Sheep Husbandry

A nation that has more livestock resources remains more prosperous even in this technological world. J&K being an agrarian state, 33.63% of the agriculture GDP is being contributed by the livestock sector. Amongst various livestock species, small ruminants (sheep/goat) are usually reared to provide meat, skins, wool, milk and manure with very little inputs and as such are known as “poor man’s cow”, especially goat. In addition, these have an additional character to utilize waste and barren lands that otherwise are unsuitable for agriculture activities. The current small ruminant population of the state is 5.7 million.

Prospects for small ruminant development

The potential and scope of the state in relation to small ruminants has been such that a separate sheep husbandry department (sheep/goat husbandry) has been created in 1962, that otherwise remains part of animal husbandry department in other parts of India. In J&K Himalayas, an area of 0.3 million hectares is under alpine & subalpine pastures, commonly called as Behaks or margs like Tosamaidan, Gangbal, Dugwan etc. These beautiful meadow lands along with temperate & semi-arid climate of the Kashmir valley have made it a place highly suited for small ruminant rearing. The presence of bountiful pastures and meadow lands once carried nutrient grasses and herbage for the pastoral activities that made it suitable for the small ruminant development. In J&K a semi-migratory system of rearing is practised. The small ruminant flocks migrate to the sub-alpines and alpines from May to November to rear their animals for efficient growth.

Role played by Sheep Husbandry Department

At inception the department mainly focussed on the production of fine wool breeds of sheep while little emphasis on the mutton production. Considering the potential and scope in the state, National Agriculture Commission recommended development of fine wool breeds in the state. The local female sheep (ewes) were crossed with Australian Merino male sheep (Rams). The resultant F1 ewes were bred to Delain rams of USA. The resultant F2 generation were bred among themselves in order to obtain better wool and body weight animals; commonly named as Kashmir Merino, a fine wool breed. The animals carry wool with fibre diameter of 20-24 microns and higher body weight. Currently, there is 63% improvement achieved in wool traits. Among total production, 70% of wool is being exported to neighbouring states and as such J&K has earned an edge in fine wool production. In addition, other breeds like Russian Steveropol, Rambouillet, Corriedale & Merino’s have been imported from various countries like USSR, USA & New Zealand to improve local blood. Such a crossbreed blood is being made available to the local dealers or breeders of the valley for effective upgradation of local genotype. However, crossbreeding to an effective level is yet to be achieved. In addition, demand from different corners of the society is to maintain the local breed identity that further, complicates the situation.

Considering the demand and subsequent large imports of sheep/mutton from outside state, emphasis on the local mutton production, in addition to wool, has been laid down. Due to limited attraction towards chevon, limited emphasis has been put on goats. Recently, a workshop was organized by ICAR-Central Sheep and Wool Research Institute (ICAR-CSWRI), Avikanagar, Rajasthan in collaboration with the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST-K) to see prospects of introducing the New sheep breeds (from ICAR-NTRS of CSWRI) in the valley under the purview of J&K’s New Breeding Policy, 2019. The Livestock Breeding Policy for J&K was formulated and recently approved by SAC headed by Hon’able Governor of the state. The sheep breeding policy aims to develop dual purpose breeds in order to achieve self-sufficiency in mutton and wool. The import of Rambouilet and Merino sheep breeds is aimed to improve growth rate/carcass weight and stop inbreeding depression that has decreased genetic value of currently available stock. Mere framing the policy for namesake won’t gonna suffice the purpose; it needs to be critical keeping in view the state’s socio-cultural and climatic conditions. However, the policy drafting and implementation need sufficient funds that currently are very much limited with the department.

Limitations in sheep husbandry

The department is generally alleged of its inefficiency to cater the needs of the meat in the state, especially of Kashmir division. Such a concern is very much genuine and viable considering the major gap in supply and demand with approx. 41.37% of such requirement is being met through imports. The department as such cannot be blamed for such a gap, but concerted efforts through the other sectors have to be ensured. The main reasons and solutions thereof are given as under:

The state is among the major consumers of mutton in India with additional requirements during the wedding seasons or festivals. In Kashmir, the major share is of mutton/ chevon. The requirement in other parts of India is less as compared to J&K and the demand is met through various meat types like bovine meat, pork, mutton and chevon. In India, major share of produced meat is bovine meat (60%) while only 15% is through small ruminants (10% chevon and 5% mutton). Further, due to chilling winter ‘autumn culling’ of livestock is being done leading to the scarcity of mutton during winter months.

