Cattle rearing has been a traditional livelihood in rural India and is closely linked to agricultural economy. Cow milk is both a food and medicine. There are references in Atharvaveda, a sacred text of Hinduism, on the management and upkeep of cattle. Charaka Samhita states ten important properties of cow milk: “Svadu (sweet), sheetal (cool), mridu (soft), snigdha (unctuous), bahula (dense), shlakshna (smooth), pichcchil (viscous), guru (heavy), manda (low), and prasanna (pleasing). Ayurveda has described innumerable benefi ts of cow milk such as enhancing tissues regeneration, immune response, health promoting, disease-preventing and a good therapeutic for post disease recovery. Milk and milk products used in conjunction with medicines are known to enhance their pharmacokinetic and dynamic benefits.
Indian cattle (Bos indicus) have fixed A2 allele as compared to most exotic cattle (Bos taurus) that have higher frequency of A1 type allele. It is known that milk from Indian cattle does not have betacaso-morphine, which is possibly associated with some metabolic disorders like diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
According to the 19th Livestock Census, India has about 191 million cattle constituting 13.5 percent of the world cattle population. Of this, 79 percent (151 million) are indigenous. Most of the indigenous cattle (80 percent) are non-descript and 20 percent belong to indigenous breeds recognised by the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR).
Indigenous cattle in India are represented by 39 well recognised indigenous breeds that are robust and resilient and are particularly suited to the climate and environment of their respective breeding tracts. They are endowed with qualities of heat tolerance, resistance to diseases and the ability to thrive under extreme climatic stress and less than optimal nutrition.
The potential to enhance the productivity of indigenous breeds through professional farm management and superior nutrition is immense. For this it is essential to promote conservation and development of indigenous breeds. The Rs 5,000 million Rashtriya Gokul Mission of the Government of India aims to conserve and develop indigenous cattle breeds in a focused and scientific manner. This programme will cover genetic improvement of 13 buffalo breeds as well.
Importance of indigenous breeds
Cattle of indigenous breeds not only contribute to milk production but are also used as draught animals for agricultural operations and transport, a quality exotic animals lack. Indigenous cattle categorised as Zebu, are suited for this quality due to presence of a hump. During 2014-2015, about 46 million cattle were “in milk” and contributed around 66 million tonnes of milk. In addition, most of the agricultural operations by small farmers are performed by indigenous bullocks.
Indigenous cattle are well known for their quality of heat tolerance and ability to withstand extreme climatic conditions. Studies of impact of climate change and effect of temperature rise on milk production of dairy animals indicate that temperature rise due to global warming will negatively impact milk production.
The annual loss in milk production of cattle and buffaloes due to thermal stress in 2020 will be about 3.2 million tonnes of milk costing more than Rs. 50,000 million at current prices. The decline in milk production and reproductive efficiency will be highest in crossbred cattle followed by buffaloes. Indigenous breeds will be least affected by climate change as they are more hardy and robust.
Due to their unique characteristics of heat tolerance, tick and pest resistance, resistance to diseases and the ability to thrive under extreme climatic conditions, these animals have been imported by several countries including USA, Brazil and Australia during last several decades for development of heat tolerant disease resistant stock.
Need for protection and conservation
Indigenous cattle play a crucial role in the national economy through supply of draught animal power, milk, cow dung (organic manure) and cow urine (medicinal value). Crossbreds are more productive but their tendency to wilt under Indian conditions of low input and harsh climate and susceptibility to tropical diseases warrants the conservation and development of indigenous breeds.
Some of the indigenous breeds have enormous potential to become high yielding commercial milch animals under optimal farm management. The pre-requisites for the development of a breed are: (a) the presence of a minimum base population and (b) a wide selection differential for economic traits.
The indigenous dairy breeds with potential for development as commercially viable milch cattle in a shorter time frame are: Sahiwal in Punjab; Rathi and Tharparkar in Rajasthan; and Gir and Kankrej in Gujarat. If these breeds are selectively crossed with bulls selected through sibling and progeny testing, the F-1 offspring would be commercially viable. In this manner the entire population of the breed can be upgraded in a few generations.
