Sheep and goat production systems in India


Sheep is a important livestock species of India. They contribute greatly to the agrarian economy, especially in the arid/semi-arid and mountainous areas where crop and /or dairy farming are not economical. They play an important role in the livelihood of a large percentage of small and marginal farmers and landless labourers engaged in sheep rearing. A number of rural-based industries use wool and sheep skins as raw material. Sheep manure is an important source of soil fertility, especially in southern states.

Sheep in India are mostly maintained on natural vegetation on common grazing lands, wastelands and uncultivated (fallow) lands, stubbles of cultivated crops and top feeds (tree loppings). Rarely are they kept on grain, cultivated fodder or crop residue.

Sheep are mostly reared for wool and meat. Sheep skins and manure constitute important sources of earning, the latter particularly in southern India. Milk from sheep is of limited importance and that too in very limited areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Indian sheep are not regarded as dairy sheep.

The productivity of Indian sheep is lower than those of agriculturally more advanced countries. Yet considering their nutritional and physical environment, their productivity cannot be considered as inefficient. The major reasons for low productivity are inadequate grazing resources, diseases causing high mortality, morbidity and consequent reduced production, and serious lack of organized effort for bringing genetic improvement.

Sheep production regions of India


Sl. No.


Northern temperate

North-western arid & semi-arid

Southern Peninsular




J&K, Himachal Pradesh and hilly regions of UP


P&H, plains of UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat and MP

Maharashtra, AP, Karnataka, TN & Kerala

Bihar, W.B., Orissa, Assam and other eastern states


Population (millions)






Population (%)






Wool prodn (million kg)






Wool prodn (%)






Meat prodn (million kg)






Skin prodn (million kg)







Sizeable proportion of sheep in this region, esp. J&K, consists of crosses between indigenous breeds and exotic fine wool breeds

Kashmir Merino has evolved from higher crosses of indigenous and exotic fine wool breeds

Hissardale evolved at Govt. Livestock Farm, Hissar through interbreeding Merino x Bikaneri (3/4) crossbreds

Mostly coarse carpet quality wool except Chokla & Patanwadi (which produce fine quality carpet/medium quality apparel wool)

Deccani/Bellary, Mandya & Coimbatore produce extremely coarse and hairy fleeces

Nilgiris (produced by crossing indigenous hairy breeds with exotic breeds like Cape Merino, Southdown, Cheviot etc) produce fine wool

Other breeds do not produce any wool and are primarily used for meat production

Wool is extremely coarse and hairy, except in Arunachal Pradesh where a small number of better wool quality sheep are available



Staple length (cm)






Fibre diameter (µ)






Medullation (%)






Wool quality (counts)






Sheep in the Northern temperate region produce wool of good apparel quality. Similarly, in climatically alike areas of southern hills, the Nilgiri sheep also produce wool of similar quality. This, however, goes down as we move from Northern temperate to North-western region where sheep produce wool of superior to coarse quality. Sheep of Southern peninsular region either produce no wool or very little of 36s quality and are primarily used for meat production. Same is the position in Eastern region as the area is of very high humidity and is not suitable for extensive sheep raising, especially for wool.

Colour of fleece is generally white in the North-western hilly region, though black is not uncommon. Black and brown colour appears in greater proportion as we move towards North-west. In North-western plains containing arid and semi-arid sub-tropical conditions, fleece colour is again predominantly white with black and brown mostly on non-fleece points such as head and neck. In this region, problems of canary colouration of wool (non-scourable golden yellow colour) is usually observed in the autumn season. This results in almost 82% canary staining of the autumn clip which fetches 8-20% lower price resulting into a loss of about 1.5 crores per annum. A biological phenomenon of this colouration is presumed to be a sequel to an adaptive thermo-regulatory mechanism in hot and humid climatic conditions which requires dissipation of body heat through cutaneous evaporative cooling. The alkaline sweat under the conditions of high temperature and humidity reacts with wool fibres and thus causes the yellow colouration.


Grazing management and Migratory patterns

In spite of a number of sheep development activities in operation in different states of the country, sheep rearing still continues to be a nomadic/backward proposition and thus mostly concerned to poor and landless people. For scanty suitable grazing lands in most of the states, the shepherds keep on migrating their flocks over extensive areas within or even in the neighbouring states. Sheep rearing is thus practiced in a diversified form depending upon the region and the location. In Rajasthan, around 5 lakh sheep are in permanent migration where the flocks do not return to their home tract at any time of the year. The shepherds, however, keep on relieving one another and return home in turn. These sheep are mainly grazed in MP, UP and parts of Rajasthan.

Generally there are two types of migratory flocks:-

a)      Truly nomadic flocks with no fixed centres but following seasonal migratory routes to grazing areas; they are largely governed by the availability of foraging and drinking water resources.

b)      Flocks on the fallow land, but following definite migratory routes to the season pastures and returning to their permanent abodes during other seasons.


