Lia stayed put in her riverside house at Peroor in Kottayam even after the water level surged dangerously. The dairy farmer could not abandon her 10 cows. She took refuge in her mother's house with her small children only after shifting the cows to her ancestral house on higher grounds and putting someone in charge of them.
When she returned four days later, water had entered the cowshed and the caretaker was nowhere to be seen. Luckily for her, the costly cows had coped well in knee-deep water.
Lia had asked the caretaker to go slow on feeding the cows to reduce milk production. She did not want the cows to suffer in the flood which made it impossible to milk them. However, the cows had starved with no one to take care of them. Milk production slowed to a trickle even after the flood receded.
Lia and her pets had to face the vagaries of flood twice this year. The second flood in August was the worst. The five milching cows produced 80 to 85 litres of milk before the July flood. The production slowed to 40 to 45 litres after the flood. She had tended to the cows with care to increase the production to up to 60 litres when the second flood happened. Production fell to 35 litres.
The enterprising farmer has worked hard to increase milk production to 60 litres. She has six milching cows now. The other four are pregnant.
Surviving the devastating flood was not easy. Lia lost more than three acres of grass she has cultivated to feed the cows. She was struggling to feed the cows with whatever grass and hay she could collect from the paddy fields when the river rose for a second time. She said she managed to stay afloat only with the fodder supplied by the Kerala animal husbandry department.
Lia knew she was taking a gamble when she quit her job. The management professional had tapped into her provident fund savings to buy a jersey cow for Rs 36,000 in 2010. It was not long before she realized that she had been duped by the seller. The cow was much older than she expected and it did not yield as much milk as promised by the seller.
She persisted. In three years, she learned the ropes and even managed to win an award from the Ettumanoor block panchayat for the best dairy farmer in the locality. She gradually bought more cows and even started selling milk retail by procuring from neighbouring farmers. At a point, she used to sell fresh farm milk to 208 houses, going from door to door on her scooter.
She had to take it easy after the death of her father. She had to manage the affairs of a private bank run by her father. She limited the number of cows under her care to 10.
She still supplies milk to about 80 houses and several shops. She even sells milk products such as curd and ghee. She intends to cultivate more acres of feeding grass and increase milk production to pre-flood levels. She said she is just one of the many dairy farmers across Kerala who are struggling to get back on their feet after the floods.