Although I am animal nutritionist, I am daring to present my views, of course with the inputs from 17 experts I know. I am working with dairy industry and dairy farmers of India very closely since 1997 and I am in regular touch with academicians. Without better genetics, we cannot improve performance of animals with better nutrition and management practices beyond certain level. We need to take quantum jump in next decade or so. Poultry industry became organized in India since 1972 due to availability of commercial breeds, scientific nutrition and management practices. Will this magic will happen in dairy farming also? We will need to play important role to improve productivity.

India is ranked 1st in milk production contributing 23 per cent of global milk production  and there are 50 well-defined breeds of cattle and 17 breeds of buffaloes. As per National Action Plan for Dairy Development envisages to achieve milk production target of 300 Million MT by 2023-24 from 155.5 Million MT during 2015-16 requiring an annual growth rate of 8.56% which would lead to increase in per capita availability of milk from current level of 337 grams per day to 592 grams per day in 2023-24 addressing the substantial nutritional requirement of growing population. To achieve the desired milk production targets, average In-milk animal productivity would be required to grow annually at the rate of 4.7%.

The National Action Plan envisages increasing the coverage of number of villages from 1.86 lakh to 3.2 lakh by 2023-24. The coverage of farmer members envisages to increase from 16 million to 22 million by 2023-24 through setting up of village level infrastructure for milk procurement, increasing milk processing & milk product manufacturing and marketing facilities including cold chain. National Action Plan for Dairy Development is targeted to increase organised milk handling from 20% to 41% by 2022 to 50% by 2023-24. The milk handling by cooperatives dairies is targeted to increase from 10% to 20% and Private sector from 10% to 30%.

Government is focusing more funds and attention on conservation of indigenous breeds of cow and buffaloes. It is very important for our country. Many of our dairy farmers will continue to raise indigenous milch breeds like Gir, Sahiwal, Tharparkar, etc. as they are getting better prices for milk and milk products. All cooperatives and private dairies should expand milk procurement and processing infrastructure so that whatever surplus milk is available in any nook and corner of India will get better price. Many startups are working with dairy farmers to improve productivity of these indigenous breeds. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) technology and sex sorted semen will play important role.

There are 1800 registered Gaushalas, which can become hub to produce calves by IVF technology. They can sell these calves/heifers to dairy farmers in their surrounding areas. There is great scope for veterinarians and entrepreneurs to start IVF laboratories. At least 500 labs are needed who can do IVF for dairy animals in that particular district. Animal Husbandry departments, veterinary colleges and ICAR animal research Institutes can play important role of maintaining indigenous germplasm, demo farms and giving training to newcomers. Animal Husbandry Ministry, Government of India will be happy to bring out new schemes like Rashtriya Gokul Mission, which should be implemented by state animal husbandry departments with the help of various stakeholders. Presently NDDB, Shyam IVF, Godrej Agrovet, WWS, ABS, BAIF, Accuvance, etc. are working in IVF and sex sorted semen production sector. But demand is too high!

In next decade or so, our research should focus on short term and long-term goals simultaneously. Our wish list is as follows:

