Pragmatic Approach to Cattle Development ( Part II: Technology Driven Cattle Development)

Interview with Dr. Dattatray Rangnekar, Former Senior vice president in BAIF
Part II: Technology Driven Cattle Development
Q. 6 Over last several decades we could only take AI technology to farmers? Why so what are the challenges in technology transfers in India?

6.1 It took several decades for AI technology to become popular, however, even now there is a large number of dairy animal owners who have either not adopted AI for breeding their animals or use bulls along with AI. I learnt that technology based service should fulfil Three Major Preconditions for adoption of Technology like Artificial Insemination are Timely accessibility, Effectiveness (conception rate for AI) and Benefit (better progeny) and organising AI service provided these lessons. BAIF was the first organisation to adopt AI service with frozen semen (of selected bulls) at the doorstep of the farmer to fulfil these conditions and that resulted in high rate of adoption of AI.

6.2 Development analysts have pointed out that adoption of technologies developed and recommendations made by technical persons is very poor by livestock producers and has been a subject of discussions at many fora and livestock research is blamed for making very little contribution to livestock development. However, livestock extension has also to be equally blamed in selecting technologies and recommendation for wider propagation. Small holder livestock keepers are very often described as ‘Tradition Bound, Resistant to Change and Averse to Adopting New Technologies’. Looking at it from the perspective of small holder producer ‘Resistance to change is a Blessing in Disguise’ – accepting all recommendations/technologies would have put them in deep trouble. In most cases Recommendations and Technologies are pushed on the famers without assessing their need, appropriateness, benefits, particularly for small holders who cannot take risks. Analysts have strongly recommended ‘Paradigm Change’ in planning and implementation of Research / Technology generation and adopt ‘Innovation Systems Approach’. Scientific recommendations or technologies should be tested not only for Technical soundness, economic benefit but also for social adaptability through long term trials involving small holder producers. Unfortunately, such approach is not followed in most cases.

Q. 7 Artificial Insemination is indicated as a crucial technology for implementing cattle development program, what were the challenges while implementing AI programs, can you share your personal experiences.

AI is one of the tools through which breeding program is implemented and is one of the crucial factors for implementing the program.

7.1 In order to improve milk production a program of producing dairy animals with better milk production potential was necessary. Such a change could only be brought by implementing a breeding plan through Artificial Insemination – using semen of selected bulls, since this tool/technique enables wider coverage of cows/she buffaloes using semen of selected bulls and produce large number of progeny with better potential. Breeding through natural service, with selected bulls, enables very limited coverage. Moreover, with wide adoption of use of frozen semen it is possible to extend benefit of good genetic material to animal owners in remote villages preserve semen of good bulls for a very long time. Another major benefit of the semen processing technology is to be able to ensure no disease is transmitted through semen – an approach not possible with natural service.

7.2 Challenges for best benefit of Artificial Insemination are summarised below

7.2.1 Owner – His/her role is crucial in the success of artificial insemination – relate to some crucial aspects like – keeping animal healthy, detecting heat and reporting to service centre and observing after insemination. Creating awareness on these aspects (particularly women0 is crucial for success. Owner should also be well aware of the type of progeny they would like to get and tell inseminator about it.

7.2.2 Animal to be inseminated should be healthy (its reproductive organs) and in right stage of heat to get desired results (pregnancy).

7.2.3 Service provider (Inseminator) has a crucial role in success of AI. The person should we well trained in AI technique as well as aspects related to reproduction (ensure the animal is healthy and in the right stage of heat). In house training is essential to ensure desired results. They should also have skills for detecting pregnancy at an early stage since making animal pregnant is the main objective of AI service.

7.2.4 Privatisation of AI service through lay inseminators and Use of right type or designated semen according to the breeding plan for the cow to be inseminated is crucial for success of the breeding program. However, this aspect needs planning a system of service delivery, reporting and follow up. And this is becoming increasingly difficult due to ‘Privatisation of AI service’ since there is hardly any control over private inseminator and no binding for reporting details of AI done. This system is leading to indiscriminate cross breeding and negating the gains.

7.2.5 Resistance to accepting AI since it is viewed as ‘Un-natural way of Breeding Cows’ by many and especially by Goshalas. Reservations about AI still exist with many and I faced it many times in the last 50 years of development work. Many Goshalas have the potential of being ‘Source of high Quality Germ Plasm’ by adopting scientific breeding practices in case such reservations can be overcome. Situations are changing albeit slowly.