So, the urgency for protection and conservation of indigenous breeds cannot be over emphasised. For instance breeds like Punganur, Vechur and Krishna Valley are rapidly declining and require immediate attention.
RASHTRIYA GOKUL MISSION
The Rashtriya Gokul Mission has the following objectives:
- To undertake breed improvement programme for indigenous cattle breeds so as to improve the genetic make-up and increase the stock.
- To enhance milk production and productivity of indigenous bovines.
- To upgrade nondescript cattle using elite indigenous breeds like Gir, Sahiwal, Rathi, Deoni, Tharparkar, Red Sindhi.
- To distribute disease-free high genetic merit bulls of indigenous breeds for natural service.
Rashtriya Gokul Mission will be implemented through the State Implementing Agencies (SIAs). The State Livestock Development Boards/State Goseva Aayogs will be given the mandate to sponsor proposals and monitor their implementation.
All agencies like Central Frozen Semen Production & Training Institute (CFSPTI), Central Cattle Breeding Farms, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), State Agriculture and Veterinary Universities & Colleges, NGOs and Gaushalas having a role in indigenous cattle development will be provided with best germplasm.
Gokul Gram: It is proposed to establish Integrated Indigenous Cattle Centres or Gokul Grams in the native breeding tracts, and near metropolitan cities for housing and managing urban cattle. These will act as centres for development of indigenous breeds and a dependable source for supply of high genetic breeding stock to the farmers. The Gokul Gram will be self sustaining and will generate economic resources from sale of A2 milk, organic manure, vermi-composting, urine distillates, and production of electricity from biogas for in house consumption and sale of animal products.
The Gokul Gram will also function as state of the art in situ training centre for farmers and breeders. Each Gokul Gram will be set up by and function under the auspices of the SIA or in a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) mode. It will maintain 1,000 milch and unproductive animals in the ratio of 60:40.
Nutritional requirements of the animals will be provided through in house fodder production. Disease free status will be maintained through regular screening of animals for important diseases. An inbuilt dispensary and AI centre will be an integral part. Gokul Gram near urban areas will focus on genetic upgradation of cattle.
Strengthening of Bull Mother Farms to conserve high genetic merit indigenous cattle breeds: It is proposed to identify 50 bull mother farms having good infrastructure for management of animals of indigenous breeds.
It will be ensured that the breeding farm is located in the breeding tract of a particular indigenous breed. These farms will be the source of indigenous breeds and supply high genetic, disease free bulls for natural service. Funds will bemade available for strengthening existing infrastructure, purchase of elite breeding stock, biogas plant, urine distillation plant and other equipment as per requirement.
Bull Mother Farms will be made self sustainable through sale of breeding stock, milk and milk products, organic manure, urine distillate, electricity, and root slips, stem slips and fodder seeds. Disease free status of the farm will be maintained through regular screening of animals against diseases.
Field Performance Recording (FPR) in breeding tract: Field Performance Recording is the initial activity for taking up development of dairy animals. Under FPR, milk and other important traits are recorded to identify animal with high genetic potential. Elite animal is then propagated in and outside the breeding tract in order to prevent deterioration in the performance of the breed and to take up further development of breed.
It is proposed to initiate FPR in the breeding tract of the indigenous breeds recognised by NBAGR. Funds will be made available to implementing agency for establishment of private AI centre; establishment of milk recording system with supervisors, computers at strategic locations; Management Information System (MIS) for data recording by milkotester; identification & recording of animals as per the International Committee on Animal Recording (ICAR) method; disease testing of animals brought under recording, incentives to farmers participating under the programme and calf rearing centres.
Each FPR programme will cover minimum of 50 villages and 5,000 animals will be brought under recording. Farmers maintaining animals above standards and specifications set under the programme will be felicitated and given prizes in cash or kind.
