Table of Contents Next Page


1.1 History

The domestication of animals was carried out during Neolithic times along with the cultivation of cereals. First goats and sheep, second cattle and pigs, and finally draft animals such as horses and asses were domesticated.

The wild goat (Capra hircus), the chief ancestral stock from which the various breeds of domestic goats have been derived, is found in the barren hills of Baluchistan and the western Sind. In northeast Quetta, it is replaced by markhor (capra falconeri), also found in Turkestan, Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Kashmir. The Circassian goat is said to be the descendent of the markhor. By far the most important variety is the bezoar goat (Capra hircus aegagrus), which ranges from the Sind in the east through Iran and Asia Minor to Crete and the Cyclades in the west, although in many parts of this area it has disappeared. From Iran it extends into Russian Turkestan and the Caucasus, and into western Asia Minor.

The goat was the earliest ruminant to be domesticated. The Harappa toys contain representations of a goat. Two seals from Mohanjo-daro show a wild bezoar goat with enormous curled horns, and a bearded domestic male goat with side-spreading horns. The Gaddi goat, which greatly resembles the ancestral wild goat, was used as a beast of burden in the mountains and is still used in the Himalayan region of India for carrying salt and food grains.

There are many wild varieties of sheep (Ovis orientalis vignei) in the mountains from Afghanistan to Armenia, and they are probably the ancestors of the domesticated sheep of India as well as of Arabia. The inhabitants of Mohanjo-daro and Harappa already possessed domesticated sheep. Though sheep were probably first domesticated in the mountains of Iran, Turkestan and Baluchistan, we find them early in history, and they served a useful purpose in the economies of the Mesopotamian and northern Indian civilizations. They provided milk, meat and clothing for the inhabitants of the cold north (Randhawa, 1980).

1.2 General

Sheep and goats are important species of livestock for India. They contribute greatly to the agrarian economy, especially in areas where crop and dairy farming are not economical, and play an important role in the livelihood of a large proportion of small and marginal farmers and landless labourers.

Population statistics of these species from the 1977 census are not yet fully in. However, in important States, for which statistics are available, changes in the sheep population ranging from -15.35% to +17.39% and in the goat populations from -7.14% to +31.25% have been observed. According to the 1972 census, the country had 40 m sheep, which contributed approximately $175 m (Rs 1 400 m) per year to the national economy, based on a rough estimate of production of 34.3 m kg of wool, 101 m kg of mutton, and 14.6 m skins, in addition to manure, casings, offal, etc. Similarly, according to the 1972 census, the country had 68 m goats which contributed approximately $458 m (Rs 3 655 m) per year by producing about 255 m kg of meat, 34.9 m skins and 590 m kg of milk. Goats contribute 35% of the total meat (excluding poultry) and 3% of the total milk produced in the country (NCA, 1976). India exported wool and woolens worth $143.7 m (Rs 1 150 m) in 1978–79, of which carpets constituted almost 71% (WWEPC, 1980). Export earnings from finished leather and leather goods, including raw and processed sheep-and goat-skins, reached $326.1 m (Rs 2 609 m) during 1978–79 (EPCFL & IM, 1980). In 1978, there were 40.43 m sheep and 70.20 m goats in India, producing 118 m kg of mutton and 276 m kg of chevon, 717 m kg of milk, 33.3 m kg of wool and 26 117 and 71 148 m tonnes of fresh sheep and goat-skins, respectively (FAO, 1979).

The productivity of Indian sheep and goats is low, yet considering the nutritional and physical environmental conditions under which they are reared, it cannot be considered inefficient. Major reasons for this low productivity are inadequate grazing resources, disease problems and serious lack of organized efforts for genetic improvement. There is little selection of rams and bucks used for breeding, and much inter-mating among neighbouring breeds takes place.

Sheep development activities undertaken in different States of the country during recent years have not made much impact. Sheep-rearing continues to be a backward profession, primarily in the hands of poor, landless or small and marginal farmers who own either an uneconomical holding or no land at all, and thus graze their sheep on natural vegetation and crop stubbles supplemented by tree loppings. Almost no developmental effort has been made for improving goats. Large areas formerly available for livestock grazing, because they were not considered suitable for crop production, have now been put under cereals. The density of livestock per unit of grazing area has greatly increased, owing to increases in their numbers and the shrinkage of grazing land. This has resulted in further reducing grazing potential through the replacement of more nutritious perennial grasses (Lassirus, Cenchrus, Sehima, Dicanthium, etc) and perennial legumes by grasses of poor quality such as Aristida, Heteropogon and Andropogon. Because of the non-availability of the necessary grazing lands, sheep-owners practise migrant grazing over extensive areas in the same State or even neighbouring States, sometimes including goats within their sheep flocks. In the northern hilly region, where goat flocks are generally large, a similar migration takes place.

