugodam that the Gujar finally move to the high-altitude pastures.

Horizontal movements, which are always on a small scale in terms of spatial spread, depend on the availability of fodder, the major portion of which is constituted of leaves obtained by lopping. In the Siwaliks (the winter camp), leaves of the following trees are usually lopped by the Gujar:




Angeissus latifolia



Terminalia tomentosa



Stereospernmum suavelolens



Grewia oppositifolia



Mitregyna parviflora



Terminalia chebula



Terminalis balerica



Bauhinia malabarica



Ficus hispida



Ficus religiosa



Bauhinia variegata



Ficus infectoria



Ficus glomerata



Hymenodictyon excelsum



Moringa oleifera



Lannea coromadilica



Garuga pinnata



Grewia elastica



Ulmus wallichaiana



Croton rox



Cordia obliqua



Ougenia oegeinesis


Maida lakdi/chandna

Wend lanelia excerte



Celtes tetrandra



Bauhinia vahlii



Bauhinia purpurea



Schleichera oleosa



Ficus semicordata



Ailanthus excelasa Roxl



Acacia catechu



Bombax ceeiba



Adina cordifolia

In addition to fodder, the buffaloes are fed 1.5 kg khal-choker (oilcake and bran in the ratio of 1:2) purchased from the bania. The calves are given only 500 gm of the feed. Usually the feed is purchased from those traders to whom the milk is sold but it can also be purchased from others. The daily quantum of khal-choker naturally depends on the economic status of a family.

Pural is purchased from Rishikesh or the villages in the area. Some is also available from the Gujar households who were allotted land in the 1970s and are cultivators. Feeding of pural is from February to April, till the seasonal migration to the high-altitude bugyals takes place.

Usually in the Siwaliks, mobility is within the vicinities of deras and may not exceed a radious of 5 km. But in some localities such as the Gohri Range, movement, even in the winters, to the Barkot Range for instance, is comparatively extensive mainly for the following reasons:

1. Shortage of fodder.

2. Comparatively more heat due to sun-facing slopes.

3. Drying up of water sources.

4. Restlessness of the buffaloes due to heat.

It is obvious that considerations of fodder, water and general welfare of the herds are uppermost in the life of the Gujar, which prompt these movements. Sometimes in some forest localities there is a sudden increase in the number of flies and other insects which trouble the herds. In such cases also there are frequent movements.


The seasonal movement of herds to high-altitude pastures is the adaptive strategy followed by the Gujar in the interest of the welfare of the herds and food production for the herders. Livestock husbandry and mobility are closely associated because the livestock must be fed throughout the year to maintain its productivity. With the approach of the summer months, when grass and other fodder as well as water become scarce in the lower regions of Garhwal, the Gujar take their herds to high-altitude pastures where nutritious grass is regenerated after the melting of snows. The nutritious grasses have an invigorating effect on the animals, improve their health and increase productivity both quantitatively and qualitatively. It is also noticed that the animals start becoming restive as soon as the temperature starts rising in the Siwaliks and are conditioned to move to cooler zones in the summer months. There is thus an interdependence between the Gujar and their herds and a dependence of both herder and herd on pasture and water, both in the Siwaliks and in the higher regions. To a certain extent this relationship is symbiotic.

The Gujar inhabiting the Siwaliks migrate to the pastures of Tons, Yamuna and Tehri Forest Division of Garhwal Himalaya as well as Choupal Rodu and Simla Forest Divisions of Himachal Pradesh. The deras, which are located in the Siwaliks on the basis of kinship, move to high altitudes maintaining the same neighbourhood relationship during the migratory journeys through the middle-altitude region along river valleys. There may, however, be variation in spatial separation according to the nature of the terrain and the availability of resources. The migration is between predetermined sites through traditionally set routes and according to a more or less fixed time table. The outward and inward journeys take 15 to 20 days each. Thus the actual encampments in summer and winter are for five or five-and-a-half months each. Some of the traditional migratory routes are:

  1. Siwalik region: Sagdiwala — Sahaspur — Yamunapul — Juddo — Nainbag — Damta — Kunwa — Naugaon — Haddoli — Purola — Jurmola — Miyagad — Naitwad — Sidri-Kurti — Taluka — Harkidoon (Uttarkashi)

