Cattle Breeding Policy: Desi breed conservation should not be at expense of farmers, milk output
Livestock is an important asset for Indian farmers to supplement their agricultur a l income. Cattle and buffaloes have been traditionally maintained by them for milk production as well as manure and bullock supply. With 191 million cattle and 109 million buffaloes, India accounts for 30.3 per cent of the global bovine population. The country also tops in world milk output, with an estimated 155.5 million tonnes (mt) output in 2015-16. However, Indiaâ€™s annual milk production per cow is only 1,310 kg, as against the world average of 2,200 kg and way below the 9,314 kg for the US and 10,035 kg of Israel. Such low milk yields are mainly because about 60 per cent of our cattle are genetically eroded nondescript animals. These animals, having no specific breed characteristics, produce just 350-500 kg of milk over an average annual lactation cycle. Out of the remaining 40 per cent, roughly 20 per cent comprises identified Indian cattle breeds with annual milk yields of 600-1,000 kg and another 20 per cent crossbred cows that produce 1,8002,200 kg per year. With rising farm mechanisation and use of chemical fertilisers, apart from rising feed and fodder costs, maintaining
cattle and buffalo is today becoming uneconomical, unless the focus shifts to dairy husbandry as an economically via ble and sustainable source of livelihood. But for that, it is necessary for farmers to keep animals yielding at least 1,200-1500 kg of milk per lactation. Currently, over 80 per cent of cattle in India are owned by some 70 million small and marginal farmers, a majority of whom rear nondescript cows. With an efficient breeding programme for improving the progeny of such animals, these poor farmers can adopt dairy husbandry as a reliable livelihood avenue. Out of the 37 recognised indigenous breeds of cattle, only four â€” Gir, Red Sindhi, Sahiwal and Tharparkar â€” are true milch breeds, with their average milk yields at around 1,500 kg per lactation. Another seven breeds are of dual purpose, maintained both for dairy and draught functions, and with 800-1,200 kg annual milk yields. The rest 26 are primarily draught breeds, reared for producing bullocks and whose milk yields are well below 800 kg. With the introduction of farm machinery and Lobbies with no stakes in dairy husbandry are undermining the achievements of crossbreeding through false glorification of the Indian cow.
high cost of maintaining bullocks, neither nondescript nor draught breeds are economical propositions any longer for farmers. One needs to, then, promote a suitable cattle breeding and conservation policy, which enables small and marginal farmers to make the best use of their animals for raising incomes. In 2012-13, the population of the four milch breeds, together with their upgraded progeny, was assessed at 11.29 million. Farmers would, no doubt, be happy to maintain such high-yielding animals. But on the other hand, the corresponding populations of the 7 dual-purpose and 26 draught breeds were 11.76 million and 14.88 million, respectively. With decreasing demand for bullocks, farmers will prefer breeding the cows from these with bulls of the more profitable milch cattle breeds. This is already happening in buffaloes, where owners of Banni, Surti, Bhadawari and Pandharpuri breeds use Murrahbulls for producing more high milk-yielding progeny, without bothering to conserve the former breeds. That leaves us with the estimated 113.25 million nondescript cattle, which are already under neglect due to low milk yields. Genetic improvement of their progeny by breeding with Indian dairy breeds has not been successful or, at any rate, attractive to farmers. Hence, crossbreeding with European dairy breeds such as Jersey and Holstein Friesian was promoted during the 1970s. As the crossbreds born to nondescript cows produced 2,000-2,400 kg milk per year, even marginal farmers started maintaining these animals and adopting