  • We should encourage farmers to keep more than five animals and to use of sorted semen at right time to get higher conception rate.
  • Genetics is the permanent factor that cannot be changed after the birth, we should focus on genetic upgradation with advanced technologies like IVF and ET as well as using genomic selection tools for traits like milk yield, disease free animals suitable for particular environment. We should check breed composition according to environment.
  • Authentic record keeping is must. Many commercial apps and software are available. Many tech startups, NDDB and NGOs are working on development of animal recording and tracking software. India should have a common platform for all of these software. Architecture of software’s should be designed in such a way that data could be transferred from one to other similar to MNP (Mobile number portability). UID (Unique identification number) is the basic requirement for tracking the cattle. Each and every single Indian cattle must have a permanent digital UID.
  • There is need of formulation of area specific and state-wise breeding policies according to market needs. We should avoid indiscriminate breeding.
  • Farmers are not able to sustain in rearing indigenous breeds only by selling milk alone. He can get extra income by selling calves, products from cow dung and urine and also from biogas (cooking gas, manure).
  • Bull selection should be done on parameters like feed efficiency, weight gain, daughter conception rate, fertility index, mastitis resistance, udder development, low somatic cell score, high productive life, etc.
  • We should include India-born HF/Jersey breeding bulls in INTERBULL program. We should work on robust sire evaluation methods for declaring proven bulls, which will overcome ranking difference of sire across different sets of progeny testing.
  • It’s now time to introduce artificial intelligence in animal genetics and breeding in terms of unbiased predictions for breeding values, breed identification, pedigree study, genetic relationships using muzzle imprint pattern, etc.
  • As of date, IVF is costly affair as many inputs have to be imported. Let’s do everything to make it affordable and available at an arm’s length. Cost of IVF media and imported semen plays a big role in overall embryo costing, Indian scientists should focus on it to bring down costing by doing research on IVF media. We should have commercial IVF media “Made in India” at earliest.
  • We should use genomic markers for production, health and conformation traits.
  • We should use performance indices.
  • We should develop techniques to produce sorted semen.
  • We should find replacement of cryogenics for storage.
  • We should develop and commercialize early pregnancy detection strips.
  • We are moving towards breed prioritisation than breed conservation, as only few indigenous breeds are targeted everywhere in policies by clear negligence towards other low producing breeds.
  • Understanding true genetic potential of indigenous germplasm is very important. Identifying the breeding populations, which are not yet defined. Characterisation of such germplasm at phenotypic and genetic level should be done. Knowing the true genetic potential of such population is a million dollar question. Studying the economics of dairy production in the breeding tract should be done. Supply of good quality indigenous semen straws in the respective breeding tract for improvement as well conservation is necessary.
  • There is scope of genetic improvement for milk yield. Quantifiable targets should be planned. Scientists should explore the best strategy for improvement. Selection within breed versus crossbreeding with exotic germplasm to non descript should be the approach.
  • Linking market with final produce is also important for its commercial success. We should produce diversification. For genetic improvement, we can use selection and breeding approaches. Selecting elite germplasm using advanced approach viz.  genomic selection should be upcoming strategy. Development of genomic chips for indigenous breeds is the thrust area of reasearch. NDDB, BAIF, NIAB and NBAGR working on it. For development of such chips identifying SNPs associated with production traits and incorporating them in selection.
  • Genomic selection is more accurate and help to select animals at earlier age and reduces generation interval and results in faster genetic gain. For indigenous breeds, Field performance recording and progeny testing is needed for superior bulls. Role of farmers is to maintain records, do selection on the basis of production and reproduction traits and effective culling.
  • Breeding animals for disease resistance, heat tolerance, specific production traits and selection of low methane emitting animals are also the upcoming areas of research.
  • For farmers, choosing of best germplasm for breeding, maintaining apt exotic inheritance according to climatic conditions and available resources especially in case of crossbred animals is very important. They need to be educated regularly through online and offline mode.
  • There is need of characterization of new breeds in order to identify unique genotypes and their genetic improvement.
  • Only data recording is not important. Its analysis and interpretation is more important. It should be used in ranking of animal for the characters under selection.
  • There is need of formation of nucleus herds of specific breeds at veterinary colleges and state animal husbandry dairy farms.
  • There is need of formation of breed societies and herd registration of specific breeds of livestock. For sustainable development of indigenous breeds, strengthening and empowerment of these associations will play vital role. Indigenous breeds cannot be conserved and improved without active participation of farmers.
  • There is need to maintain the data of buying and selling of indigenous and crossbred cows and buffaloes.
  • There is need of development of ICT tools for animal weighing in the field.
  • Low cost cow wearable like collars or pedometers can be developed and linked with mobile apps for early and timely detection of heat or silent heat in dairy animals so that timely insemination can be done preferably by sorted semen.

And this list is not complete! You can add your points as well. Implementation will need dedicated team comprising all stakeholders and it will result in taking research from lab to field to benefit our dairy farmers and will give right feedback to our scientists. Let’s work together!