India has a large number of indigenous farm animal breeds, mostly developed by natural selection for adapting to local agro-ecological conditions. These breeds are hence hardy and suited to the conditions in the area of their origin.
An important distinction must be made here at the outset between indigenous animal breeds and ‘nondescript’ specimens. While the former has specific characteristics, specialisations and production capacities, the latter usually lack any unique characteristics and are very low producers.
Indigenous breeds fit in very well into an integrated farming system (as opposed to intensive factory-farms), where their feed requirement is largely generated as a by-product from within the farm itself. Since levels of investment and management are not high, an animal component can be easily included into the farming system.
In India, over 120 breeds of farm animals including cattle, buffalo, sheep, goat, camel, horse, pig and poultry are ‘recognised’, though there are also a number of other breeds not yet described or recognised. Each of these breeds are indigenous to a specific region, have certain specialisations, are hardy and adapted for conditions in their area of origin, require very little management when compared to exotic breeds and cross-breeds, especially veterinary costs; and can subsist on a far inferior diet during the leaner months.
Many of these breeds, like many seed varieties, are in the danger of becoming extinct. Their are a number of reasons for this, most importantly the Government’s focus and efforts on exotic breeds and so called improved cross-breeds. There has also never been a formal effort to conserve individual breeds or to ensure that breed registers are maintained.
When India required a solution for its generally low-yield and largely nondescript livestock, it could have found a solution within its own boundaries. The vast number of nondescripts could have been improved by crossing with superior local breeds. Instead, India looked to temperate countries for genetic improvement. While introducing genestock of high-producing breeds from overseas has indeed boosted production, there has also been an accompanying increase in costs of upkeep, including feeding and veterinary care. Management levels are also much higher, as are capital and recurring costs. Ironically, some other tropical countries have imported Indian breeds for improving their own livestock (Brazil importing Ongole cattle is an example)