·         Sheep are grazed on fallow lands during monsoon and after the Kharif crops are harvested on stubbles in the harvested fields

·         During the later part of the year starting from Sep-Oct, they are mostly grazed on uncultivated areas where the flocks are non-migratory

·         In the case of migratory flocks, the animals are grazed on the harvested fields and the reserve forests in their migratory tracts on nominal fees from Nov-Feb

·         Shepherds also book harvested fields where the cost of grazing on stubbles and gram husk in minimal

·         In both the migratory and non-migratory flocks, top feeding by lopping tree branches and shaking of pods is also common

·         During extreme summer months of the year, the flocks are grazed in the cooler hours of the day; grazing starts in the late hours of the day and the animals are brought to the water points some time in the noon hours of the following day. Animals are rested during the hotter part of the day between noon to around 4-5 PM.

§        About 5 million households in the country are engaged in the rearing of small ruminants (sheep, goats & rabbits) and other allied activities. (2003 census)

§         The main reasons for low productivity are poor exploitation of genetic potential of indigenous animals, low absorption of available technology, inadequate resource of feed and fodder, insufficient health cover, inadequate marketing and credit support etc.


India possesses the second-largest goat population in the world. In the prevailing socio-economic conditions in the country where per capita land holding is hardly 0.2 Ha, goat rearing becomes an inseparable component of mixed farming system. Goat farming has been recommended as the best choice for the rural people in developing countries because of the low investment, wide adaptability, high fertility and fecundity, low feed and management needs, high feed conversion efficiency, quick pay-off and low risk involved. Goats play an important role in income generation, capital storage, employment generation and improving household nutrition.

Goat rearing is the backbone of the economy of small and landless farmers in India. It is an insurance against crop failure and provides alternate source of livelihood to the farmers all year round. Goats provide dependable source of income to 40% of the rural population who are below the poverty line.

The controversy over goats is on damage it causes to the environment, predominantly due to its browsing nature. On one hand, the goat is accused as the major cause of deforestation and soil erosion, and on the other hand, it is claimed as a useful animal for poor people and is responsible for clearing the bushes and making the land worthy of cultivation. The goat’s bad reputation arises mainly from its mismanagement by man rather than any inherent fault. Nevertheless, the trend is slowly changing, and several states are now encouraging goat husbandry.


Production Systems

In our country, goats are reared by men and women with diverse working and professional background. The production systems are as numerous as the socio-economic and varied agricultural situations in the country. However, they can be broadly classified into the following:-

a)      Tethering : This is common in the sub-humid and humid zones, where probably because of intensive cropping, it is a convenient means of rearing goats from the stand point of control, minimum labour input and utilization of feed in situ. It is thus a sedentary system. A variation of this method is combining tethering with grazing up to 5 goats at a time, led by ropes held by women and children.

b)      Extensive production : This involves low carrying capacity in situations where land is marginal and is plentiful. It is characterized by low rainfall and various browse plants. The system is used by nomadic people, usually in very low rainfall areas or during winter months when crop resides are available.

c)       Intensive production : The goats are fed in confinement with limited access to land. It involves high labour and cash inputs. Cultivated grasses and agro-industrial byproducts are fed in situ. This system also has the advantage of allowing control over the animals.

d)      Semi-intensive production : This system is practiced to some degree in most of the situations, but the nature and extent of integration depend on the type of crops grown and their suitability to goats. The advantages of this system are increased fertility of land via the return of dung and urine, control of waste herbage growth, reduced fertilizer usage, easier crop management, increased crop yields, and greater economic returns.


Status of Goat industry

The goat industry in India has yet to be firmly laid down on scientific lines. Goat keepers are maintaining goats in all kinds of situations depending upon the ecology and their circumstances. The minimum goat unit could consist of one goat and the maximum could go to a few hundreds under range management. Goat farming in the country is mainly based on ‘zero input’. The fear of mortality has perhaps been largely responsible for not starting many large-scale goat farms. However, large-scale goat farms have successfully running since over last 30 years at the CSWRI Avikanagar, MPKVV Rahuri, and at Leh.

Constraints of the Goat industry

The following could be considered as the technical constraints for securing a thriving goat industry in the country:-

a)      Non-availability of high-yielding breeding stock.

b)      Low level of nutrition and managerial efficiency.

c)       Lack of definition of the production objectives.

d)      Limited attention to application of the modern techniques for improving the reproductive efficiency, eg. AI, synchronization of estrous, semen freezing etc.

e)      Limited use of outstanding exotic breeds for improvement.

f)       Inadequate control of diseases and parasites due to non-availability of prophylactic vaccines against important contagious diseases.

g)      Lack of knowledge on successful rearing of kids. Kid mortality is very high when weaning is practiced at a very young age.

h)      Lack of knowledge on silvi-pastoral system.

i)        Housing for goats in different eco-zones requires a very elaborate and systematic study.

j)        Organized marketing is very limited. This has resulted in unscrupulous exploitation by the middle-man who is often seen moving with the goats along the migratory routes.

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Disclaimer : The information on this site is meant as an aid to students and fellow veterinarians and should be used for educational purposes only. The views expressed are solely that of the author and should not be construed to be that of his employer or any other organization.