In addition, the steady growth rate (1 to 2%) of sheep and even lower for goat (0.4%) keeps their population checked. Although, at present the population is in an equilibrium with natural resource and an eco-balance is somewhat maintained. The increase in livestock population including small ruminants beyond the carrying capacity may prove counterproductive and can disturb the eco-balance of the valley. Pastoral communities dealing with the small ruminant rearing usually lack facilities along their migratory routes for their produce and animals. In addition, indigenous knowledge to pastoral communities about animal maintenance and breeding has to be ensured and may be achieved by their active involvement. In a positive note, govt is providing various schemes like Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), National Livestock Mission (NLM) and Special Central Assistance to Tribal Sub Plan (SCATSP) in order to boost sheep farming. The main concerns in development of sheep/goat sector in Kashmir will be explained as per the animal husbandry activities that includes breeding, feeding, weeding and heeding.

Breeding:

In breeding practices, availability of quality germplasm is must in order to enhance the productivity and maintain disease free animals. Availability of limited germplasm at different govt. sheep breeding/farm centres has resulted in inbreeding depression (lowered productivity especially of economic traits). In addition, such shortage of germplasm has resulted in limited cross-breeding programme and as such 37% of animals are yet to be included under the ambit. The limited exotic germplasm is due to ban on importation of exotic germplasm as a mark of strict health protocol restrictions. Since recently new Livestock Breeding Policy has been formed and is aimed at developing different dual purpose breeds (mutton and wool), it may pave way to reduce such demand and supply gap of mutton. In addition, it will help to reduce inbreeding depression. The breeds / germplasm to be introduced should be prolific, fast growing, early maturing with good feed conversion ratio. Dorper breed of sheep, known for prolificacy is being bred at the breeding station in Jammu farm. The percent exotic germplasm in the local breeds have to be fixed at certain rate (63% to 75%) whichever may be feasible and suitable for the state especially Kashmir. Further, research in the field of assisted reproductive technologies like artificial insemination, embryo transfer technologies, etc in sheep/goat need to be conducted to the logical end. Such responsibilities are supposed to be taken by agricultural universities (SKUAST of Kashmir and Jammu).

Feeding:

J&K especially Kashmir was once considered a land of grazing land (behaks and margs) bearing nutritious grasses and legumes. The land (kahcharai) as such has shrunk and in J&K only 0.4 hectare of land per livestock unit (comprising of both large and small ruminants) is available as against the national availability of 1.0 hectare. This has developed due to massive urbanization and encroachment of common village grazing lands and traditional migratory routes. In addition, the restricted movement of such areas due to security concerns has added further problems. A positive and strict approach from govt is therefore required to retrieve the grabbed land. Recently, news could be heard that 78,937 kanals of Kahcharai has been retrieved from illegal occupation.

The continuous and indiscriminate grazing of superior genotypes of grasses and legumes has led to its depletion. The situation in Kashmir worsens even further as about 1.5 million migratory sheep/ goat of Jammu migrate during summer. There is lack of any organized pasture management system in relation to the development of viable technology to produce superior grass and legume genotypes and also in nomadic movement control. The unavailability of local animal feed companies makes it costly affair to rear animals. To pave way for efficient and economical feed production, fodder resources especially in orchard areas and from fodder trees have remained underutilized. There is no diversion from traditional rearing mode. Utilization of orchards for sheep farming under horti-poultry system remains untapped. Other options like enrichment of fodder like straws / stovers (usually low in nutritive composition) by 2% urea/ molasses that improve their critical nutrients through additional nitrogen (protein) and increased fibre utilization can also be availed. Various feed forms like silage and foliage of fodder trees has to be taken into consideration.

Weeding:

Weeding in husbandry practices means to remove the unproductive lot. There is need to detect and weed out the unproductive and unhealthy animals. The breeding stock, although limited, that does not perform or carry genetic defects leading to various defects like contracted tendon, intestinal atresia, etc in progeny has to be weeded out. This helps to control unhealthy and weaker animals. Incorporation of germplasm that carries early growth traits and better early and mature weight, and good feed conversion ratio can cater the growing needs. The role of Breeding Policy again here comes into play and thus, effective measures need to be taken to produce improved lot both in prolificacy and efficiency.

Heeding:

In husbandry practices, heeding conforms to the provision of optimal health care. Sheep husbandry department is mainly focussing on managemental aspects while the therapeutics has largely been ignored. There is lack of sophisticated equipments at various dispensaries or hospitals for timely diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Animals require timely vaccination and deworming prior to their migration to the behaks or margs and also when brought back. The health care specialist should be made available during their stay at behaks. Animals that are pregnant or become pregnant should be provided due care in relation to the requirement of feed and medical help. Ambulatory services have to be kept available for timely medical treatment. An upgradation in the disease surveillance programmes has to be made. Check posts at entry points to the State and Valley has to be kept strong for prevention of any kind of disease transmission. Such services though are being undertaken but needs stricter adherence to prevent losses.

In conclusion, rethinking and redrafting of policies in relation to feeding, breeding, heeding and weeding practices have to be ensured for effective and sufficient mutton production. An influx of more central and state govt. funding that are currently lacking may pave way for improved husbandry practices.

Dr. Mudasir Bashir is Assistant Professor, FVSc & AH, SKUAST-K