Indian sheep and goats breed throughout the year. There is usually no control on the breeding season, as the rams and bucks remain with the flocks, but occasionally breeding is restricted by typing the prepuce with a cotton tape, in order to ensure that the lambs are dropped during the favourable season, from the point of view of both nutrition and the physical environment.

Sheep and goat mortality is quite high. Of the bacterial and viral diseases, pneumonia in various forms (particularly pulmonary adenomatosis), sheep-pox, enterotoxaemia and anthrax in sheep, and pneumonia, clostridial diseases and lumbar paralysis in goats are common and result in high mortality. Internal and, to some extent, external parasites also cause large morbidity and economic loss.

1.3 Breeds

India's vast genetic resources in sheep and goats are reflected by the availability of 40 breeds of sheep and 20 breeds of goats. In the strict sense, there are no specific breeds, since the majority of them do not have specified defined characters. Neither are there breeding societies or agencies to register animals of particular breeds, maintain flock books and ensure the purity of the breed. A population of sheep or goats in a given locality, with characters distinct from other populations in the vicinity and with a distinct local name, has usually been considered as a breed. There has been little effort to conserve and further improve the native breeds. At a few Central and State Government farms, some important breeds of sheep and goats are maintained for purebreeding and producing stud rams for distribution to the farmers.

Most of the breeds of sheep and goats in India have evolved naturally through adaptation to agro-ecological conditions; to a limited extent there has been artificial selection for specific needs. These breeds have generally been named after their place of origin or on the basis of prominent characteristics. A few breeds, e.g. Hissardale, Kashmir Merino and Nilgiri, are cross-breds involving native and exotic fine/dual/mutton breeds. The numbers and distribution of Hissardale and Nilgiri are very limited, whereas the Kashmir Merino, though large in numbers, has no definite level of exotic finewool inheritance and has involved almost all the native breeds of Jammu & Kashmir.

Most of the breeds of sheep and goats are very well adapted to the harsh climate, long migration, and lack of vegetation and drinking water. A large proportion of sheep and goats (more particularly the latter) are of nondescript or mixed breeds.

Among the Indian sheep breeds, the most important in number and distribution are Marwari and Deccani. The Marwari covers the greater part of the arid northwestern region, in both Rajasthan and Gujarat. It is highly migratory, following a transhumant system of management, and has made the greatest impact on other breeds, especially those with very coarse and hairy fleeces, Malpura and Sonadi. The Sonadi covers most of the central part of the southern peninsula, being distributed in the States of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

There has been a very great amount of inter-mixture among indigenous breeds. Crossing with exotic breeds has also been undertaken in order to upgrade the local breeds and to develop new ones, but no serious consideration has been given to genetic improvement. The current breeding policy for improving wool production for clothing and carpets and increasing mutton production in sheep is to cross the better carpet-wool breeds and extremely coarse and hairy breeds with exotic superior fine-wool and dualpurpose breeds. For improving carpet-wool production in some northwestern carpet-wool breeds and meat production in some south Indian non-woolly mutton breeds, however, selection within breeds is being recommended. In goats, the breeding policy is to upgrade inferior breeds with superior breeds, especially Jamnapari and Beetal.

1.4 Population trends

The sheep population, according to the quinquennial censuses for 1919–20, 1924–25, 1929–30, 1934–35, 1939–40, 1945 was 22.60, 23.13, 25.22, 22.13, 25.08 and 19.77 m respectively. These figures show a steady increase from 1920 to 1930, followed by a decline in 1935 and subsequently in 1945. The possible reasons for the decline could be indiscriminate slaughter of animals during the scarcity years preceding the 1934–35 census and during World War II, preceding the 1945 census (NCA, 1976).

The distribution of the sheep population by States from 1951 to 1977 appears in Table 1. Sheep population density by districts, according to the 1972 census, is presented in Figure 1. There was progressive increase in the sheep population between 1951 and 1966, followed by a decline in 1972.

The distribution of goats by States during the same period is presented in Table 2, and population density by districts, according to the 1972 census, in Figure 2. The goat population showed a continuous rising trend over this period, even though no goat development programmes were pursued and approximately 36% of the total goat population was slaughtered every year.