7.2.6 Display of Photos and Information about Dam of Breeding Bulls whose semen is being used.  Many owners of Indigenous cattle (particularly of well recognised breeds) would like to see photo of the bull (in some cases of progeny of the bull as well) whose semen is being used ‘And rightly so’. For traditional Cattle Keepers/Breeders appearance/colour pattern is as important as milk yield of the animal. Many AI centres and Inseminators do not possess photos of bulls whose semen is being used for AI. Information about pedigree of the bull should also be available at the AI centre and with Inseminator.

Q. 8 The current dairy revolution is due Cross Breeding introduced in the country. Can you tell us background how it all started? What was the logic behind it?

8.1 Dairy or White Revolution are terms many times used for Dairy development and are probably adopted from Green Revolution as there are similarities in these two (food grain and milk) development programs of Agriculture sub-sector. Development in these two programs was based on breeding intervention viz. Supply of Hybrid Seed and use of Semen of exotic breeds and buffaloes, considered most important intervention in increasing milk production. Milk production is reported to have increased from 17 mill. Tonnes in 1950-51 to 165.4 mill. Tonnes in 2017-18. It is worth noting that contribution of buffaloes is 55% to the milk pool. However, in dairy development program organising collection of milk, processing and marketing are equally crucial.

8.2 Some of the major factors that pushed dairy development were

  • Increase in demand for milk in view of rise in income and urbanisation. Demand for milk was projected to be higher than rate of growth of milk production and the concern that this increased demand may have to be met through import.
  • Increased demand for Milk and milk products caused concern that these may be dumped into India from developed countries and sold at price lower than local products due to substantial subsidy provided in these countries for export of milk & milk products.
  • Initial steps taken up in the country, soon after independence included development of Milk Colonies around metropolitan cities like Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. These projects provided facilities like housing and services for dairy animals from per urban areas around these cities and processing and distribution of milk.
  • Dairy Coops. were established in most of the states of India under Operation Flood program providing market for producers providing good market outlet. The NDDB provided technical back up to the Dairy Coops.
  • Private enterprise entered dairy business and started marketing fluid milk as well as a variety of milk products and thus opening a new avenue for producers to sell milk.
  • It must be mentioned that Dairy Coops play a major role in deciding base price for milk (by Private Dairies or Traditional/Informal system) thus benefiting the producer.
  • ‘Traditional/Informal System of milk collection, processing and marketing of milk and milk products still accounts for major share of marketable surplus. It is often referred as ‘Unorganised sector’ but has been working in well organised manner since long and with no funding or subsidy support from any organisation or Govt. There is need to consider ways of involving the ‘Traditional Sector’ in quality improvement and development program.

8.3 Adoption of Crossbreeding. In order to meet increasing requirement of milk in a short time Livestock breeding experts strongly recommended Cross Breeding with developed western dairy cattle breeds (they reported there is no option but to undertake crossbreeding of our Cattle with developed western breeds). Major argument was that majority of cattle are either non-descript or draft type with very low potential for milk production. And there are only a few dairy or dual purpose breeds of cattle in India (out of total bovine population 40% are Indigenous cows; 46% are buffaloes and 14% are crossbreds of western breeds). Improving milk production in Indigenous cattle, through selection process, would have taken a long time since average milk production even of Indigenous Dairy type cattle is around 1,250 lit. in a lactation.

8.4 Some observations on Crossbreeding of cattle

  • Cross breeding of Indigenous cattle was started in India many decades ago by British Tea planters and in Military farms as also in Agriculture Institute at Naini, Allahabad. After independence a number of cattle development projects were started in India through support of a few developed countries and number of western breeds were introduced in India for crossbreeding. After a few years it was realised that some of the western breeds (Red Dane, Brown Swiss, German black) were not suitable for India in view of their large body size, limited potentiality and narrow genetic base. A policy decision was taken to use only Jersey and Holstein breeds for crossbreeding.
  • Crossbreeding became so popular that this word became almost synonymous with livestock development (irrespective of type of animal) and crossbreeding of cattle was undertaken almost all over the country. Initial results with crossbreeding were encouraging, particularly in agriculturally developed pockets, The half bred progeny of Indigenous breeds showed faster growth, early maturity and much higher milk production that their dams. Cross breeding of cattle received substantial funding support from Govt. of India, Operation Flood program and from International organisations. Funding support was provided to import frozen semen of Holstein and Jersey breeds, import of bulls and equipment for producing frozen semen in India. Breeding farms of these two breeds were established to produce bulls in India and continue frozen semen production. Govt. of India provided additional funding support for cattle cross breeding also through Rural Development Program and network of cross breeding centres were established in several states of the country.
Q. 9 At the hindsight now there is criticism on crossbreeding and that in the beginning itself if Desi cows were focussed by now, we would have been ahead of Brazil?

