The role of Gausahalas in preserving and improving cow genetics has been recognized since centuries. The revolution in the genetics of Zebu cows in Brazil was possible due to seed material taken from Indian Gaushalas. During the last 100 years or so gaushalas in India lagged behind, focusing more on physical cow protection efforts by providing shelter and mitigation to sick and abandoned cows and bullocks rather than participating in genetic improvement efforts. Bombay Gaurakshak Mandali’s (BGM) Betegaon Farm has recently set an example by adopting an unconventional path of gaushala-industry collaboration in larger farmer interest.
BGM enjoyed the honour of being the first institute to receive permission from the Government of India and the Government of Maharashtra to import pure-bred Gir bull semen from Brazil. The idea was to inseminate relatively superior cows maintained in the farm to produce F1 generation bulls who can be genomic tested and introduced in the country’s breeding program. For genetic improvement in cows, bulls play very critical role as a single bull can be used to introduce good genetics in thousands of cows. The genetic value of the bull is determined by looking at its pedigree, especially the performance, of fore-bulls and fore-dams (father and mother) going back to as many past generations as possible. But there is a problem here; bulls don’t yield milk. This makes it difficult to directly determine its genetic value in milk production. In contrasts, cows’ milk records are available hence their genetic values can be directly determined. For bulls, the value is determined by comparing the lactation and fertility performances of tens or hundreds of daughters.
The comparison is done between the bull under evaluation versus daughters of contemporary bulls. Predicted Transmitting Ability of Lactation (PTAL) index is calculated for each bull which involves huge data analysis efforts and statistical adjustments of external variables, such as management, climate, etc. In case of cows, however, for milk yield either as average yield of all lactations or best lactation yield or life-time milk production is considered. The evaluated bull is then officially ranked and its data is released for the benefit of the farmers who can decide which bull can be used in the breeding programs.
The evaluation reports for the two bulls recently published officially is given for reference. It is important that farmers, veterinarians and para-veterinarians understand how to interpret the bull report. To give an example of how to read pedigree chart, I describe the one for available for Ganesh.
ABS-Ganesh’s Great grand sire (GGS) and Great grand dam (GGD) were Udo of Brasilia (PTAL 455.6) and dam Vicunha of Brasilia (Average lactation yield 6716 kg). The bull son of this pair Fabuoloso de Brasilia (PTAL 514.6 kg) was mated with daughter of Pacu from Brasilia and Odyssey of Brasilia lactation by name The Hague TE of Brasilia (lactation yield 10,311 kg). She was mated with Diamond of Brasilia to produce Diamante de Barzalia whose semen was imported by BGM. The sire’s dam has yielded 15,652 kg milk in 305 days, whereas the PTAL of Diamante De Brazil is probably still under estimation. BGM used MINU (best lactation 4208 kg) to inseminate with Diamante De Brazilia semen to produce Ganesh and Tanya another cow from the same farm to produce Ganpati. Thus, Ganpati and Ganesh are siblings of the same sire.
The objective of this article is to bring forth a smart strategy of BGM in collaborating with ABS, the world’s largest animal breeding company. First, ABS carried out due diligence to confirm if these bulls fulfill international disease control and management norms. Having passed these acid tests, BGM agreed to lease Ganesh and Ganpati to ABS so that the company can harvest and produce sorted semen for XX since such a facility has been established in the state of Maharashtra for the first time. The Company has been successfully sorting and marketing such semen to produce female calves (with 90-95% certainty). This would be a massive push to Gir genetic improvement efforts. Since Gir is a recognized dairy breed it can also be used to upgrade other breed or non-descript cows (I prefer to call these animals ‘Mini Zebu’ as these can’t be labelled non-descript for our fault of not describing and classifying them).
As per crude calculations, it can be predicted that if this bull’s sorted semen is used on a cow with yield of say average 2500 kg, the daughters born with such mating would yield not less than 8000-9000 kg milk in the peak lactation, provided it is properly fed and cared. Each of these bulls will be able to produce around 30,000 sorted semen doses which if properly inseminated in healthy cows free from uterine infections would be able to produce 20,000 females in one year. If India can produce 100 such bulls we can improve low milk yielding cows to high yielding at the rate of 2 million per year. With one thousand bulls, the genetic improvement could happen in 20 million cows which would be able to produce same amount of milk that we produce today. The critical benefit would be no compromise on cow phenotype (appearance), heat toleration and local adaptability, disease resistance hence culling rates. Gir cows are known to have long productive life compared to HF and Jersey hence their life-time production would be expected to be higher than HF or Jersey cows.
They’re also quite a few lessons to learn from Brazil breeders. First, there is no alternate to an elaborate performance recording program. They do this very honestly and in a transparent manner. Brazil maintains a huge data centre where millions of registered cows’ performance records from phenotypes (physical attributes) to production, health and reproduction are collected daily, processed and shared with stakeholders including farmers. For every potentially high-producing cow, few bulls are carefully assigned using genetic mating system (GMS) with an objective to correct phenotype and genotype problems in next generation. The educated and resourceful farmers invest in breeding business whereas milk production for them is merely a by-product. These breeders have access to assisted reproductive technologies serviced by numerous accredited private companies which collect eggs, the process for in vitro fertilization and then carry out embryo transfer or frozen embryos are exported at niche price. This program is highly regulated, officially vetted and privately driven so that there is no room to cheating. Scientific breeding programs are supported with ancillary efforts such as calf rearing, official disease testing and preventive programs. If India wants to improve animal productivity it will have to adopt this development model.
Thankfully India has started an ambitious performance recording program but this should not restrict only to tagging of animals. The government should facilitate import of superior genetics, especially of Zebu breeds, wherever available. The policy should be to ensure that any farmer who wants to use imported progeny / genomic tested should have access to such semen. Currently, the focus of the Government is to support state government semen stations although most of these do not have genomic / progeny tested bulls. Both genomic and progeny testing require robust and credible cow performance records as a reference population. Such programs can be effectively implemented under private investment. The policy therefore should be that the government should divest from semen processing and open it up for private players. Since state governments are the major buyer of semen hence unless states come out of this activity private bovine semen enterprise would not be viable.
There appears to be a ray of hope. BGM has shown that sure way forward is the strategic use of science, technology and business collaboration. BGM should insist on using sexed semen with caution, supported with calf rearing programs making available milk replacer, calf starter, fodder cultivation, disease testing and complete traceability of all semen doses used. With this, I am sure BGM will be able to attain noble objectives of helping Desi cows. Incidentally, we are currently celebrating the Ganesh festival, lord of wealth and prosperity. Let us hope Ganesh and Ganpati these two bulls will also bring prosperity to our farmers.