1.5 Breeds requiring conservation

Indiscriminate cross-breeding during the last few years has endangered a few important indigenous breeds, particularly those from Jammu & Kashmir, where almost all the native breeds of sheep have been involved in large-scale cross-breeding with exotic fine-wool breeds. Other endangered breeds are the Magra, Pugal and Chokla breeds of Rajasthan, the major reasons for whose serious reduction are difficulties of climate and insufficient attention to the development of feed and watering resources in their home tracts. The number of animals of the Mandya breed in Karnataka is also declining, because most of the land in its home district has been brought under irrigated cultivation; a further cause is the high incidence of cryptorchidism, possibly resulting from artificial selection for meaty conformation known to be related to the condition.

The important goat breeds whose numbers have declined seriously are the Barbari and the Jamnapari. It is reported that only 5 000 animals of the Jamnapari breed still exist at present.

Fig. 1 Sheep population by districts (1972 census)
(Each dot represents 10 000 sheep)

Fig. 1

Table 1. Sheep population by States

Andhra Pradesh10.197.858.308.008.347.06
Gujarat3.643.70( 1.48
Maharashtra  (
Jammu & Kashmir0.981.471.
Madhya Pradesh0.690.901.
Tamil Nadu7.937.047.156.625.395.18
Punjab0.851.230.93( 0.44
Haryana   ( 0.520.460.54
Uttar Pradesh1.642.182.462.621.96N/A
West Bengal0.620.620.540.640.81N/A
Himachal Pradesh0.630.700.660.811.041.06

Fig.2 Goat population by districts (1972 census)
(Each dot represents 10 000 goats)

Fig. 2

Table 2. Goat population by States

Andhra Pradesh4.333.694.253.764.384.37
Gujarat 2.632.222.773.213.07
Haryana    0.480.52
Himachal Pradesh0.570.650.600.560.901.05
Jammu & Kashmir0.490.810.580.610.57N/A
Madhya Pradesh3.435.225.546.616.166.72
Tamil Nadu4.043.763.433.773.954.23
Uttar Pradesh5.226.277.968.146.61N/A
West Bengal4.394.274.514.845.21N/A
Arunachal PradeshN/AN/AN/AN/A0.070.09

a) Including Gujarat.
b) Including Haryana

These breeds of sheep and goats need to be conserved, further multiplied and improved through selection. This could be done through:

  1. proper identification and registration of flocks, the majority of whose animals conform to breed type and have better than average production,

  2. selection of breeding males from these flocks on the basis of the breed, and

  3. multiplication and distribution of these superior animals to other flock owners.

Cooperative group breeding schemes with a sufficiently large nucleus breeding flock, created from selected males and females from cooperating flocks, is another means of breeding superior rams and bucks. Such nucleus flocks should preferably be kept open. Again, the State and Central Governments could establish large stud-breeding farms for selection and make available selected breeding males to private flock owners or provide natural or artificial service through their proper placement.

1.6 Earlier descriptions of Indian breeds of sheep and goats

Attempts have already been made to define some of the important breeds of sheep under ad hoc research schemes financed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) (3, 8). Still earlier, some attempts were made to publish such descriptions (27, 28, 29, 30). These were mostly based on exterior phenotypes: shape and length of ears, length and direction of horns, fleece type, body colour, and tail length; there was little serious description of body weights, body measurements, population size, flock size and structure, management practices followed, productivity, and problems associated with their conservation and further development (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 19, 31, 32, 33, 36, 37).

1.7 Methodology of this study

For the purposes of this monograph, the country has been divided into four regions, on the basis of their agro-climatic conditions and the type of sheep and goats to be found in each: the northwestern and central arid and semi-arid region, the southern peninsular region, the eastern region, and the northern temperate region. For each region, land use, topography, major soil types, vegetation resources, management and feeding practices, sheep and goat populations, their total productivity and contribution to the total production, and important sheep and goat breeds, are described. After this general description, each of the breeds of the region is described in detail. The data on land use were obtained from reference 16, topography from reference 20, and major soil types from reference 38. Vegetation resources were compiled from references 15 and 40.

Quinquennial census surveys conducted to record the sheep and goat population are based only on age and sex, not on breed. Hence no definite information regarding the number of animals in each breed is available. Their numbers have been computed on the basis of district populations of areas in which the majority of the animals belong to a particular breed. Wherever information on approximate numbers of breeds are available from the State Department of Animal Husbandry, those numbers have also been indicated. The numbers of adult males and adult females for each breed were obtained from district figures.