As stated, earlier livestock breeding experts were of the view that to meet increasing requirement of milk there is no option but to Cross Breed local cattle with improved western breeds of cattle since developing Indigenous breed will take a long time. They were of the strong view that we should take benefit of developed western breeds. During that period not much attention was paid towards development of Indigenous breeds of cattle.

By and large Crossbred performed well wherever desired inputs and services were available (same as Hybrid food grains) and made good contribution to milk pool. However, development analysts have pointed out factors that limit benefits from crossbreeding and these are summarised below

9.1 Indiscriminate Crossbreeding of Indigenous dairy cattle. Crossbreeding was done in almost all parts of the country ignoring guidelines and recommendations resulting in production of crossbreds even in areas that are rain fed/drought prone and semiarid adversely affecting performance of crossbreds. Guidelines to limit exotic inheritance of exotic blood in crossbreds was found to have been ignored resulting in production of higher crosses that are difficult to maintain.

9.2 Crossbreds with many BPL families did not perform well. Funding from Rural Development Program provided for producing Crossbreds with BPL families was taken up and it envisaged that these families get support for feeding crossbreds but in some areas such support was not made available. Crossbreds produced with families who could not properly feed these animals did not perform well. Based on analysis of performance of crossbreds with Military Farms (undertaken in 70s) it was indicated that Holstein Crosses were suited for areas with moderate climate and where good quality fodder is available and for other areas Jersey should be used for crossbreeding. It was also recommended that exotic inheritance in crossbreds should not exceed 75%. These recommendations were ignored resulting in crossbreds performing poorly and developing health and reproduction problems.

9.3 Maintaining productivity of Crossbreds while limiting exotic inheritance under 75% required use of Crossbred bulls for breeding 2nd / 3rd generation crosses. It was seen that performance of progeny of crossbred bulls (F-2 & F-3) was generally lower compared to F-1 crosses and this aspect emerged as a limiting factor in cattle Cross breeding program. It became apparent that use of highly selected Cross-bred bulls is necessary to maintain production level in the progeny. It is easy to produce half or three forth bred crosses using semen of bulls of exotic breeds while production and selection of cross bred bulls takes considerable time and effort – not made in many states.

9.4 Achieving and sustaining production performance of crossbreds, particularly higher crosses, is difficult due to problems of health and reproduction. Crossbreds performed poorly in rural areas of less developed states and with small holders where required level of inputs (feed/fodder) and efficient services (health, breeding) are not available. A clear indicator is large variation in production/reproduction performance {milk production varied from 1,800 to 4,500/ litres per lactation). The problems are reported to be more acute in drought prone areas, with severe summer or with hot and humid climate. With aged animals (after 3rd/4th lactation) problems with health and reproduction are common. Recommendations are now emerging to undertake crossbreeding very discreetly – preferring developed areas with desired resources, linkages and support services.

9.5 Threat of Climate change is now well accepted and is predicted to adversely affect feed/fodder and water resources and countries like India are likely to be affected more. International experts are strongly recommending that due attention be paid to develop potential Indigenous breeds and restrict cross breeding with western breeds. It is pointed out that Indigenous breeds are more resilient and have better capacity to cope with climate change and hence deserve attention to sustain livestock production.

9.6 Development of Indigenous breeds of Dairy Cattle – In the last few some favourable developments have occurred viz. Policy decision at Govt. of India and State Govt. to support development of Indigenous breeds and Consumer preference for milk of Indigenous breeds. With dairy breeds like Gir, Tharparkar, Sahiwal, Rathi there is directive to maintain these pure and not to use any other breed in breeding program. Govt. of India is providing funding support for development of these breeds. Organisations like NDDB and BAIF have taken up well planned development of some of the breeds like Gir and Tharparkar.

