Print edition : August 04, 2017

Goat doctors carrying out an artificial insemination procedure. Photo: Anupama Katakam

Sangeeta Tupe excuses herself to answer her mobile phone during the interview. It is most probably a “call”, guesses Rajshree Jadhav. She is right. Wearing a white lab coat, Sangeeta says they need to rush right away and, like gynaecologists, the two leave to attend to the said house call.

Meet the goat doctors of Mhaswad—a team of seven feisty women who have broken every stereotype by qualifying to treat and artificially inseminate goats. Taking into account the sizeable goat population in the region, the Mann Deshi Foundation came up with the idea of inseminating goats just like other cattle. The women underwent training at the Nimbkar Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) and learnt how to inject semen straws into a goat on heat. For each house call they are paid Rs.150, and undertake at least 25 such visits a month. This is in addition to the Rs.4,000 they earn from the Foundation.

“I had actually gone to learn tailoring when the Mann Deshi bus came to the village. When I heard about this programme, I thought why not try and help villagers look after the goats in our area,” says Sangeeta Tupe. “Initially, my family was shocked at my choice. Today, my daughter is so proud when they call me a doctor.”

Nanda, another member of the team, says that she had to support herself and her son after her husband left her. “From a timid person who would not have dreamt of speaking to a group of people, I have now gained enough confidence to conduct awareness programmes. Even government officials have congratulated me on the work we do!”

While “goat doctoring” seems a radical career choice at first for women in the rural belt, it does not appear all that unusual once you witness the deep connect between people and the animals they work with. In a traditional patriarchal set-up, it is difficult for a woman to leave the house especially when a call comes at odd hours, but the goat doctors have been so successful at what they do that such perceptions have undergone a complete change. Today, the respect they command from the villagers makes their families immensely proud, says Sangeeta.

It is fascinating to watch Sangeeta and Rajshree in action. They ride to the farm on a two-wheeler, with a nitrogen can carrying the semen straws placed in front. They inspect the goat on heat, which has been separated from the other animals. Satisfied with its condition, they instruct the goat’s owner to hold the animal—no easy task as he has to hold both its hind legs up in the air. Sangeeta has to be quick and strong. While the legs are up, Sangeeta takes a semen straw and swiftly but carefully inserts it into the goat. The procedure is done in less than a minute.

“We have seen that the kids born from insemination turn out to be healthier specimens, so we call the goat doctors as soon as we know the animal is on heat,” says Gulab Rokade, owner of a goat farm. “There are plenty of goats in this region. The milk is expensive at Rs.200 a litre, but there is enough demand from the cities for dairy products, and the mutton is of good quality as well. These animals are our livelihood, so we have to give them the best treatment. The goat doctors are very reliable,” says Rokade.

“The turning point for us came when we treated and revived a young goat. The villagers were so impressed that the initial suspicion gradually gave way to demand,” says Sangeeta. Their strike rate is clearly excellent. Of the 3,000 goats inseminated since the programme started, as many as 2,265 have delivered. The doctors keep a record of all the inseminated animals in files and regularly monitor them.

“People used to think we delivered milk as the nitrogen containers resemble milk cans,” says Rajshri. “Now they recognise us and offer us such a warm welcome.”