Data on climatic factors (monthly average temperatures, monthly average relative humidity, morning and evening, and annual rainfall), given for the home tract of each breed, were obtained from reference 26. Where no meteorological station was located in the home tract, data from the nearest station were utilized; where more than one station was located in the home tract, the data were averaged. Flock size and structure, management and feeding practices recorded were based on surveys carried out by IARS (21, 22, 23, 24), State animal husbandry departments (4, 5, 7, 8), or directly by the author and his colleagues. The management and feeding practices do not differ from one breed to the other within a species and within a region, but little information is available by breed on these aspects, except through personal surveys carried out on a limited scale. Management practices have therefore been presented for each of the four regions, with special mention of States or areas where practices differ or specific information is available. Subsequently, where any specialized management and feeding practice pertinent to a particular breed was observed or had been published, it has been included in the breed description.

Adult body weights and body measurements were taken on animals of as many representative age groups of both sexes as possible, but these numbers are not identical from breed to breed. Weights and measurements were therefore averaged over all ages. Where published information on these biometrical characteristics was available, it was pooled with the information collected through personal surveys. The number of males available was small, and these animals are considered a selected lot.

Data on production performance were obtained from published literature, unpublished reports and personal surveys. Information on production characteristics was derived mostly from government development farms and research stations, where the animals were maintained on limited grazing and browsing on natural vegetation, to a very limited extent on developed grass pasture, and on stubble grazing of cropped fields, supplemented with cultivated fodder and concentrates when grazing was poor to females during late pregnancy and lactation, to young lambs during early age and to breeding rams during the breeding season. The animals were provided reasonable protection against inclement weather and predators through thatched or asbestos-covered sheds with fenced corrals. Breeding was generally restricted to two seasons, although most breeding took place in one season. The animals were also protected against important diseases through vaccination, drenching and dipping. Weaning of these flocks took place at 90 days except where otherwise specified, when average weaning weights are included. Fleece samples for evaluating quality were in general taken from the left midside.

Least squares means (independence of non-genetic effects) have been given for production characteristics wherever available. Where more than one mean for a character was available from independent sources, the weighted mean is presented. Standard errors are included. The figures in parentheses and italics following standard errors represent the number of observations. References are given separately for the introduction, for each region; references are sub-divided for sheep and goats. In personal surveys, information on production was collected through oral questioning. The averages in these cases are based on the averages for flocks reported by the flock owner, and the number of observations on which they are based is therefore the number of flocks.


1. Acharya, R.M. & Arora, C.L. 1978 Sheep farming in Sikkim: problems and prospects. Indian Farming. XXVII (10): 29–31.

2. Acharya, R.M. & Sharma, V.D. 1980 A note on the Pashmina production and quality of Changthangi Pashmina goat. Indian J. of Animal Sci. (In press).

3. AHD, Gujarat. 1961 ICAR scheme for defining breed characteristics of sheep in Jeoria region of north Gujarat, Saurashtra & Kutch. Final Report, Animal Husbandry Department, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

4. AHD, Gujarat. 1978 Sample survey to estimate wool production of Gujarat 1972–73. Mimeographed. Animal Husbandry Department, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

5. AHD, Himachal Pradesh. 1977 Sample survey for estimation of wood production in Himachal Pradesh Govt. Animal Husbandry Department 1975–76. Mimeographed. Animal Husbandry Department, Simla, Himachal Pradesh.

6. AHD, Madhya Pradesh. 1970 Sample survey for estimation of animal wool production in Madhya Pradesh in 1969–70. Mimeographed. Animal Husbandry Department, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

7. AHD, Maharashtra 1972-3 Report on the integrated sample survey for estimation of annual production of livestock products and study of livestock-keeping practices in the Maharashtra during the year 1972–73. Animal Husbandry Department, Pune, Maharashtra.

8. AHD, Rajasthan. 1961 ICAR scheme for defining breed characteristics of sheep breed in Rajasthan. Final Report. Animal Husbandry Department, Jaipur, Rajasthan.

9. AHD, Uttar Pradesh. 1977 Summary of sample survey report of U.P. sheep and wool production and study of management practices (Hindi), 1973–74. Mimeographed. Animal Husbandry Department, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.

10. Arora, C.L., Acharya, R.M., Bhadashiya, B.S. & Das, N.C. 1975a Characterisation of Chokla breed in Rajasthan and future prospects of its improvement. Indian J. of Animal Sci. 45: 345–350.

11. Arora, C.L., Acharya, R.M., Bhadashiya, B.S. & Das, N.C. 1975b Characterisation of Malpura breed in Rajasthan and future prospects for its improvement. Indian J. of Animal Sci. 45: 849–855.

12. Arora, C.L., Acharya, R.M., Ramadhar Singh & Buch, S.D. 1975c Characterisation of Nali breed of sheep of Rajasthan and future prospects of its improvement. Indian J. of Animal Sci. 45: 849–855.

