Practices & Solutions

Conservation of Vechur Cattle by Dr. Sossama Iype, Kerala

Background

Vechur cow, an indigenous cattle variety of Kerala and a rare breed of Bos indicus, is the smallest cattle breed in the world. It yields the maximum milk in the world for a cow of its size. It has been named after its place of origin, Vechur, a small village near Vaikon in Kottayam district, in the Western Ghats of Kerala. Apart from its small size, the cows were favoured by farmers for traits such as low feed requirement, tolerance to heat and humidity and high resistance to diseases such as Foot and Mouth disease, tracheal worms, etc. The average weight of the Vechur cattle is about 130 kg for cows and 170 kg for bulls and their height is below 90 cm. Vechur bulls are very strong and were earlier used to plough marshy paddy fields.


Need for the Initiative

However, crossbreeding programmes adopted by the government in the 1960s posed a threat to the native population of the Vechur variety. Exotic bulls such as Brown Swiss, Jersey and Holstein Friesian were introduced and chosen for breeding, with an objective to increase milk production. The Livestock Improvement Act (1961) of the Government of Kerala disallowed the local bulls to be retained with an exception to the bulls in the temples. This led to the near extinction of the cattle and a mere 41 individuals remained until 1988.


Conservation Initiatives and Impacts

Dr. Sossama Iype, a professor at the Kerala Agricultural University, with expertise in Animal Breeding and Genetics, initiated the process of rehabilitation and conservation of the nearly extinct Vechur cow in 1988, along with other indigenous breeds of Kerala, such as Kasargod and Cheruvally cattle and Attappady goats. Under the guidance of Dr. Sosamma Iype a conservation unit was constituted in 1989. Students from the Kerala Agricultural University were motivated to scout for Vechur cows and bulls. The Vechur Conservation Unit came into existence in Kerala Agricultural University with 8 Vechur cattle.  The search for the breed continued and 24 cattle were added to the lot in one year. The team continued its support for the conservation unit in Kerala Agricultural University. The ‘Save Vechur’ campaign and the network formed proved to be effective. By 1998, the animals in the Kerala Agricultural University Unit multiplied and about 30 animals could be sold out for establishing some field units. These units receive assistance from Kerala Agricultural University for supply of semen and technical guidance.[1] The animals bred in the unit were also distributed to select few committed farmers for in situ-conservation.

Multiple Ovulation and Embryo Transfer (MOET) technique was used in the breeding programme[2] wherein the embryos developed from healthy cattle are inseminated into the recipient cows. Meticulous records of accurate pedigree were maintained to ensure strong progeny. Eventually the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), Ministry of Science and Technology, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Kerala State Biodiversity Board, NABARD, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) became partners in the programme.

Conserving Vechur has not only provided food and nutritional security, owing to the high nutritional value from A2 β-casein and arginine in the milk but has also supplemented agricultural activities by providing manure prepared from its excreta. Additionally, value-added products such as Vechur Ghee and Bhoosanjivani, based on traditional knowledge are prepared by the farmers. Traditionally the cow’s milk and its products are believed to enhance cognitive development in growing children, lower LDL cholesterol, relieve bone and muscular pain, and cure liver problems. The valuable germplasm of the cow is now preserved for posterity.


Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards

Sosamma Iype received special mention in the India Biodiversity Awards (IBA) under the category ‘Conservation of Threatened Species’ in 2016.

Sosamma Iype

Tel. +91- 9447991580

Email: sosammaiype@gmail.com

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