Assistance to institutes which are repositories of best germ plasm: Some of the Trusts, NGOs and Gaushalas are repositories of best germ plasm of indigenous breeds. There is a need to involve and support them in the development and conservation of indigenous breeds. Disease free high genetic merit animals from these Trusts, NGOs and Gaushalas will be reintroduced back into the breeding programme.
Implementation of pedigree selection programme for indigenous breeds: Selection of bulls can be done through methods like pedigree selection and progeny testing. Among the indigenous breeds, efforts will be made to select bulls through pedigree selection, since lack of extensive AI coverage and smaller population of indigenous breeds makes Progeny Testing unfeasible. Selecting the best bulls based on the performance of their parents forms the basis of pedigree selection. For attaining disease free status in the pedigree selection programme, the animals will be screened at regular intervals.
Gopalan Sangh—Establishment of breeders’ societies in breeding tract: Breeders’ societies play a crucial role in development and conservation of indigenous breeds. Most of the breeds in the world are developed by breeder associations or societies. Attempts will be made to constitute breeders associations on self sustainable basis. The association will take up recording of animals in the breeding tract, recommend bulls to be used for AI and NS in the area, standardise phenotypic character of the breed in consultation with farmer members and collect the reports on genetic disorders.
Distribution of disease free high genetic merit bulls for natural service: The implementing agency will be assisted to procure and distribute high genetic merit bulls for natural service in the breeding tract of indigenous breeds. Assistance will also be made available for registration of bulls for natural service and regular screening of bulls for diseases.
Incentive to farmers maintaining elite animals of indigenous breeds: Recognition of farmers maintaining indigenous breeds plays an important role in attracting more farmers to rear indigenous animals. Elite animals available with the farmers can be reintroduced back into the breeding programme.
Heifer rearing programme on 25 per cent subsidy basis: In the last several decades, under various schemes, farmers are being assisted for rearing of crossbred calves. However, there has not been any scheme to assist rearing of indigenous calves. Looking at the importance of these breeds, it is now proposed to provide assistance for rearing of heifers.
Awards to farmers and breeders’ societies: It is proposed to institute the following awards:
- Gopal Ratna awards to farmers maintaining the best herd of Indigenous Breed(s) and practicing best management practices.
- Kamadhenu awards to best managed indigenous herd by Institutions, Trusts, NGOs, Gaushalas, and Breeders’ Societies.
Organisation of milk yield competitions for indigenous breeds: Records of the animals participating in the milk yield competitions will be maintained properly. Elite animals identified will be reintroduced by the implementing agency into the breeding programme.
Organisation of training programmes for technical and non-technical personnel: Training programmes will be organised for technical and non-technical personnel working at the institutes engaged in cattle development.
National Kamdhenu Breeding Centre
A Nucleus Herd of all the indigenous bovine breeds will be conserved and developed to enhance their productivity and upgrade genetic merit. Besides being a repository of indigenous germplasm, the Centre will also be a source of certified genetics in the country.
Elite certified germplasm—in the form of bulls for artificial insemination and natural service, heifers, male and female calves, semen doses and embryos—will be made available to farmers, breeders, breeding institutes and trusts maintaining indigenous breeds.
The Government of India is committed to building a strong base of indigenous breeds of cattle to promote production of good quality cow milk. The Government would harness the knowledge base and infrastructure network available with national and state level organisations engaged in research, development and rural extension activities.
Intent is to take the rural milk producers, private dairy farms, voluntary institutions like gaushalas to participate and collaborate with the National Dairy Development Board, Indian Council of Agricultural Research and State Agricultural and Veterinary Universities, National Dairy Research Institute, National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, the State Departments of Animal Husbandry, Veterinary Services and Dairy Development in the conservation, development and growth of Indian cattle breeds.
With the concerted efforts of all agencies involved in this mission, the past glory of Indian cattle breeds will be restored.