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Time to revive native cow breeds
By Devinder Sharma

Very high milk productivity of Indian cow breeds in Brazil proves that with proper nutrition, veterinary care and genetic development our desi cows can help us meet our growing milk demand. After decades of indifference, policymakers are now turning their focus on native breeds.


While India ignored Gir, and other native breeds, Brazil developed Indian cows

Better late than never! Highly concerned by the demand for milk outstripping supply, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) has finally decided to develop 900 progeny bulls of primarily native breeds to meet the increasing demand for milk in the years to come.

This is certainly heartening news. More so, it has come at a time when an American company - World Wide Sires Ltd - is planning to provide high-quality semen to dairy farmers in Punjab for cross-breeding so as to improve milk production.

NDDB seems to have finally realised the immense but neglected potential of the native breeds. The pedigree bulls to be developed in the next five years would be of the prized indigenous cattle breeds like Sahiwal, Gir, Kankrej, Surti, Mehsani and Jafrabadi (buffaloes). To be used for cross-breeding with native cattle, the resulting genetic improvement is expected to raise milk production by 30 to 100 per cent over the existing 6.5 litres average of a quality cross-bred, says a news report.

This report also comes at a time when the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Research has recently demonstrated the superior milk quality of Indian cattle breeds. After scanning 22 cattle breeds, scientists concluded that in five high milk-yielding native breeds - Red Sindhi, Sahiwal, Tharparkar, Rathi and Gir - the status of A2 allele of the beta casein gene was 100 per cent. In other Indian breeds it was around 94 per cent, compared to only 60 per cent in exotic breeds like Jersey and HF. The A2 allele is responsible for making available more Omega-6 fatty acids in milk.

I have always wondered why the native cattle breeds (they number 30) are despised at home, and roam the streets because of their low productivity and therefore low economic value. It seems our planners and policy makers were fascinated by the exotic breeds and therefore introduced these breeds without even ascertaining the potential of native breeds. The Indian breeds are suited to the local conditions, are able to resist the heat of summers, need less water, can walk long distances, live on local grasses and resist tropical diseases. They can be also turned into high milk producers given the right kind of feed and environment.

The Indian breeds are suited to the local conditions, are able to resist the heat of summers, need less water, can walk long distances, live on local grasses and resist tropical diseases. They can be also turned into high milk producers given the right kind of feed and environment.

Let us look at the success of Indian cattle breeds in Brazil. At a recent milk competition held in Brazil, I was surprised to find pure-bred Gir cow clocking 48 litres of milk/day. The cow that ranked second in a three-day milk competition also belonged to the same Indian breed - Gir. It gave 45 litres of milk. The cow that stood third was also Indian breed Ongole (called Nellore in Brazil) giving 42 litres of milk. These are the same breeds which have failed to match the superiority of the exotic breeds back home. It only shows that if we had made the efforts to develop native breeds, the holy cow would have truly regained the revered status.

Brazil has also in recent years emerged as the world’s biggest supplier of improved cattle embryos and semen of Indian origin breeds - now rated amongst the best dairy breeds in the world. The demand for Indian breeds is particularly high from the African and Southeast Asian countries. Unfortunately in India, policy makers and planners have still to realise the potential of its own breeds. I see no reason why India cannot collaborate with Brazil to bring back some of the best cattle breeds back to the country.

While India ignored the strength and capabilities of its domestic cattle, Brazil realised the unique genetic potential of Indian breeds.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has meanwhile announced plans to import Gir cows from Brazil. He in fact had told me sometimes back that he had asked NDDB to focus on the indigenous cattle breeds.

Believe it or not, the world’s best Gir cows today give 5500 litres of milk on an average per lactation of 307 days. Compare these with the neglected cousin back home, which do not yield more than 980 litres, six times less than the Gir in Brazil. And that’s not the maximum limit, milk yields as high as 9000 litres per lactation have been recorded in Brazil. It is therefore quite apparent that while India ignored the strength and capabilities of its domestic cattle, Brazil realised the unique genetic potential of Indian breeds.

If only Indian dairy and animal scientists had not ignored the domestic cattle breeds, these cows would not be roaming the streets as it is happening today. Instead of inviting private dairy firms from abroad to go in for cross-breeding with superior germplasm, the effort should be to improve the domestic breeds which are suitable to the Indian conditions. The NDDB initiative to shift the focus on native breeds therefore is a crucial turnaround in India’s march to retain the top slot in global milk supply.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

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Feedback /Comments on this article
Potential of indigenous cows

The write up is very informative, more so because we are planning to open a mechanised dairy farm near Kolkata. However considering the climatic conditions and feed restraints we are yet to finalise on the breed of cows we will settle for. In case you can provide some more insight it would be very helpful.

Dated: Tuesday, December 20, 2011

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