13. Arora, C.L., Acharya, R.M., Sangoli, B.V., & Nagaraja, M.S. 1977 Characterisation of Sonadi breed of Rajasthan and future prospects for its improvement. Indian J. of Animal Sci. 47: 120–125.

14. Bhat, P.N., Khan, B.V., Koul, S.K. & Bhadula, S.K. 1978 Breed characteristics of the Muzzaffarnagri sheep. Indian J. of Animal Sci. 48: 506–510.

15. Dabadghao, P.M. & Shankarnarayan, K.A. 1973 The grass cover of India. Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi.

16. DES, New Delhi. 1977 Statistical abstract. Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, New Delhi.

17. EPCFL&IM. 1980 Export Promotion Council for Finished Leather and Leather Manufacture, Personal communication.

18. FAO. 1979 FAO production yearbook. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.

19. Ganesakale, D. & Rathnasabapathy, 1973 V. Sheep breeds of Tamil Nadu. Cherion 2(2): 146–155.

20. Govindarajan, S.V. & Datta Biswas, N.R. 1968 Proceedings of 21st International Geographical Congress, India. 1:374.

21. IARS, New Delhi. 1961 Sample survey for estimation of wool production in Gujarat 1959–60. Mimeographed. Institute of Agricultural Research Statistics, New Delhi.

22. IARS, New Delhi. 1962 Sample survey for estimation of wool production in Rajasthan 1960–61. Mimeographed. Institute of Agricultural Research Statistics, New Delhi.

23. IARS, New Delhi. 1963a Sample survey for estimation of wool production in Mysore 1961–62. Mimeographed. Institute of Agricultural Research Statistics, New Delhi.

24. IARS, New Delhi. 1963b Sample survey for estimation of wool production in Himachal Pradesh 1961–62. Mimeographed. Institute of Agricultural Research Statistics, New Delhi.

25. ICAR, New Delhi. 1945 Nomenclature of different breeds and types of domesticated livestock in India. Compiled by the Animal Husbandry Bureau. Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi. Indian Farming 6: 415–416.

26. IMD, Pune. 1966 Climatological tables of observatories in India (1931–1960). Government of India publication. Indian Meteorological Department, Pune, Maharashtra.

27. Kaura, R.L. 1941 Some common breeds of Indian sheep. Indian Farming, II(4): 175–179.

28. Kaura, R.L. 1942 Some common breeds of Indian sheep. Indian Farming, III(1): 122–125.

29. Kaura, R.L. 1943 Some common breeds of Indian sheep. Indian Farming, IV(ii): 549–552.

30. Lal, H.K. 1947 Some common breeds of Indian sheep. Indian Farming, VIII(12): 605–609.

31. Mishra, H.R., Prasad, R.J., Biswas, S.C. & Jaruhar, H.K. 1970 A study of breed characteristics of Shahabadi strain of sheep in Bihar. Bihar J. of Vet. Sci. and Animal Husb., 2:20–27.

32. Mishra, H.R., Prasad, R.J., Biswas, S.C. & Jaruhar, H.K. 1971 A study of breed characteristics of Chottanagpuri strain of sheep in Bihar. Rajendra Agric. Univ. J. of Res., 1: 39–43.

33. Mishra, R.K., Arora, C.L. & Acharya, R.M. 1980 Breed characterisation of Sirohi goat. Indian J. of Animal Sci. (In press).

34. Narayan, N.L. 1959 Rajasthan sheep statistics and sheep breeds. Sheep and Wool Animal Husbandry Department, Jaipur, Rajasthan.

35. NCA, New Delhi. 1976 Report of the National Commission of Agriculture, Part VII: Animal Husbandry. Gov. of India, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, New Delhi.

36. Raman, K.S., Gopal Krishnan, C.A. & William, C. 1970 Norms for the Ramnad breed of sheep. Part I: Body measurements and colour distribution. Indian Vet. J., 47: 325–330.

37. Raman, K.S. & Sivaraman, T. 1974 Breed characteristics of south Indian wool sheep “Nilgiri”, Cherion 3: 138–140.

38. Randhawa, M.S. 1980 A history of Indian agriculture, Vol. I. Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi.

39. Ray Chaudhary, S.P., Agarwal, R.R., Datta Biswas, N.R., Gupta, S.P. & Thomas, P.K. 1963 Soils of India 1–496. Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi.

40. Whyte, R.O. 1964 The grassland and fodder resources of India, Scientific Monograph No. 22. Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi.

41. WWEPC. 1980 Wool and Woollen Export Promotion Council. Personal communication.

Top of Page Next Page