  2. Siwaliks — Sadwala — Sahaspur — Yamunapul — Juddo — Nainbag — Damta — Kunwa — Naugaon — Haddoli — Purola — Jurmola — Miyagad — Naitwad — Rupin/Supin — Kedarkantha (Uttarkashi)

  3. Rishikesh — Chorpani — Narendra Nagar — Agrakhal — Khadi — Chamba — Tehri — Ghandoli — Ghuttu — Panwali (Tehri)

  4. Siwalik camping site — Mulhan — Konthar — Sahaspur — Jamunapul — Sayya — Kalsi — Chakrata/Panch Bhaiya (Dehradun)

  5. Siwalik — Khafnawar — Asan — Jamunapul — Achhari — Quano — Sainj — Jinus — Rona — Vatera — Nirul — Chanpal — Chhakri — Khirki, etc. (Himachal Pradesh).

Until a few years ago the Gujar used to migrate to the pastures of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Tunganath and a few other places in Chamoli District, but nowadays the Chamoli administration does not sanction them grazing permits because of opposition from local people as well as pastoral communities like the Bhotiya, the Kharkiya and the Khadwals. In 1974, due to similar opposition from the people of the Rupin and Supin Ranges in the Tons valley, the Forest Secretary of Uttar Pradesh sent a wireless message that no Gujar or their buffaloes should be allowed to go to the Rupin and Supin ranges of the Tons Forest Division or the Rawain Range of the Yamuna Division. Permits, if any had been issued, were to be cancelled. Instead, the Gujar going to these ranges should be allowed to continue where they were during winter. It was supposed that by such a measure the Gujar would ultimately be compelled to change their attitude towards migration and would stay back in the Siwaliks. However, the Gujar were averse to this forced change and a delegation met the State and Central Government authorities and implored them to restore their right to follow seasonal migration to high-altitude pastures. The U.P. Government, after reconsideration of the case, ordered telegraphically (Originator No. 1385/4.3.1975 dated 16 April 1975) that summer movement for that year was permitted but that from the next year the Gujar would have to stay back in the Siwaliks. However, despite that order, the Gujar continue their seasonal migration to Rupin, Supin and Rawain Ranges. For them it is a life-support matter.

Earlier the Gujar dera would migrate with all its belongings and livestock to the high-altitude bugyals. But recently a change has set in due to forest policies and opposition from the local populations. Fewer and fewer deras migrate to high altitudes. At the same time, the deras do not moving as a whole: some members with some buffaloes remain behind in the winter habitat. This has resulted in partial sedentarisation with more and more horizontal transhumance. This has increases the pressure on the scarce resources in the Siwaliks.


The mode of migratory journeys has undergone some change over the years. Until about half a century ago the journey each way used to take a longer time as there were no modern means of communication and transportation to the remote approach points to the bugyals. Household material and camping equipment had all to be carried by pack animals such as hores, ponies and bullocks. With the road network in the interior of the Himalayas the Gujar can now use public motorised transport to carry their equipment as well as other necessary provisions up to the points from where the trek up mountainous trails to the bugyals begins. For example in the Tons Valley, public transport extends to Sankri, some 200 km from Dehradun. The Gujar migrating to Fateh Parbat, Kedarkantha, Harki Doon, Posthar, etc., can use it to transport their equipment and advance parties up to Mori, Naitwad or Sankri in just one day, as against about ten days taken previously.

The herd and some of the herders follow the old foot trail but the movement is a bit faster. Besides, the herds pass through a number of villages through the middle altitudes where fodder and water are available. Earlier the movement was during the day and the herds were halted in agricultural fields where substantial quantities of dung was left when the herd moved. Thus the villagers got manure without any expenditure. There were other transactions also, such as the purchase of fodder (pural) by the Gujar and occasional purchase of jhotas (male buffaloes) by the villagers for breeding purposes. The relationship between the Gujar and the local populations was cordial and the Gujar were welcome in the vicinity of the villages. However, there has been some change in the attitude of the local populations which is related to resource availability as well as reasons political. The Gujar are no longer welcome in the vicinity of villages, although economic transactions are still carried through. The result is that movement is now mostly during the night and the camps are at secluded places away from the villages, at times on the highway itself. The availability of fodder and water remains the sole determinant camping in the choice of sites. The objective is to reach the bugyals the shortest possible time so that the herds can graze the healthy and nutritious grasses. The return journey does not entail that much hardship so far as availability of fodder is concerned, because the animals after grazing in the bugyals for about six months are in a much more healthy condition and can sustain the rigours of the journey without much strain.


