In the fifties, large-scale migration of farmers to the high ranges took place in Kerala, in certain cases with Government encouragement as it occurred in the regions of Idukki district. During the Sixties, Father Francis, a Belgian monk settled in Vagamon had experimented with dairy production in the high ranges of the Peermade taluk and was keen on promoting a dairy based mixed farming system in the high ranges. He visualized the vast area of empty grassland in the Peermade area as a future milk shed and shared this vision with his friend Mr. Jacques A. Cutat, the then Ambassador of Switzerland in India. Based on his initiative, teams from Switzerland visited the high ranges and recommended a pilot project in about 500 acres of Government land lying vacant at Mattupatti, as the first step for a future dairy colonization programme in the Peermade region. The two Governments (Government of India and Swiss Confederation) studied the proposal and decided to set up a bilateral project ISPK under an international agreement, to implement the programme.
In the first phase of the project, an experimental station was set up at Mattupetti to take up crossbreeding experiments and pasture improvement/utilization trials. The crossbreeding experiments were aimed at the creation of a new breed using the local nondescript cattle and the exotic Brown Swiss breed. Artificial Insemination using frozen semen was chosen as the tool for wider application of the crossbreeding programme. For the first time in India, facilities were developed at Mattupetti to deep freeze bull semen. To start with, semen of imported Brown Swiss Bulls was processed in the lab. In the second phase, the project decided to implement intensive extension programmes among the settler farmers and tea estate workers of the high ranges who were rearing cattle, with the objective of enhancing milk production through crossbreeding and development of fodder resources. This extension programme in the high ranges gave the project an opportunity to test the suitability of cross breeding and fodder development experiments conducted at Mattupatti before large-scale application in the field. After testing the semen for its fertility in the farm herd at Mattupatti, it was decided to try the product in the identified extension areas in the high ranges. In the absence of technicians to man the centers, a mobile insemination service was introduced for the cattle owned by settlers and tea estate workers. Initial hesitation from the part of the farmers was overcome through effective extension services.
Satisfied with the performance of the first generation crossbreds in the high ranges, the project extended to Mavelikkara region functioning under the Department of Animal Husbandry. The crossbreeding experiments as well as the partnership with the Department of Animal Husbandry in the ICDP Mavelikara proved to be a great success. Encouraged by the results obtained at Mavelikara, the Government decided to expand the AI programme using frozen semen all over the state in a phased manner. Capitalizing this opportunity, the project played the lead role in introducing this technology development. As per the stipulations of the cattle breeding policy, exotic bulls were replaced with selected crossbred bulls for the breeding of crossbred cows in a phased manner.
In order to accomplish its objectives, the Board expanded its activities through establishment of two additional Bull Mother Herds and Bull stations, Regional Semen Banks (RSB), Liquid Nitrogen (LN) plants, Fodder Farms and Training Centre (TC) etc. The breeding programme was first launched at the cattle-breeding centre Mattupetti under the tutelage of ISPK. After proper evaluation, the results and achievements were put to wider application throughout Kerala in phased manner with a view to enhance milk production. ISPK was the first to introduce Frozen Semen Technology (FST) in India (1965) for the Artificial Insemination (AI) of cattle. This was subsequently perfected for large-scale application under tropical field conditions.
The Board was the first agency in India to start a Sire Evaluation Programme for crossbred bulls under field conditions (1977). A computerized data processing system to monitor and evaluate the results of the programme was established during 1983.With a view to provide better nourishment for the improved stock, the Board identified and developed a number of high yielding fodder varieties suitable for the different agro climatic conditions of the state. The Board has taken up production of seeds of the selected varieties of tropical grasses and legumes in a large scale with the participation of farmers. Package of practices for adoption under different farming systems have also been formulated.
Realizing the need for training and retraining of the various categories of personnel engaged in the operation of cattle production programmes, the Board has been organizing short duration “learning by doing” training courses from the year 1975 onwards. Now, full-fledged training centres equipped with the latest teaching aids and accessories, are functioning at Mattupatti and Dhoni.
Research and Development (R&D) programmes back up the activities of the Board. These include applied research in animal management, animal breeding, frozen semen technology, reproductive management, AI operations, selection of suitable fodder species, seed production technology, management of information system etc.
KLDB ventured into the Multiple Ovulation and Embryo Transfer (MOET) programme during the year 1990, complementary to the existing AI and breeding programme for the Sunandini cattle of Kerala. The programme is being continued with an intention of producing superior bull calves in the KLDB farms to support the breeding programme of the State.
The Indo Swiss Project Kerala (ISPK) was constituted under a bilateral agreement between the Government of India and the Swiss Confederation in 1963 with the aim of evolving a new breed of cattle adapted to the local environment. By mid 1970s, the Government of Kerala decided to constitute an autonomous body named the Kerala Livestock Development and Milk Marketing Board (KLD & MMB) under the Companies Act 1956, integrating the production, procurement, processing and marketing of milk under one umbrella.
The commercial units of the Board namely chilling plants, dairy plants and cattle feed plants were transferred to the Kerala cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (KCMMF) when it was registered under the Kerala Cooperative Societies Act in 1983. The remaining activities (cattle breeding, frozen semen production and distribution, fodder development, training, etc.) Continued with the Board. Government provided the funds required as Grant. However, in 1990 a pricing mechanism for the Board’s products like frozen semen and fodder seeds was introduced. A new staff structure together with staff rules was also introduced. Intensive manpower development programmes and infrastructure development activities were taken up. The Kerala Livestock Development Board Ltd. thus developed into a full fledged company and has not looked back thenceforth.