Modi government looks to US technology for increasing domestic cows, milk output

NEW DELHI: Cows command reverence from the Narendra Modi government, not for political or religious reasons this time but for a project aimed at increasing milk production in the country and making dairy farming more remunerative. India is in talks with the United States-based ABS Genus and Sexing Technologies, the only companies that have the technology for sex-sorted semen which ensures only female bovines are born through assisted reproduction.

The central government could collaborate with the two companies, which could share their equipment and technicians for a fee. The Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fishing last week also asked the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to create India’s own sex-sorted semen technology in the next two years.

The aim is to produce six million “genetically improved” female bovines every year by 2019 to make milk production more remunerative for dairy farmers. A Cabinet note expected to be approved in August envisages the birth of the first calf through this technique by April 2017.

The strategy is to concentrate on indigenous cows, which numbered 89 million on last count, rather than buffaloes, a government official told ET.

“The focus on the local cow is not political but an economic and biological issue…65% of bovines are cows but they contribute only 20% of the country’s milk production,” the official said.

Cow is a better animal than buffalo to increase the farmers’ income. Cow can give you a better jump in milk yield and is more amenable to upgrading in breeding than a buffalo,” he said.

“The five indigenous cow breeds will be the focus for sex-sorted reproduction to increase our milk production by 18 MT in 3 years,” the official said. The government has tasked ICAR with coming up with the technique by 2018 for the indigenous cow breeds Gir, Rathi, Red Sindhi, Sahiwal and Hariana since the us companies have technology primarily for exotic cow breeds such as Holstein Friesian and Jersey.

“It is not rocket science…when we can make Agni missile, we can make this machine too,” an official said. Using genomics, the Center plans to select the best male and female bovines, extract semen from the males and use the American machines to separate X (female) and Y chromosomes, and inseminate the females with the frozen X chromosome.

The US machines do this segregation using the premise that X chromosome is heavier, with 4% more DNA. The machines which could be supplied by the US firms can create about 14 X chromosome doses per hour, he said.

A detailed segregated list of male and female bovines in different states is currently being prepared to assess applicability of genomics to increase the accuracy of selection for the sex sorted semen exercise.

It is not that the sex ratio among India’s bovine population is poor. Of the 190 m cattle, 122 million are cows while 68 million are oxen.

Among the 108 million buffaloes, 92m are female while 16m are male. But only 80 m cows and buffaloes are in milk. The 84 m male bovines have lost much utility as draught animals.

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