Artificial Insemination Taking India's Pig Production to New Levels

INDIA - Artificial insemination of swine is gaining ground in India, especially in the states of Goa, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, besides North Eastern states, where the method has emerged as one of the most potent techniques to aid pig production, writes A Nair for The Pig Site,
calendar icon 27 October 2016
clock icon 8 minute read

As farmers in these states face limitations to quality and disease free boars to fertilise the females, as well as other hurdles like the high cost of raising male pigs and lack of technical knowhow to detect heat periods and insemination, artificial insemination (AI) has come to the rescue.

AI is not new to the country, insists Santanu Banik, Principal Scientist (Animal Genetics and Breeding), National Research Centre on Pig (NRCP). He added that India has been using AI to obtain offsprings from genetically superior males for more than 200 years.

Given the fact that the technology holds enormous promise for genetic improvement, the NRCP adopted AI technology to disseminate superior quality porcine germplasm to the farming community across India, in order to increase genetic gain among the rural pig population.

Techniques of modern biology such as molecular cloning of genes, gene transfer, genetic manipulation of pig, chemical and biological treatment of low quality animal feeds for improved nutritive value, genetically engineered immunodiagnostic and immunoprophylactic agents and transgenic pig etc. are a reality today in India, and are finding their way into several research and development programmes.

Tough Measures

India faces several challenges in securing food and mitigating hunger and malnutrition for its over 1.25 billion people. In order to ensure employment opportunities to seasonally employed rural farmers and add to their income, the government devised suitable schemes to popularise rearing of meat producing animals, as well as scientific pig breeding.

Pork was termed the most nutritious with high fat and low water content. The fact that pork has better energy value than that of other meat also ruled in its favour, as well as the meat being rich in vitamins like thiamin, Niacin and riboflavin

It was noticed that among various livestock species, pigs offer the most potential source of meat production and are more efficient feed converters, after broilers.

Swines tend to have the highest feed conversion efficiency i.e. they produce more live weight gain from a given weight of feed than any other class of meat producing animal, except broilers.

Moreover, swines are also prolific with shorter generation interval. A sow can be bred as early as 8-9 months of age and can farrow twice in a year. They produce 6-12 piglets in each farrowing.

It was also pointed out that pig farming provides quick returns since the marketable weight of fatteners can be achieved within a period of 6-8 months.

Though the main aim was to improve the productivity of small sized rural pig farms across India, the fact that pig farming requires small investment on buildings and equipment and is easily adoptable, dominated discussions with the farming community.

In India, pigs are reared under a variety of production systems ranging from simple backyard family operated farms or large scale integrated farms with sophisticated management and bio-safety measures.

Low Production

However, pork production in India is limited, representing only 8 per cent of the country’s animal protein sources.

A study by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has estimated pork production in India at 464 thousand metric tonnes in financial year 2014-15 (April-March).

From financial year 2009-10 to 2014-15, pork production increased at a slow pace, with compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.4 per cent due to population growth, the USDA study showed.

The Indian government's Livestock Census, 2012, showed pig population declined by 7.5 per cent to 10.3 million from 2007 to 2012. The decline in population was attributed to disease outbreaks. In order to curtail this and to ensure a constant flow of protein, the government decided to adopt AI across the entire pork meat industry.

Around 63 per cent of the swine population can be accounted for in the eastern and north eastern regions of India. The highest pig population is in the state of Assam (at 1.63 million) followed by Uttar Pradesh (at 1.33 million), Jharkhand (at 0.96 million), Bihar (at 0.65 million) and West Bengal (at 0.65 million).

Pork production is concentrated mainly in the states of Uttar Pradesh (at 30 per cent), followed by north-eastern states (at 25 per cent), Bihar (at 15 per cent), West Bengal (at 6 per cent), Karnataka (at 4 per cent), Jharkhand (at 4 per cent), and Kerala (at 3 per cent).

The majority of the pig population in India is of indigenous breeds (at 76 per cent) though the population of cross-bred and exotic pigs increased by 12.7 per cent from 2003 to 2012, the USDA study showed.

Exotic breed mainly comprises Hampshire, Large White Yorkshire, Duroc, Landrace, and Tamworth, while some of the popular indigenous pig breeds include Ghungroo, Niang Megha, Ankamali, Agonda Goan, and TanyVo.

While indigenous breed animals are small sized, slow growing, produce a small number of litter, and yield low quality pork, India has imported exotic pigs such as Hampshire, Duroc, Berkshires, Landrace, Large White Yorkshire, Saddleback, and Tamworth to augment piggery production, and to overcome poor performance of indigenous pig germplasm.

The USDA study pointed out that India’s research institutes have also developed different crossbred animals by crossing local pigs with exotic breeds, to produce animals of significantly higher productivity and better characteristics.

The Indian government's Department of Animal Husbandry tends to support state governments under its national level programmes on piggery development, to establish pig rearing and breeding units, as well as control programmes for diseases.

Spreading Across the Country

Though AI was commonly used in cattle and buffalo breeding, it was pioneered for pigs at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) complex. Facilities such as semen collection, preservation and AI were set up, and exotic boars like the Large White Yorkshire, the Duroc and other crossbreds were maintained and trained for donating semen.

Last year, ICAR animal husbandry scientists effectively used AI to improve reproduction and genetics of farm animals across Goa, especially with farmers in Betim, Shigao, Carambolim, and other places
Most pig farmers in Goa tend to maintain local breeds of small animals.

"The maximum yield is hardly 50 to 60 kg. But breeding exotic breeds like Large White Yorkshire is very difficult given the local conditions in Goa, so ICAR developed a cross-breeding technique," said Eknath Chakurkar, ICAR's principal scientist.

Sperm cells were collected and examined in the ICAR laboratory for quality control and later injected in the females.

Though meat-consuming Goa boasts of a huge market for pork consumers, the state tends to depend on suppliers from neighbouring states to sustain its high demand.

Chakurkar said AI has turned out to be an alternative for the state to build and consolidate its pork market and create a self reliant and self sustaining supply, "instead of having to depend on suppliers from outside the state".

The AI technique has also drawn interest from Thrissur, Kerala, in South India, which has one of India's biggest piggery units.

At a pig farm in Puthur, Thrissur, developed by the Kerala Livestock Development Board, an international standard- befitting pig breeding centre is taking shape. The farm has an area of 39.7 hectares, and has a capacity to maintain 2,800 pigs.

The Kerala Livestock Development Board, which was formed by integrating the Indo-Swiss Project Kerala, has used technical know-how from the Philippines for the project. It has imported around 90 piglets of three breeds from England with the help of the Swiss Government, and is expected to produce 10,000 piglets every year by way of AI.

Regional semen banks are also present at Kulathupuzha, Mavelikkara, Muvattupuzha, Chalakkudy, Dhoni, Puthuppady and Kannur in Kerala, catering to different AI centres of the state.

Officials pointed out that in other parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, germplasms of genetically superior boars (Hampshire and crossbred) are being used for AI in sows, for the production of genetically superior pigs. "The aim is to achieve genetic improvement in rural swine herd. One of the many constrains for adopting swine AI is the lack of awareness among farmers, especially in rural areas," said officials, who added that the issue was being tackled.

The NRCP team has developed a unique extender, by which high quality boar semen can be preserved in liquid state even upto 7-8 days without losing the fertilising capacity of spermatozoa. With this proven method of semen preservation, AI using liquid semen can be performed with great results.

Artificial insemination has now started to dominate the reproductive process on many piggery farms across India. Amongst other things, it has brought superior genes with a minimal risk of disease, which would not normally be achieved cost-effectively by natural mating.

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