TWO Holstein-Friesian heifers stand at a dairy farm near Talagang in Chakwal district.—Photo by writer
TWO Holstein-Friesian heifers stand at a dairy farm near Talagang in Chakwal district.—Photo by writer

SITTING in his office, Umer Farooq Awan seems restless as he fields phone calls and passes orders to his staff members at the same time. Mr Awan, a 37-year-old veterinarian, has emerged as an international dairy consultant, who imports not only cows from the Netherlands but also bovine semen while offering consultancy services for setting up state-of-the-art dairy farms under the umbrella of his company Bovitech that he established in 2017.

He has imported as many as 10,000 cows of Holstein-Friesian breed from Australia and the Netherlands so far. The imported bovine semen of the same breed and also of the Jersey breed being distributed by Mr Awan’s company for the last three years has also changed the outlook of the dairy sector in Chakwal district as semen injected to local cows of Dhanni and Sahiwal breeds has resulted in cross-breed heifers that produce seven to eight times more milk than that of indigenous breeds.

“I have established six modern dairy farms in Chakwal district and provided them with as many as 2,000 Holstein-Friesian cows. Chakwal district is fast becoming a dairy valley,” Mr Awan says.

Being an agrarian country, Pakistan’s livestock sector has emerged as the major subsector in agriculture that alone employs as many as eight million rural families. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2019-20, the 8m families generate their 35 to 40 per cent income from the livestock sector, which contributes 11.7pc to annual GDP and 3.1pc to annual exports. The country currently has as many as 49.6m cows and 41.2m buffaloes of which 80pc are being raised by small farmers having three to five animals in their homes.

With annual milk production of 61,690 tonnes, Pakistan is the fourth-largest milk-producing country in the world, yet it spends Rs20 billion annually on the import of dry milk powder and other milk-related products. A major factor is that milk production of our indigenous breeds of cows and buffaloes is seven to eight times lower than that of cows of Europe and America, while our livestock sector is largely unorganised and is run on a non-commercial basis.

Unfortunately, the vital sector has remained neglected by rulers as well as private investors. But now things are changing fast as the dairy farmers are determined to develop a better cross-breed by inseminating cows of domestic breeds with semen of the Holstein-Friesian and Jersey breeds, the top two milk-yielding breeds in the world. Many farmers are raising pure Holstein-Friesian cows imported from the Netherlands, Australia and America, having milk production of 30 to 50 litres per animal.

“I stepped into the dairy sector in 1988 and raised 50 buffaloes. Later I included some cows of cross-breed and I realised that cross-breed cows are better than buffaloes. Then I purchased some cows of pure Holstein-Friesian breed, which proved more profitable than cross-breed cows. Now I own 70 cows of pure Holstein-Friesian breed,” says Chaudhry Masood, a progressive dairy farmer from Sang Kalan village of Chakwal.

Chaudhry Azhar — a leading dairy farmer in Chakwal with 450 exotic cows, who became a role model of sorts by establishing a state-of-the-art farm in 2016 — now sells 4 tonnes of milk on a daily basis. “When we imported cows from Australia in 2016 we were unsure whether these cows would be able to adjust to the environment of our area. But as we provided them a healthy atmosphere, they managed to adapt to our climate,” says Mr Azhar.

With the realisation that high-yielding cows should be raised, the demand for exotic cows and imported semen has increased in the country. The federal government allowed import of 7,200 high-yielding cows of Holstein-Friesian and Jersey breeds and 654,500 doses of superior quality semen in 2019-20 as per its strategy of fostering “private sector-led development, with the public sector providing enabling environment through policy interventions”.

However, unfortunately, the policy measures are not being implemented in letter and spirit. Take the instance of Punjab, the largest milk-producing province in the country, which has hardly imported 120,000 doses of superior semen from Canada and America. Only 3,000 doses have been given to Chakwal district that has 260,000 cows. “We got the semen in the last week of January and now we do not have a single dose left,” says an official of the Livestock Department in Chakwal.

Now the majority of farmers are at the mercy of artificial insemination technicians (AITs), who mostly inseminate the cows with the semen of domestic bulls from Sahiwal and Dhanni breeds, resulting in poor-yielding heifers as most farmers cannot judge the quality of the semen. If farmers ask for imported semen, most AITs charge a hefty price. On top of that they do not give any receipt to the farmer.

“We are trying our best to improve and develop the breed by inseminating our nondescript cows with imported semen and we are witnessing good results as well,” says a senior official of the Punjab Livestock and Dairy Development Department. The official adds that 90pc of Pakistan’s indigenous breeds, like Sahiwal, Dhanni and Cholistani, have been polluted and the cows are considered nondescript ones.

The government is determined to import semen from America and Canada as it believes that Holstein-Friesian cows of that region produce more milk than the cows of Europe, but Mr Awan feels that cows from the Netherlands, the native country of the Holstein-Friesian breed, are better. “The cows of Holland have a higher fertility rate and they also adapt easily to our environment,” he maintains. “The government must facilitate the import of exotic cows and semen by reducing the duty and other taxes so that the country’s dairy sector could witness a sharp boom.”

With the rising demand of imported cows and increasing trend to get cross-breeds, the dairy sector is bracing for new challenges. “Imported and cross-breed cows demand extra care and good management. The government must take urgent steps to ensure 100pc vaccinations, insurance of cattle, regulation of prices of concentrated feed called vanda, and launch of awareness campaigns about management of the cows.”

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2021

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