Reviving Sheep Farming in Bhutan

Hon'ble Sanam Lyonpo and dignitaries with the lambs at Dechenpelrithang
Hon’ble Sanam Lyonpo and dignitaries with the lambs at Dechenpelrithang

29 October, 2015, Dechenpelrithang: Sheep was once a reliable source of income and livelihood especially among transhumant (seasonal movement of people with their livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures) herders of highland regions. Although, reared both for wool and meat; in the earlier days, majority of herders reared it for production of wool. Realizing the importance of sheep for highlanders, systematic breeding intervention in sheep was initiated with establishment of first sheep breeding farm in Merak with winter grazing ground in Khaling. The breeding trial on sheep began with the import of 100 Rampur Burshire Sheep from Himachal Pradesh in India in 1965.

To accelerate sheep breed improvement in the field, additional sheep farm along with yak was established in 1974 at Dechenpelrithang; commonly known as Dungmethang at Bumthang, under the UNDP/FAO assisted project. Dungmethang was named as Dechenpelrithang by Ashi Dechen Wangmo Wangchuck when she was serving as His Majesty’s Representative for the then Ministryof Development.

At Dechenpelrithang, Kashmiri Merino was imported from Jammu and Kashmir, India, with the objective to enhance wool productivity and quality of our native sheep through cross breeding with Merino. According to Dr. Tashi Samdup, Director General, Department of Livestock; “Sheep breeding activities took off well and produced very fine quality of wool; however, the very fine quality was too delicate for manual processing which was common practice at that time. Thus, Kashmiri Merino was gradually phased out and replaced with Comeback breed – a dual purpose breed for wool and meat – from Australia in 1989 Under Australian International Development assistance Bureau.”

Cross breeding of Native sheep with Comeback was pursued vigorously mainly for wool production. However, with easy availability of commercially processed wool and other alternative fabrics for weaving, and lack of human resources to look after the sheep; farming of sheep has been gradually declining in the field. As per Livestock statistics 2014, Sheep population stands at 10778 with 70% of the population concentrated in Samtse, Tashigang and Wangdiphodrang.

With the decline of sheep farming; from 2006 onwards, National Sheep Breeding Center’s role was merely concentrated for conservation of native sheep and major part of farm infrastructure and other facilities were allotted for heifer rearing. With almost a decade of low profile and lesser development priority accorded to sheep farming, the future of sheep farming and its associated culture looks bleak unless effective measures are put in place for its revival.

Hon'ble Saanm Lyonpo with the new flocks of sheep at Dechenpelrithang
Hon’ble Saanm Lyonpo with the new flocks of sheep at Dechenpelrithang

Thus, under the guidance of the Ministry, Department of Livestock, has initiated restocking the farm with additional 246 native sheep. With additional stock total herd strength stands at 360 numbers. This measure, according to His Excellency Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji, is expected to not only revive sheep farming but also conserve the genetic resources, offering wider choice of genetic materials for effective breeding and selection; and preserve and enrich the associated culture and tradition. Furthermore, the timing is very appropriate for revival, being the year of the Female Wood Sheep and the 60th Birth Anniversary of the 4th Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Therefore, this revival effort is dedicated to the 60th Birth Anniversary of the 4th Druk Gyalpo. The revival inauguration was launched by His Excellency Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, on 29th October, 2015.

By: Department of Livestock

 

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