Uttarakhand to produce Merino wool

Migrant workers returning from the urban centres will find jobs in sustainable sheep breeding

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India’s mountainous state of Uttarakhand will soon spin out high-quality Australian sheep wool, to cater to India’s textile industry which so far has relied heavily on the global market.

A recent test report of the new wool quality compiled by the state’s animal husbandry department corroborated that its quality is similar to what is sourced from the famed Merino sheep in Australia.

“We imported Australian Merino sheep last year and the purebred yielded the same quality and this month the quantity of wool in Uttarakhand as in Australia,” Dr R Meenakshi Sundaram, Secretary of the state’s Animal Husbandry Department, said recently.

The average fibre diameter is a very impressive 16.88 microns, which is the most sought after by the textile industry across the world, Sundaram added.

Under the national livestock scheme last year, over 250 Merino sheep valued at Rs 8.5 crore (nearly A$ 1.7 million), are housed at the Government Sheep Breeding Farm in Ghansali, Tehri (Garhwal district) for breeding and improving the quality of wool.

The importance of the development can be implied from the data that the Indian textile industry imports 8000 MT – valued over Rs 2,000 crore – of fine wool from the global market, including Australia
“With very focused breeding programs for the next seven years in Uttarakhand by linking it with the integrated livelihood projects, we can produce almost 50 % of the total requirement of the textile industry in India,” said Sundaram.

At the sheep farm, high-quality germ plasm has been made available to the breeders through the use of modern artificial insemination in sheep and embryo transfer technology. The state government is aiming to offer sheep farming as a sustainable livelihood opportunity to the migrant population which has returned to Uttarakhand due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Back in early 2019, the Indian government had approved funds under the National Livestock Mission, to three states – Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir – for transporting the Merino breed of sheep from Australia.

In April 2019, 40 male and 200 female sheep formed the first consignment out of Australia. They were quarantined at both ends of their journey.

The high-quality Australian breed of sheep will be used for pure line and cross-breeding programmes under a well laid out breeding plan spread over five years. The sheep will be reared in the farm for two generations. From the third generation on, they will be given to farmers with a clause that the pure blood breeding should not exceed 75% of the population.

The State government aims to increase high quality wool productivity from the current 558 metric tonnes to over 1,000 metric tonnes.

It will also help people in mountainous regions of the state to continue to stay in their villages and engage in sheep breeding as a sustainable economic activity.

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