Bovine surrogates to help increase milk yield in Gujarat

February 7, 2023

Childless parents or women who are unable to conceive have often relied on in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy to enjoy parenthood. But in Gujarat, a milk union has embarked on an ambitious project whereby surrogate cows will be used to improve milk production in the state.

Amreli-based Amar Dairy has launched a pilot project through which good quality bull’s semen and cow’s oocytes are used to produce embryos in the laboratory. The embryos will be then transferred to non-Gir healthy cows to generate a new pedigree of healthy Gir cows that can yield more milk in future.

A Gir cow can produce a calf in a period of 1.5 years. A healthy Gir cow can give 20-30 litres of milk per day compared to other breeds that just provide 3-5 litres of milk a day.

“We have been practising artificial insemination (AI) for years but the success ratio is limited. So, we have launched a pilot project of using surrogate mothers in cows. The concept here is the same as that of a test tube baby. Embryos are prepared in the laboratory, kept in incubators for eight days and later transferred into selected cows,” said Amar Dairy’s managing director R S Patel.

The milk unions get the semen of Gir bull from gaushala run by the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). Eggs of healthy Gir cows from Amreli as well as some Porbandarbased breeders who have conserved pure Gir breed for decades are used for the project.

A cow usually produces 12-15 eggs a month. But if the same cow gets pregnant in a natural course only one egg is used in the entire year producing just one calf in a period of 12-15 months.

“But through this technique, we can use eggs of high milch cows to produce 20 to 25 calves a year. The next generation of female calves are high milk-producing cows,” he said.

Amar Dairy has spent Rs 90 lakh on purchasing the necessary medical equipment for embryo technology. It also has three veterinary doctors on panel while it is taking the service of two more expert doctors from outside the dairy’s veterinary network.

“These veterinarians go to the doorsteps of farmers to search for healthy cows in which the embryos can be transferred,” said the official.

The entire medical cost is borne by the milk union, the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) and the central government.

“In the first attempt, we flushed out 54 eggs. Out of them, we could create 15 embryos which we transferred to cows last week. After a month we will come to know its success ratio. Through this project, we have set the target to make 200 cows pregnant by the end of December,” Patel added.

It is worth mentioning here that NDDB in January 2019 had achieved success in producing two calves, one of Gir breed and another of Sahiwal breed, which were produced through IVF technique otherwise commonly referred as testtube babies in human beings. In this technique, first, an elite cow, known as a donor cow, was selected. The oocytes from the selected donor cows were fertilized in a petri dish using semen of top elite bulls. After seven days of development in the laboratory, the embryos were transferred to cows or surrogate mothers having low milk production potential. After nine months of pregnancy, the surrogate cows give birth to a calf.

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