What is Breed Improvement?
Breed improvement refers to the process of producing an offspring which carries the superior traits of both its parents and their lineages. Breed improvement is a natural process and has been practiced on animals and crops for thousands of years with an objective of increasing yields and propagating superior attributes. Technological developments, over the past 100 odd years, have given a boost to these efforts.
Breed improvement is not to be confused with Genetic Modification (GM) where genes from one species can be introduced into an entirely different species through human intervention. GM is a recent technique which is still under development and is hotly debated around the world as it has ethical and religious issues attached to it.
How does Dairy Breed Improvement Work?
Dairy breed improvement is a process used to raise milk productivity of dairy animals. Through this process dairy animals with superior attributes are cross bred to produce offspring with their parents’ attributes.
Breed Improvement Technologies
Two of the most established techniques for breed improvement are Artificial Insemination (AI) and Embryo Transfer Technology (ETT). Through these two techniques dairy animals with desirable traits such as high milk productivity and better adaptability to the environment can be bred on a large scale. These technologies can be leveraged to exponentially increase animal productivity which would not be possible through the natural breeding process.
Artificial Insemination (AI)
Arab Muslims are credited with the invention of Artificial Insemination (AI) technique in 1322 A.D. This technique was initially used by them to breed prized horses with pure blood lines and superior traits. In the 20th century, this technology was refined and developed in Russia, Germany, Netherlands and the United States. This led to its commercialization and subsequent application on horses, camels, cattle, sheep, goats, honey bees and many other animal species, around the developed world.
AI is an alternative to natural breeding. This technique involves collection of semen from high quality bulls of an elite gene pool which is packaged into straws and preserved by freezing in liquefied nitrogen gas at -196 degrees Celsius. Once these doses are preserved, they have an unlimited lifetime and can be transported and used to impregnate cows in any part of the world. This ease of transport of elite livestock semen doses is important, since the semen used for artificial insemination needs to be of top quality for the process to be effective.
The resulting calf born through AI carries 50% genes from its mother and 50% genes from its father, thus inheriting average of the attributes of both parents and is called Forward 1 i.e. F1. For example, if a cow with milk production potential of 1,000 liters per lactation is crossed with a bull that carries genes of milk production potential of 10,000 liters, the resulting calf will have milk production potential of 5,500 liters per lactation. This means that the daughter has gained 4,500 liters over her mother owing to her father’s superior gene-pool.
In the absence of a systematic breed improvement program in Pakistan, not only has improvement in productivity been marginal, but the genetic diversity of local animals is deteriorating over time.
As per various studies conducted by public and private organizations, only about 5 to 10% of the Pakistani dairy farmers are using AI currently for breeding their dairy animals which is a dismally low percentage compared to the AI rate in developed countries where it is up to 95%. What this effectively means is that genetic up-gradation of dairy animals in Pakistan is not taking place.
The reason for low rate of AI in Pakistan is the lack of availability of good quality livestock semen. The locally produced livestock semen is affordable for the farmers but is of extremely marginal quality. Furthermore imported livestock semen in Pakistan is of good quality but is prohibitively expensive and beyond the reach of the small holding dairy farmers of Pakistan. In view of this 90 – 95% of the farmers use natural breeding methods which produces offspring with traits either similar to the low milk producing mother or at times inferior milk yields.
With around 63 million animals, half of which are female, Pakistan needs 60 – 70 million doses annually to genetically upgrade its national herd. However, the total livestock semen doses supplied by the public & private sectors, along with imported doses meet a meager 5 to 10% of the country’s requirement.
Realizing the situation of the 35 million poor dairy farmers in Pakistan and the vicious cycle of poverty they are in, Jassar Farms aims to produce world class livestock semen doses locally and sell them to these farmers at affordable rates. Through this process, all stakeholders in the dairy industry of Pakistan, especially the poor dairy farmers, will be direct beneficiaries.
Pakistan Livestock Census 2006