9.7 Performance in Brazil of cattle of Indian origin – High performance of cattle breeds of Indian origin like Gir in Brazil is getting publicity in the last few years and this has become a subject of discussions in many meetings and workshops. Crucial aspects to be given due consideration while discussing development of livestock breeds are summarised below 

  • Breeder Organisations – Development of livestock breeds in countries like Brazil is undertaken through Breeder’s organisations that make out long term breeding plans and implement it – an approach not yet initiated in India. Most of our breed development activities are project based with short duration.
  • Performance recording – The breeder organisation makes it compulsory to tag each animal and maintain performance record – thus selection/culling is easy.
  • Breeding/culling of animals – The Breeder organisation controls’ breeding of animals and indiscriminate use of bulls is not permitted. There is built in program of bull production and progeny testing for future use. Based on performance record animals are bred or culled and this can be easily done in Brazil.
  • Import of semen and embryos of Gir from India into Brazil – is reported to be still done by some – even breeder organisations and it is reported that the Gir in Brazil is not 100% pure.
  • Feed Fodder Resources – Brazil is very rich in Feed/ Fodder resources while India has deficit situation and this aspect has major impact on performance of animals.

We need to be careful while comparing livestock in India and other countries since the situations are different; however, there are useful initiatives like Breeder Organisations that should be considered for introduction in India.

Q. 10 Are you now in favour of crossbreeding or you think we should shift our focus to purebreds? Do you think it is possible now or we will run into problems?
Experience, observations and evaluation studies on cattle development indicate need for a pragmatic approach rather than considering “Either – Or – Options”. Aspects to be considered based on under mentioned aspects.
Performance of crossbred cattle is good, however, crossbreeding should be undertaken in selected areas where ‘Desired inputs, Services and Market links are available, climate is moderate’.
  • Care should be taken to restrict exotic blood (as recommended in breeding plan) and for breeding Crossbreds “properly Selected Crossbred bulls” should be used.
  • Cross breeds are not resilient and when conditions are not favourable their performance goes down, particularly in areas that are drought prone or semi-arid.
  • Thus, Cross breeding can be taken up in limited area of the country and with the resource rich families who can provide desired facilities.
  • For larger part of the country and majority of rural families selected Indigenous dairy breeds may be chosen.
  • However, there is need to make out a comprehensive and long term breeding plan for improving performance of Indigenous breeds for desired benefits from cattle keeping along with implementation plan, And this is where we have problems since such initiative is not taken and in most cases breed development is taken up through short term projects and such approach is not appropriate.
  • Gaushalas can play a crucial role of developing genetic resource through planned program of producing breeding bulls through a planned breeding program.
  • Another major problem is “Virtual absence of Breeder’s Organisations” in our country – crucial to sustain breed development work since animal holding is small.
  • It is high time organisations involved in Cattle Development (GOs, NGOs, and Coops. etc. take initiative to develop models in some pockets of the country considering some of the above aspects.
  • Benefit of increasing demand and premium price paid for milk of Indigenous cows should be taken and extended to producers.
Q. 11 Do you think India needs to reduce the numbers of dairy animals but increase the quality? If yes, how that can be done considering culling is not legally allowed.
Non acceptance of Culling and Slaughter is not only due to legal implication but also due to Socio-Cultural aspects and Tradition and we have to accept this situation. We also have to accept that we have a large dairy animal population (as also human population) to be maintained on limited land mass.
Control breeding = somewhat similar to human beings. I suggest Consider ‘Longer Calving Interval’. An approach similar to Population Control as adopted amongst humans.
Q. 12 Any specific message you would like to convey to our farmers.
  • Carefully consider your feed fodder resources, facilities that can be provided, availability of services (health/breeding/marketing) before deciding number and type of dairy animals to be maintained.
  • Adopt preventive health measures without fail since maintaining healthy status of the dairy animals is crucial.
  • Adopt ‘Clean Milk Production Practices’ not only in view of demand in market (by dairies) but also as a social responsibility to supply quality milk. Additional benefit is reduction in incidence of mastitis in cows.
  • Take advice of technical person about choosing bull whose semen should be used on your cows and make sure that the inseminator uses semen accordingly.
  • While it is desirable to avoid purchase of animals but if required ensure that the animals are free from major diseases like TB, JD, Brucellosis.


Interviewed by Ms. Vaishali Halge (Executive Moderator) on 26th October 2018

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