If there is one thing closest to her heart besides her family, it is Dongkam. The 43-year-old from Nyebi Goenpa in Sangbaykha gewog, Haa takes pride in her lone cow, Dongkam, and would not exchange it for anything.

For the past few years, the cow has been able to meet her family’s demands for dairy produce.

Pema said the cow has earned her Nu 3,000 when it was declared the best cow in a national cattle contest recently. “It gives me about three litres of milk in the morning and about 1.5 litres in the evening,” she said.

Sangbaykha’s livestock extension officer, Nub Tshering, said the breed enjoys better health compared to others. The cattle can quickly adapt to its surroundings. “The cattle have a high survival rate as they enjoy better resistance to disease and do not fall ill easily,” he said.

The cattle have a hump larger than others, a bushy tip tail, longer dewlap, curved horns, and larger limbs. They come mostly in red and black.

Thinley Dorji from Sangbay Ama boasts about his bull. He lets the villagers use his bull to bear cows in the village for free.  “Other bulls can’t even match half of my Nub Lang in strength,” Thinley Dorji said.

But locals are concerned that their symbol of pride is vanishing. They have seen an increasing number of other breeds, mostly jersey and Brown Swiss, in the community. Nub Tshering said cross breeding is one of the reasons for the decline in the number. The gewog of more than 300 households together own about 1,700 cattle heads, including other breeds. The community once thrived on cattle and people from other dzongkhags rushed to the gewog to buy bulls.

Locals like Pema and Gem Tshering are concerned about the sustainability of the breed. The government implemented a project in 2011 to preserve and promote Nub Lang providing Nu 100,000 as seed money to the gewog office, with fencing materials for pastureland and free fodder seeds.

The cow is unique and native to the gewog, a descendant of the Nub Lang or the bull from the West.

Gem Tshering, 65, from Sangbay Ama said the locals believe that the bull was a gift from the local guardians of the legendary Nub Tshona Patra (the dark lake of the West).

Elders in the village say it is unique from other breeds.

The story goes something like this: A herder from Nakha, was herding cattle in Pang Gongma somewhere near the present site where Nub Tshona Patra is today. When it became dark, a couple appeared and asked if he would let them rest at his place for the night.

The herder treated them to a sumptuous feast of dairy produce. When they left the next morning, the couple told the herder that they would send a bull as a token of gratitude for his generous hospitality.

Two days later, a lean red bull slowly walked towards his herd.

Gem Tshering said the cattle in the shed retreated and gave way to the bull, submitting to its supremacy. Since then, the herder’s cattle bred to the extent that he found it difficult to manage.

Another source said that the bull was shot with an arrow, as the herder was unable to manage the expanding herd. The bull rushed off, leaving behind the herd and entered a nearby lake. The lake today appears red, which is believed to be the blood of the bull.

“Despite our efforts, locals are opting for more improved breeds like jersey as they produce more milk,” Nub Tshering said.

On the brighter side, he said, Nub Lang has been distributed to many pockets of the country. “It is now in the hands of other herders and farmers who have bought the bull from Sangbaykha to save the original Bhutanese cattle breed,” Gem Tshering said.

Tshering Palden | Haa