Inadequate mineral (micro-nutrients) intake by cattle is among the significant factors responsible for their low productivity and deficient fertility. Most cattle owners are least aware of this. This deficiency is more prevalent among animals that graze in the wild or are fed on crop wastes. The number of such bovines is fairly large in India. Steady degradation, besides shrinkage, of grazing tracts has worsened the problem. The animals are, therefore, denied balanced nutrition with adverse impact on their health, productivity and fecundity.
The animal sciences wing of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) is implementing a well-conceived and meticulously planned project to address this issue. Since the extent and nature of mineral deficiency vary from area to area, depending on the kind of fodder and feed resources available there, the ICAR project aims at developing area-specific mineral mixtures to be fed to the animals to remove the nutritional imbalance. Technology for the production of such mixtures is also being evolved so that it can be passed on to the interested private companies for commercial production. Several research institutes of the ICAR, besides some agricultural universities and even a non-governmental organisation (NGO), are involved in the implementation of this countrywide project.
Interestingly, some such mixtures have already been developed, and tested on the livestock, and even been patented. The technology is ready for being transferred to the manufacturers. At least six companies are said to have already evinced interest in manufacturing and selling such mixtures for bovines in Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal, to begin with.
According to ICAR Assistant Director-General C S Prasad, such an intervention in animal nutrition has become necessary as the performance of the livestock in the tropics is mainly governed by the quality and quantity of nutrients available in the animal diet. “This aspect becomes more important when animals are fed on agricultural residues, which are low in most of the nutrients, especially micro-nutrients, and contain excess of anti-nutritional elements like silica, oxalates, lignin, tannin and the like,” he says.
The efforts for the development of area-specific mineral mixtures have been preceded by an extensive survey in different parts of the country to find out not only the precise nutritional profile of the available fodder and feed but also the state of the animals’ health, productivity and fertility, especially the regularity of the breeding cycle. The nutrient profiles of soils of all regions have also been surveyed as there is a close linkage between soils, plants and animals. Animals draw their nutrition from plants which, in turn, take the same from the soil.
The underlying objective of such an elaborate exercise has been to ensure that only the nutrients lacking in the fodder resources of a particular region are put in the mineral mixture prepared for that region. “The area-specific mineral mixtures are cost-effective and avoid feeding minerals which are already available in abundance and can, otherwise, affect the utilisation of other minerals,” Prasad says. The mineral mixtures developed under this project cost only about half of what commonly available dietary supplements for animals do.
The response of bovines to the intake of area-specific mineral mixtures has been quite encouraging. In the case of animals that have problem in conceiving (called anoestrus in the veterinary terminology), improvement was observed within 45 days. While in more than 60 per cent of the cases, the fertility cycle turned normal; nearly 50 per cent actually got pregnant within this period. In fact, the cattle owners reported improvement in the general health of the animals, as reflected in the shine on their skin and hair-coat, within 30 days of being given the feed mineral mixture. The improved health and balanced nutrition also tended to improve milk yield of the animals, thereby increasing the income of their owners.
Since ICAR has already gone through the patenting process for some of these formulations and is transferring the technology to private companies, these should, hopefully, be available in the market soon. Also, since these mixtures require only three or four mineral salts to be incorporated in the formulations, these should be priced reasonably.
Technological interventions of this kind can help consolidate India’s position as the world’s top dairy nation. The country holds this position today because of its huge cattle population, and not because of high productivity of its bovines. Better animal nutrition can be a step towards improving productivity of its cattle.