In the high-altitude bugyals the encampment locales are predetermined tol-wise. The tol panchayat has a role in the allocation of grazing areas to the individual deras. When the migration begins, some members of the tol representing individual deras arrive at the pasture in advance to reconstruct or repair the deras which had been left in the previous season.

In the bugyals, Gujar deras are situated near springs. In the high-altitudes too a conflict situation is arising. Previously the high-altitude agropastoral people raised only goats and sheep, which used to go to pastures at higher elevations where cattle cannot easily climb. Now they keep cattle, which are led to pasture at lower elevations where previously the Gujar used to graze their herds. Consequently the Gujar are compelled to take their buffaloes to high pastures. The presence of Gujar herds in the higher bugyals thus creates a multiple conflict situation. First, the highland shepherds do not want the Gujar to migrate to the bugyals as these are considered within the jurisdiction of their villages; and second, the presence of two kinds of animals in the bugyals results in competition for resources. Sheep do not touch the grass browsed by cattle and therefore are taken higher and higher beyond the reach of the buffaloes. This entails physical hardship for the shepherds, which they resent. There are thus frequent feuds between the Gujar and the shepherds. This is a complex situation as the Gujar have the backing of the official permits issued by the Forest Department and the shepherds have the backing of traditional rights as the inhabitants of the region. Fortunately, thus far no serious situation has arisen and every feud is amicably settled in the spirit of the old amity between the people; but there is little doubt that the situation is fast changing.


The Gujar would like to continue their transhumant mode of subsistence. They are dependent on the buffalo and therefore have the welfare of the animal uppermost in their minds. Over the years their herds have been conditioned to move to cooler climatic areas in summer where nutritious grass is available, which not only improves their health but also increases milk yield. Thus there is an interdependence between the herd and the herder and a dependence of both of them on nature, in this case the regenerated pastures. In the past the Gujar saw to it that the entire pasture was not grazed, that is there was no overgrazing and that scope remained for regeneration during the winter months. This kind of resource management promoted a relationship which to some extent can be termed symbiotic. But such a relationship can exist only up to a point, beyond which an imbalance is bound to occur due to clearly recognizable factors such as increase in the animal population and consequent increased grazing pressure on the pastures. The Gujar are aware that the optimum level has been reached and that imbalance has set in. Though man and animal are still in a sybiotic relationship, their relationship with nature has turned parasitic instead, which is indicated by overgrazing and resource depletion. Change due to competition between sheep and buffaloes for pasture is also contributing to the imbalance. It would thus appear that the Gujar mode of subsistence, transhumant pastoralism based on the buffalo herd, is gradually becoming unsustainable.

Herd Raising


Herding or pastoralism was initially an adaptation to semi-arid and marginal areas where pasturage was available. Such areas were not suitable for cultivation and thus could not support large populations. Besides, for regeneration of the grass it was necessary that there was no animal or human presence on the pastures for at least part of the year, and thus no permanent settlements were sustainable in such areas. Pastoral communities, comparatively small and mobile, are ideally adapted to the requirements of the pasture ecosystem. The first animals to be domesticated around 7000 bc were probably sheep followed by goats. These animals subsist on grass and are mobile, so their domestication necessarily meant following them from pasture to pasture. It may have been a pattern similar to that followed by hunters and gatherers, with the difference that hunters follow the herd to kill while pastoralists deliberately cultivate the herd so that it increases in size. Both the hunter and the herder must synchronise their lives with the needs of the herd, but whereas hunters simply follow the animals wherever they go, herders lead their herds to areas where natural resources are available.

Pastoralism therefore involves mobility and a series of encampments varying seasonally, as the resources of different areas are used up and must be allowed time to regenerate. Typically there is a winter encampment and a summer one, between which pastoralists move back and forth. Concomitant with this kind of subsistence strategy or life-style are certain actions based on some basic principles which are the characteristic feature of herd raising, care and management.



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