Breeding Best Practices Boost Dairy Farm Productivity

Originally published on November 5, 2014.

In 2010, Sri Lanka’s domestic milk supply met less than 20 percent of the country's demand for dairy products. In the dry Eastern Province, a traditional cow produced only about two liters of milk per day. Fortunately, artificial insemination (AI) and estrus synchronization techniques can produce crossbreed cows capable of offering double the milk yields that they would otherwise. As a result, farmers’ incomes increased and the nation began to reduce its dependence on imported milk.

AI has become one of the most important techniques devised for the genetic improvement of farm animals. In the AI process, technicians collect sperm from bulls and then process, store and artificially introduce it into the female reproductive tract for conception. Estrus synchronization manipulates a cow’s reproductive cycle (known as the estrus cycle) so that the majority of cows exhibit estrus (are in heat) and ready for conception in a short time. Together, AI and estrus synchronization are best practices that can effectively increase the proportion and the quality of the cows farmers breed.

Given the climatic, environmental and management conditions in Eastern Province, the Sri Lankan Department of Animal Production and Health (DAPH) recommends local breeders use Jersey semen. This upgrades heifers to a crossbreed between the traditional local variety and a Jersey. With adequate food, water and good management practices, these crossbreeds can provide between four and five liters of milk a day, compared to the yields of between two and three liters from local cows.

Through the Dairy Enhancement in Eastern Province (DEEP) project, made possible by USAID, Land O’Lakes promoted AI and estrus synchronization practices among the farmers of Eastern Province. Land O’Lakes coordinated closely with DAPH to teach the benefits of these practices and connect AI technicians with dairy farmers. In addition to understanding the advantages of AI, farmers easily appreciated that the low cost of AI semen at 50 cents per insemination compares favorably to $450 for purchasing a crossbreed cow.

“In the past, farmers had limited access to extension services, and farmers’ demand for AI was very low. Collaborative efforts in 2010 resulted in remarkable results compared to 2009.”

Dr. Sivalingam (AI Coordinator for DEEP project)

The combined efforts of Land O’Lakes, DAPH, livestock development officers and private AI technicians have changed farmers’ attitudes and filled a growing demand for AI among farmers in the Eastern Province of region of Manmunai West. Compared to the 47 cows that farmers artificially inseminated between January and June 2009, during the same period in 2010, they inseminated 290.

The former Provincial Director of DAPH Dr. Sivalingam, who was the Land O’Lakes AI Coordinator for the DEEP project, commented: “In the past, farmers had limited access to extension services, and farmers’ demand for AI was very low. Collaborative efforts in 2010 resulted in remarkable results in the AI process compared to 2009. It is a good verifiable indicator that farmers have been sensitized to the benefits of using AI.”

These upgraded Jersey cows contributed to increased milk yields in Eastern Province, which spurred growth in the nation’s ability to produce more of the milk that is consumed.

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