Justin Luther, assistant professor of Animal Science at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls recently spent three weeks in Nepal assisting the Ministry of Agriculture in its efforts to improve Nepal's sheep breeding program.
Hand woven wool carpets are the major export commodity of Nepal, generating $86 million in U.S. dollars each year. Nepal is home to 0.8 million sheep, but only a small percentage (4 percent) are carpet wool-producing sheep, specifically a native Bhyanglung breed. The majority of the sheep in Nepal (64 percent) are a Baruwal breed. The lack of carpet type wool sheep has forced the country to import much of the wool necessary to produce carpets. Nepal needs to increase their production of carpet wool to meet the mandatory World Trade Organization provision that eight percent local raw material be used to make the carpets if they are to be marketed as Nepalese.
The Department of Livestock Services (DLS) in the Ministry of Agriculture developed a plan to cross breed the Baruwal sheep, which are plentiful, with carpet wool exotic breeds from Australia. Crossbred rams produced on the government farms would then be distributed to thousands of small farms across the country.
The DLS purchased frozen semen from Australia, but lacked staff expertise in artificial insemination (AI) techniques to initiate the breeding program. Winrock International, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, brought Luther to Nepal to conduct the AI training.
The training program was conducted on a DLS farm in Pokhara, about 200 kilometers west of Kathmandu and the second largest city in the country. Luther covered all aspects of reproductive management and artificial insemination in sheep, including both laparoscopic and cervical insemination techniques. Laparoscopic equipment is not readily available in Nepal, so prior to his trip Luther researched and purchased the equipment and left it with DLS officials.
Some 25 individuals participated in the training, including veterinarians, para-veterinarians, and animal science professionals from across the country. Luther followed the week-long training session with a second more intensive session to a select group of junior veterinarians, held in the Rasuwa District of Nepal. Luther said the goal was "to have a group become very proficient in the techniques and able to serve as an ongoing resource for veterinarians across the country. "
Near the end of his visit Luther spent time at the Ministry of Agriculture in Kathmandu where he shared his perspective of the sheep industry, and compared and contrasted the industry in the U.S. and Nepal. Nepal, a country the size of Pennsylvania, has just under one million sheep, most used for meat production; in contrast, the entire U.S. has only six million sheep.
"It was an awesome experience from a sheep production perspective and the people were very hospitable," said Luther. "Visiting the government farms, with their diverse operations, and being present for the festivities in honor of Buddha's birthday were two highlights of my trip."