Sheep is considered to be the oldest species of domesticated, ruminant mammals believed to have evolved in mountainous or dry regions of south west and central Asia.
It has existed more for human beings than for itself. Cultures and civilizations have adopted them till date under private as well as public patronage in farm houses or government departments.
Jammu & Kashmir (JK) owing to its rich alpine pastures, green meadows and a four-way seasonal blend makes a peculiar climate for various types of pastoral engagements by people or the government.
At government level JK sheep farming dates back to 1937 when with the British technical know-how, Kashmir Sheep Farm Private Limited came into existence at Banihal with establishment of Sheep Breeding and Research Farm at Reasi.
However, post independence the Sheep Husbandry Department was carved out of Department of Animal Husbandry in 1962 to work as a separate department with the objective of promoting sheep and goat production. During 1982 it was bifurcated into two separate departments one each for Kashmir and Jammu headed by Directors at divisional level.
Sheep will be generally two year old before they become breeding sheep. Its period of pregnancy varies from 144 days to 151 days. Individual gestation may spread over 138 days to 159 days.
They have a life span of 10 to 12 years. A young sheep is called a lamb, an adult intact male a ram, adult female an ewe and a castrated male as a wether.
A first year meat is called lamb, from second year it is hogget and older sheep is mutton. Sheep is ascribed with the quality of gentleness. Generally Gujjars, Bakerwals, Chopans and Gaddies do sheep rearing under traditional methods of farming resulting in low productivity and profits.
It has descended to them in cultural heritage as a means of livelihood through sale of wool and mutton. Some common breeds reared in Kashmir are Gurezi, Bakerwali, Poonchi and Karnahi sheep.
Gurezi sheep is the largest amongst the Kashmir breeds. They are coarse woolen usually white. However, Dorper is a fast growing meat providing sheep. Developed in South Africa it is suitable to more arid regions. It is an easy care animal that produces a light and short coat of hair/wool shed in late spring and summer.
After Rajasthan, JK is the second largest producer of wool with 70 lakh kg per year which was nine lakh kg in 1942 when sheep population was 11.34 lakh. At national level it is said to be the largest mutton consuming place and ranks sixth in sheep farming.
As on 12/2022 Kashmir valley had a sheep population of 19,12,611 with 70,033 breeders. District Baramulla having the largest sheep population of 2.86 lakh and 11,500 breeders topped the list of 10 districts of valley of Kashmir.
Mutton being an essential part of Kashmir cuisine JK is consuming 500 to 600 lakh kg of mutton against the local production of 300 to 350 lakh kg which forces it to import 200 lakh kg to 250 lakh kg leading to import bill of Rs.1,400 crore annually.
The wide demand-supply gap makes it inevitable to invest in the sector and boost production to fill the deficit. This void has a silver lining for job opportunities as well.
To give fillip to mutton production and build entrepreneurship Govt. of JK launched Integrated Sheep Development Scheme during 2020-21 followed by revised operational guidelines vide No. ASHF-PLG/18/2021-03/-O/o ASH&F dated 17-5-2022.
Under this scheme sheep/goat units are established on participatory mode wherein livestock of 10 eves/does are given free of cost to the beneficiaries for five years and from 3rd year of establishment two of these are retrieved and utilized for establishing fresh units elsewhere.
Sheep being prone to preying by jackals, wolves, lynx, lions ,vultures, bears, tigers, panthers etc. require better sheep-pens at home or farm and vigilant care-taking while grazing in open fields or forests than the cattle.
Climatic vagaries like excessive snowfall, torrential rains, cloudbursts, impure water borne diseases, foot rot, untimely or inadequate veterinary care & guidance and pesticides are also amongst the probabilities for predatory accidents threatening their life or health leading to low production of wool and mutton.
The other concerns are inadequate infrastructure & manpower, insufficient breeding coverage and low conception rates, high morbidity and mortality, insufficient availability of feed and fodder, unorganized marketing, poor handling, non-availability of quality breeds and prophylactic health cover. Consequently JK is still far away to coup up the local demand with local production.
It is a fait accompli that all want to have available cheap, sufficient and good quality mutton but no sufficient people are ready to take up this occupation which is considered socially degraded and economically unrewarding. This is to be incentivized with social stigmatization and financial feebleness removed.
However, in 2/2023 the government of JK approved Rs. 329 crore five year project (2023-28) to achieve self sufficiency in mutton besides creating 6,000 jobs. The project is expected to benefit sheep rearers, butchers, and consumers, create job opportunities and contribute to the overall development of JK.
One of the important interventions planned is to import mutton-breeds to produce high genetic merit animals besides vertical upgrading and horizontal expansion. The project also aims to undergo 1,00,000 artificial insemination by using the germ-plasm of the elite animals and establish 400 new commercial farms every year.
It provides for establishment of mandis, Common Facility Centres, 50 Farmer Producer Organisations and Self Help Groups, Commercial Farms, Breed Based Farms, abattoirs etc. The expected output from the project include import of 2,700 genetically meritorious sheep and goats, increased lambing percentage from 80 to 120 and reduction in marketable age for sheep and goats between 40 and 50 kg in six months.
JK having less than five breeds of sheep with majority being dual purpose breed like Kashmir Merino, Corriedale and Rambouillet there is increasing demand for fast growing mutton breeds such as Dorper, South Down, Romno and others.
Sheep offer wool, milk, mutton, manure, pelts and lambs twice a year. Capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions sheep are used as model organisms for science. Unlike cow, buffalo and pig, sheep being uncontroversial are used as sacrificial animal also. They are easier to rear than other cattle.
They eat grass around four percent of live weight per day which is around one kg of green dry matter that increases by 0.1 kg a week on account of gain in weight. The common formula to know the lamb grass intake in kg per day is to divide the age of the lamb in weeks by 10 over the range of birth to weaning. Its two main by-products viz wool and mutton are the common necessity of all. Woollen mills flourish on it, providing livelihood to lakhs of people. Sheep-farming being advantageous multifariously, ergo, deserves more investment to have matching returns.
The author is a former Sr. Audit Officer and Consultant in the A.G’s Office Srinagar.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.