An animal market in North with a 100-year-old history

Previously Published: The Business Standard

It is a wide field packed with rows of cows, horses, bulls, goats and sheep as far as the eyes can see. People of all ages congregate and the air rings out with the sounds of haggling. Sudden moos and bleats punctuate the atmosphere. A hundred fragrances waft from the small eateries in the field serving rice meals.

And then there are the long queues of trucks, pickup vans, and the Nasimon-Karimon commuters, a low buzz constantly emanating from the place.

This here is the “best cattle market in the whole of North Bengal”, the famous over 100-year-old Talgachi cattle market or haat in Sirajganj.

Steeped in history

The Talgachi haat, situated in Shahjadpur upazila, started over a hundred years ago, when the late Abu Ishaq Mia took a lease for the place in the 1920s.

Before that, the market was under the patronage of the local landlords.

A clever businessman, Ishaq Mia saw the potential of the market and began to expand it after which it soon grew in popularity, according to Ishaq Mia’s fourth son Haji Rafiqul Alam and local researcher Ashraf Khan.

Ishaq Mia’s father, the late Mokimuddin Sarkar, was a manager in the Thakur zamindar’s (landlords) estates. After Mokimuddin’s death, Ishaq grew up at his maternal grandparents’ house. After failing to continue his education, he decided to become a businessman.

His penchant for entrepreneurship paid off and soon he went back to his father’s employer, the zamindar of Shahjadpur, to seek a lease for the market.

The estate manager and the landlord liked Ishaq and agreed to lease the Talgachi haat to him for Tk300 for a period of five years.

This was a turning point for Ishaq Mia.

He continued leasing the haat until the India partition, during which he took numerous initiatives to promote the market. He spent a large portion of his earnings from the haat on social welfare, causing his reputation to grow.

The market also began to attract sellers from all parts of North Bengal.

The Talgachi haat was the biggest cattle market in the wider Pabna region during the Pakistani period, according to local history enthusiast and researcher Ashraf Khan.

Much of this was owing to Ishaq Mia’s reputation as a trustworthy businessman. Businessmen from the upazila and outside used to keep their money with Ishaq Mia, who maintained an account and returned the money when asked.

After the partition, the Pakistan government confiscated all properties of landlords, resulting in Ishaq Mia losing the lease on the market. When the government began to lease out the lands again, Ishaq Mia once more secured the haat from them.

During the Pakistan period Ishaq Mia began to split the lease, keeping 75% and distributing the rest, said Shirajul Islam Doulat, a former headmaster of a primary school.

In 1972, Ishaq Mia leased the haat for the last time. There was disorder in the market after Liberation. At one time a murder also took place. Ishaq Mia died in 1973 at the age of 85.

Still a buzzing market today

Currently, many breeds of cows, goats, bulls, horses, and all kinds of native sheep are sold in the market.

The market opens once a week on Sundays at 7am and is fully packed by 11am. Foot traffic wanes around 2pm and the haat ends by 5-6pm.

Smallholder farmers from the villages bring their cattle to the haat to sell. Sometimes wholesalers buy the cattle directly from farmers’ homes and sell to bigger buyers. The big sellers have their own designated places at the market, called “doga”. Dogas are demarcated by bamboo fences.

Shirajuddin, a seller who’s been coming to the market for 37 years, said that the livestocks costs more at the haat as they exchange hands a few times. Some farmers, however, disagreed with Shirajuddin, saying that cattles are available at the right prices at the haat. Some others complained about dishonest dealers, because of whom, they said, farmers were deprived of fair prices.

The dealers, or dalals, work on a commission and have always been a fixture at the market. At least a few hundred people earn their living by acting as the middlemen.

The market authority often tries to get rid of the dalas, but they always seem to come back to prey on inexperienced buyers.

The new age lessees

Since Ishaq Mia, it appears that the local public representatives primarily get the lease. But no one has been able to hold on to the lease for decades like Ishaq.

Part of the Garadaha Union, the current lease is owned by the Union Chairman Saiful Islam.

“The lease rate is increasing constantly. The district administrator’s office issues the tender for the lease. A few people submit applications, and one candidate gets it,” said Saiful Islam.

Last year, the lease was granted at Tk86 lakh and this year it is expected to cross Tk90 lakh, according to Saiful Islam.

The base price for the tender is calculated from the total trading amount in the 52 days of a year that the haat operates. Most of the time one person gets the tender, but sometimes there are syndicates who take it.

This year a total of 28 applications have been submitted. Whoever wins it will then share it with a few others.

The lessees get Tk500-700 for each cow sold, and keep order in the haat in return. They also examine the cattles and resolve disputes.

The big ticket items

Cows are the biggest selling cattle at Talgachi, followed by goats, buffaloes, and horses.

The Australian Friesian is the most sought after cow breed, while dairy and pregnant cows are the most expensive.

Most of the buyers at the Talgachi haat are people looking to get cattles for farming. The farmers prefer the Friesian most, and then the Jersey, followed by other cross or hybrids, and then Sahiwal.

Farmers tend to not take local cows, as they are smaller in size and can’t produce as much milk as other breeds.

One farmer, Nijamuddin Sarker from the Norina village, said the Australian breed or the Jersey are the clear choices if someone was looking for dairy cows. “Sahiwal or the desi breeds don’t produce much milk, but they are easy to rear. They also taste good and butchers buy these,” said Najimuddin.

Butchers actually buy a large portion of the cattle on sale at the market. Butchers pay for cows based on weight, typically paying Tk500-550 per kg. For goats, they pay Tk700-800 per kg. But how do they weigh a cow?

“We can tell by just looking,” said a smiling Habibur Rahman, a butcher who sources meat from the Talgachi haat.

“Experienced people can tell the age of a cow, how much milk or meat it will have, whether it has any disease, if it’s got fattening drugs, etc, just by looking at it,” he said.

Another experienced buyer at the market, Shahadat Ali, detailed some of the markers for distinguishing good cows from the bad. “The lower the hump and the flatter the back, the better quality is the cow. Good quality cows have smaller ears, are narrower at the neck and wider at the back,” shared Shahadat Ali.

The number of teeth signifies age, with cows with two teeth considered a young cow, and four teeth considered an adult. “Some even have six to eight teeth. You should never get those,” warned the veteran buyer.

At Talgachi, a dairy cow producing 10 litres of milk costs Tk2 lakh. The price increases with higher-milk yielding cows. Cows that can produce over 25 litres of milk can sell for Tk4.5-5 lakh.

Normally, a cow is able to produce more milk after it gives birth to a second calf. The more it gives birth, the better the quality and higher the volume of the milk. Friesians and Jerseys can give birth to upto five or six calves before their milk production wanes. For other breeds, it’s much earlier.

After giving birth to five calves, the cows are usually sold to butchers, as they can’t bear any more calves. Calves of different ages are also sold at the Talgachi haat.

Most goats and sheep buyers also buy those for rearing. An adult goat sells for Tk10-15 thousand at Talgachi. Sheep are similarly priced.

A sheep seller Jonny said he sells 8-10 sheep on every market day, sometimes more.

A few thousand cattle are put up for sale and 1,500-2,000 cattle are typically sold.

Horse buyers at the haat told this correspondent that they get horses mainly for pulling carriages or for use during wedding ceremonies, while some also race the horses.

Khalil Fakir has been selling horses at the haat for the last four years. He was asking for Tk60 thousand for a pair of male horses. “I have reared goats and cows my whole life. Now I’m old. I like looking after horses and don’t really think about profit or loss,” said Khalil.

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