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Take Stock of Livestock

Dr Simon Doherty

Dairy Industry in India is changing rapidly and United Kingdom has a lot of expertise to offer to India’s animal husbandry sector.  Dr Simon Doherty, a dairy sector expert from United Kingdom speaks to Nirmesh Singh 


Which are the areas in Animal Husbandry sector that United Kingdom is looking at to work with India?

There are number of different areas in the animal husbandry sector which I think we can potential offer, particularly in dairy industry in India. Dairy industry is changing very rapidly. There are lots of small producers who have started working much more collectively and have developed an effective value chain.  If we are getting great returns on that or seeing the advent of slightly larger farms, they both bring up small producers forward. When we start looking at bigger farms, we are probably looking at things like genetic improvement and a bit of nutrition and also tend to look at things like infectious diseases. There will be important things like pneumonia in calves, gastro intestinal diseases in calves and hygiene to look at. Management for young calves becomes very important, for example, thing like vaccination programs, which is needed when you have got more animals kept in confinement as there are more chances of infectious disease that is circulating around.  I guess as industry evolves and matures in India, expertise and experience from UK’s dairy sector will be useful.

I think there are other areas also, particularly, Genetics. It’s about increasing production sustainably as there is no point in just getting a big Holstein cow that produces 10000 liters of milk if you have not actually got the forage, the concentrate feeding, the water, etc. One of the things you need to be careful as the dairy industry is developing in India is whether we are using appropriate technology and appropriate breeding. This is where I think UK can offer something in relation to British Friesian or Jersey breeding.  Jersey cows tend to be slightly smaller and they have extra lactation as compared to Holstein cows. It’s not about producing volume it’s about producing quality product. Again you need to have disease risk management in place. In India, there are different challenges in different parts of the country as most of the diseases that exist in India don’t exist in UK.  But we have got lot of scientific expertise in most diseases.

I think another area to work is technology where universities and research group in UK are working on things like vaccine design. We can work with companies such as Indian Immunological and help them develop products best suited to Indian systems against diseases which are prevalent in India.

We can work on training people about new technology and train them to manage fertility checks, pregnancy status and to work on farm problems if there are fertility issues. It’s like providing a whole package of training and support and same applies to things like nutrition and genetics. For example, we can simply provide frozen semen to people but for that to make impact on ground we need to ensure that people are trained in artificial insemination. Unless people are trained they will not know whether cow is cycling properly or not, whether cow is ready to be inseminated or not.  Likewise about nutrition, people also need to be trained on the kind of feed needed. That’s what will make things sustainable and give benefits.

As you had visited National Dairy Research Institute at Karnal, where does such institutes stand today as per global requirements and standards? What more needs to be added to education, research and training in the field of animal husbandry in India? 

The key areas for research institutes are collaboration, communication and technology transfer. Collaboration is key to obtaining top-class research results as efficiently as possible, drawing on the resources, skills and expertise of multiple institutes across a project. Good communication is then necessary to ensure that the results of the research reach the widest audience possible – through publications, articles, presentations and conferences. And technology transfer is crucial to ensure that the research outcomes are ‘translated’ for field application to reach the primary production sector – perhaps by reaching out through vets and para-vets. Integrated, strategic approaches – from government to industry – are crucial to make the most of advances in animal husbandry and livestock health at regional and national levels. I’ve seen some great government-led research in India but I think the next step is the development of alliances between government research institutes and the wider animal health industry – including animal nutrition, vaccine manufacturers, breeding companies, dairy processors / integrators, etc.

In India the animal husbandry sector is a part of agriculture. How is it different in United Kingdom? Will it be challenge to work in Indian conditions?

When you say agriculture, you are thinking crops. But agriculture sector encompasses livestock and crops. As dairy production levels are increasing in India, the need for more concentrate feeds like barley, wheat, etc will also increase. So, I don’t think that animal husbandry and agriculture can be seen separate. However, in United Kingdom, they tend to be more separate. A dairy farm there will be a dairy only. But I think development of the two sectors go hand in hand.  Feed for cattle are different in different regions. Like, in North Ireland it is grass based while in England it is concentrate feed based. So, the farmers in different places have to keep local consideration in mind.

Fodder for livestock is going to be another problem in India because more land is coming under food crops. What is the alternative fodder source that can be developed in India? 

Absolutely right and this is crucial for improved milk production. Certainly there seems to be a lot of work going into improved grazing (grassland management) and improved conserved forage production in India. The issue in India is that there are so many discrete climates within the one country that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Even in the UK – which is MUCH smaller in terms of land area – we have different systems in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland! For example, in Northern Ireland (where I live), we produce very little maize silage but produce a lot of our milk off grass. In the south of England, the converse often works – less grazing and more high-energy, high-protein concentrates. I think that alfalfa is a forage crop that might be very useful in India going forwards.

Where do you see dairy sector in next five years?

I think this is going to be the period of very rapid development with an element of growth. But one of the biggest changes that will come in next five years is how the milk that is being produced is being produced. It is not necessary about the huge growth in the sector; it will be about big changes in the system in five years. In next five years, i.e., between 5 and 10 years, you will probably see increase in production, change in the gear and system the way milk is produced. For example, farmer having 2-3 cows may be able to take more yield of milk or may be farmers having small number of cows join hands together and run a dairy farm in more scientific way taking care of genetics, nutrition and animal health. With the rapid development on animal husbandry and dairy sector, the milk production levels will increase. With the increase in production, it will also become important to reduce the wastage of milk. Currently, 40% of milk that is produced goes waste. We will have to develop channels and use milk effectively to reduce wastage.

If someone wants to set up a dairy farm, what would you suggest to a dairy farmer? 

A farmer’s choice of system will depend upon the resources and space available on the farm, the characteristics of the milk required by the purchaser and the capital available. The choice of system is the farmer’s, but whether the unit is large or small, fully grazed or indoor, animal health and welfare are critical. All available research indicates that good husbandry – not the farming system or scale of operation – determines animal health and welfare, and these are key for efficient as well as ethical dairy production. Good stockmanship, farm management and adherence to farm assurance standards, can ensure that cows are well kept and healthy in any system.

In the UK, production is becoming increasingly concentrated in the South-West and North-West of England, and in clusters in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Weather conditions have a big impact on overall yield, and the level of butterfat and protein in milk also varies with season. The seasonality of milk production has significantly improved since the 1980s, reflecting a sustained effort by the industry to incentivize a flatter profile of production –important for maintaining a continuous supply of milk for the UK fresh product markets; particularly liquid milk, which accounts for half of milk utilization. Much of the production in England and Wales has moved to indoor ‘total mixed ration’ (TMR) systems. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, where the climate tends to be much wetter, grass-based systems predominate, with cows housed for just a few months in winter.