In times when gene pool preservation is a priority all over the world, the indigenous livestock in Kashmir has disappeared, Ikhlaq Qadri reports.
Kashmir has lost its indigenous breed of cattle and sheep to commercially more profitable exotic and hybrid varieties. However, the hybrid and exotic cows and sheep, experts say, have not fully acclimatized with the weather conditions here and are more expensive to sustain.
Artificial insemination was introduced in 1954 in the state, with the establishment of two Artificial Insemination Centres, one each at Srinagar and Jammu. Natural service (mating) was replaced with artificial insemination using semen from Red Sindhi bulls.
However, the Sindhi breed introduced under the key village scheme for upgrading local cattle failed to gain popularity with the farmers as its performance was not at all impressive, says a research document of veterinary college Kashmir.
Replica of Key Village Scheme known as Hill Cattle Development Scheme for hilly regions was started in 1964. Under the scheme Jersey rather than Red Sindhi breed was used for up-gradation of local cattle.
In 1980 two frozen semen Banks, one each at Jammu and Srinagar, were established with the assistance of Danish International Development Agency. After the establishment of Frozen Semen Banks, artificial insemination facilities were extended to mountainous areas including those which remain cut off during winter, says the research document.
While upgrading the livestock for enhancing production of milk in cows and good quality wool in case of sheep, the native breed was completely lost as the government failed to preserve the breed which had thrived in local conditions for centuries. Local stock is upgraded by using exotic germ plasm – mainly from Jersey and Holestein Frieasen (HF) breeds of cattle.
“This is called as Grade Up strategy of breeding. Local stock is upgraded to maximise their productivity,” said Dr. Iqbal Hussain, Veterinary Assistant Surgeon, with the department of Animal Husbandry.
Sheep are cross-bred for enhancing the quality of wool. “Likewise sheep wool of native breed was not of desirable quality. With this exotic germ plasm all available sheep got upgraded to Merino or near Merino type,” said the doctor.
However, many experts say that cross-breeding of livestock on mass scale has its own disadvantages, mostly related to the adaptability of a cross-breed or exotic species in a particular environment.
“The crossbreed, produced with exotic germ plasm, is usually not resistant to diseases. Local germ plasm is conditioned in the same environment so it is more disease resistant,” said a veterinarian wishing not to be named.
The experts say that cross-breeds carry more risk of mortality and there are more odds of an exotic breed bringing along exotic diseases with them.
“We also get exotic diseases. Our stock is not ready for diseases like blue tongue, African horse sickness, mareks diseases in poultry,” said another doctor wishing not to be named.
Ironically, the farmers were not able to feed the exotic species of cattle adequately due to shortage of feed in Kashmir. These exotic species of cattle require large quantities of feed in comparison to the native breed of cows. The inadequate feeding reduced the output alarmingly.
“Reason was to have optimum production, when they don’t get feed they don’t give optimum production. Very basic purpose was not served,” the vet added.
Common people are also unhappy with the loss of indigenous species of cattle and sheep and flay the government for not making any efforts to preserve the local gene pool.
“It is unfortunate that we are losing our identity in every sphere. We even have to import poultry. Well, quality must be a priority but at least measures should be taken to save out native breed to some extent,” said Shabir Ahmad, a government employee.