Livestock: A project has begun to revive indigenous sheep farming in Bumthang and to conserve its native breed, Jakar type, whose population has been declining since the 90s.

The National Sheep Breeding Centre’s (NSBC) flock reached its lowest last year at 27, from about 1,500 in 1974 when the project started in Dungmithang and Wobthang.

Tang and Ura gewogs stopped sheep farming in 2012 according to the 2013 dzongkhag statistical handbook.

In the 80s, after villagers gave up sheep farming, the government had to close down Wobthang sheep farm.

“When villagers gradually gave up sheep farming, the stock in NSBC dropped because there was no demand for sheep,” NSBC extension officer, Sonam Jamtsho said.

The centre’s former farm manager, Tshering Wangchuk who superannuated recently said sheep farming declined mainly due to labour shortage.

“That was when children from villages thronged schools and villagers ran out of helping hands,” he said.

Sheep for Bumthang then was the main source of wool to produce garments such as tsuktru (blanket), dhenkheb (mat), gho, kira and yathra. Loss of stock to predators such as bears and dogs also led the native breed to diminish.

“Sheep is so easily vulnerable to predators that even pigs wouldn’t spare it,” Tshering Wangchuk said, adding import of garments and dyed wool from India in particular was among the reasons that affected the sheep farms.

Today, sheep farming is confined to a handful of villages like Zhuri and Beum in Chumey and reviving it will not be easy.

“The centre’s plan is to turn sheep farming into a financially rewarding trade with a new approach,” Sonam Jamtsho said. The centre has also increased its flock with 246 sheep.

During a restocking event, agriculture minister, Yeshey Dorji said the revival project is expected to revive sheep farming in Bumthang. “The project would help conserve the genetic resources, offering a wider choice of genetic materials for effective breeding and selection,” lyonpo said.

Rescue of genetic resources of Jakar type has now become crucial. “If NSBC doesn’t conserve the genetic resources, the indigenous breed could go extinct as villagers leave the farms by the day,” Sonam Jamtsho said.

Jakar type is among the four native breeds of Bhutan that are Sakteng, Sibsoo and Sarpang type.

The national biodiversity centre would help preserve the native breed genetic resources through cryo-preservation.

Meanwhile, about seven households from Zhuri and Beum are determined to give sheep farming another try. “None of us have thought of giving up the farm because of wish to continue the tradition passed down from generations,” Dema from Beum said, adding traditional woollen products still fetch a good price. “Support in opening of a wool processing unit in the village would come a long way in continuing sheep farming.”

Tempa Wangdi, Bumthang