Wildlife & Biodiversity

Cross-breeding, herd management key strategy to maximise India’s milk production: Study

New British-Australian study lays emphasis on cross-breeding to increase milk yield in India without neglecting indigenous animals

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Tuesday 13 April 2021
A Gir bull, one of India's indigenous breeds famous for its milk in Bhavnagar, Gujarat. Photo: Wikipedia

Cross-breeding, herd management and species composition were key strategies for maximising milk production in India, according to a recent British-Australian assessment of livestock.

It is the first livestock yield gap assessment that models potential three-fold productivity gains in India with a systems approach.

The modelling was carried out by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). CSIRO took the help of Supporting Evidence Based Interventions (SEBI), a project based at the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. SEBI aims to drive better strategic livestock decision-making for low- and middle-income countries through improved data and analysis.

The study authors said in a press statement:

We found that it would be possible to increase dairy production higher than the baseline projections to 2030 for India and Ethiopia. For example, dairy production in India is projected to increase by 65 per cent to 2030. Our results show that with improved feeding and promoting changes in herd structures towards more cross-breed animals, or buffalo production, milk production could increase between 112-130 per cent by 2030.

Increasing milk production would require both, an increase in the quantity of feed available and more efficient use of existing resources, the authors added. This was especially important as the smaller, indigenous livestock breeds were replaced by larger cross-bred cattle and buffaloes with higher energy requirements.

The study added:

There is significant potential for increasing small ruminant production through practices to reduce mortality and provide improved fodders. Cross-breeding in these systems was shown to be relatively ineffective in isolation, but a package including the three interventions demonstrated the potential to increase productivity five-fold.

India’s indigenous cattle breeds

But what about India’s indigenous cattle breeds? Over the years, media reports have highlighted how such breeds are increasingly under threat due to the import of exotic foreign breeds or their semen. Wouldn’t cross-breeding be the death knell for such breeds?

Down To Earth put this question to the study authors, who clarified that both, cross-bred and indigenous animals were important.

“While a focus on increasing milk yields through introducing new genetics would increase the number of crossbred cattle, it should still be possible to maintain indigenous genetic resources through concurrent programmes aimed at conserving local cattle breeds,” Di Mayberry, research scientist at CSIRO, said.

She added that while milk yields from local cattle might be lower compared to crossbreds, there might also be a market for milk from local cattle, that would increase their financial as well as cultural value.

Andy Peters, programme director at SEBI, at the University of Edinburgh, agreed with Mayberry:

Cross-breeding of indigenous cattle with exotic species effectively combines the environmental resilience of the former with the production potential of the latter. While the extensive use of cross-breeding programmes is thus critical to meet the future demand for milk and other dairy products in India, it is essential that indigenous cattle are also maintained for their irreplaceable contribution to Indian agriculture and society.

He added it was also vitally important to collect high quality data on productivity and health from both indigenous and cross-breeds in order to be able to make informed decisions on the future role of each in the Indian dairy sector.

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