Besides limiting population of male cattle which often destroy standing crop, the ‘sexed semen’ technology will also help in increasing milk production — a key component of farmers’ income as they depend on dairy operations to supplement their farm earnings.
The ambitious artificial insemination programme, which aims to cover 1.2 crore cows, was launched by PM Narendra Modi in Mathura in September for 600 districts. Nearly, 17 lakh inseminations have already been done as part of this programme. Asked how many of them have been inseminated with ‘sexed semen’, secretary in department of animal husbandry & dairying (AHD), Atul Chaturvedi, said, “We are targeting 5% of insemination activities with sex-sorted semen. Though its coverage at present is very minimal, we are working to increase availability of sex-sorted semen and also subsiding the cost to an extent so that farmers are ready to pay the balance money.”
Noting that the sex-sorted technology is right now not indigenously available and expensive, Chaturvedi told TOI that farmers will not be willing to pay for it unless they find it profitable. “Many progressive farmers have, however, started bearing the cost of sex-sorted semen on their own,” he said.
The AHD secretary explained that unlike the 50:50 chances of male-female calf in normal conventional semen, the chances of having female calf would be over 90% with the use of sex-sorted semen. At present, there are two US-based companies — Genus ABS and Sexing Technologies (ST)—which have the technology. Unlike non-sexed semen, which is made available to farmers free, the cost of sexed semen can range from Rs 700 to Rs 1,200 per dose. Since farmers may end up using three doses to have a female calf, the high cost remains the biggest deterrent for small and medium farmers.
ABS India’s managing director, Arvind Gautam, however, argued that the returns of using sexed semen are much higher than their cost and that’s why “we are fully booked for the next few months”. There’s also a push to ‘make in India’. “We are now trying to set up labs across the country where sex-sorted semen can be produced using bulls in India. We have already set up 14,” said Chaturvedi.
The sanctioned semen production stations are located in Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.
The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) is also currently involved in the sex-sorted semen project with the support of department of AHD. The board undertook a pilot project using sex-sorted semen from indigenous breeds like Sahiwal, Gir and Tharparkar in five districts — Amreli, Jodhpur, Purbi Champaran, Shahjahanpur and Varanasi. Till December last year, total 591 calves (522 female and 69 male) have been born with percentage of female calves at 88%.
“Although we have progressed considerably in genetic improvement of our livestock through artificial insemination, embryo transfer and in-vitro fertilization (IVF), we need to develop indigenous technology for semen-sexing. We also need to record other important traits like heat tolerance, disease resistance and feed efficiency in cattle to select better cattle using genomics,” said NDDB chairman Dilip Rath.