Traditionally, Keralites kept cattle for their agricultural operations and for the production of manure. This resulted in the formation of small, nondescript cattle that are hardy, resistant to disease and well adapted to the hot and humid environment. However, their milk yield is low at around 400kg per lactation, which lasts about 300 days. Even under well-managed conditions a superior strain of local cow only yields 793kg per lactation.
In 1963, a bilateral project, the Indo-Swiss Project Kerala (ISPK) – now named Kerala Livestock Development Board (KLDB) – was established to develop a new cattle breed through cross-breeding with the Sunandini breed and build a dairy-based agriculture system in the high ranges of Kerala. Approximately 2,000 farmers participated in the project. For the first time in the country, the deep-frozen semen technique (that permits semen storage for years without any significant decrease in quality) was introduced. The breeding programme began in Kerala with just a small proportion of breedable female cattle population. By 1980, this programme had expanded very quickly, covering the entire breedable cattle population of 1.8 million. The positive response of the farmers, coupled with intensive extension work and support from an efficient technical programme, made it possible to achieve fruitful results from cross breeding through artificial insemination (AI). The cattle-breeding programme resulted in a substantial change in the structure of the cattle population, integrating a high number of cross-bred cattle. The annual milk production in the state of Kerala increased from 0.164 million tonnes in 1966 to 19.3 million tonnes by 1993.