Thursday, 03 March 2011 12:59

The Long Way to India

Written by  Werner Hess
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photos courtesy of Europferd Noriker

Austria is awarded a worldwide bid for an Indian breeding project and supplies–in cooperation with Austrovieh Export-Import GmbH und (a livestock exporting company) and ARGE Noriker (a syndicate of Noriker Breeders)–over 400 Norikers to India!

It all happened quite a while ago. Imagine in our time a nation that needs to supply mules, otherwise called Animal Transport Units [ATUs] for its army to fortify the border areas of the Himalayas. That nation is India. In a time where fighter planes, rockets and other such devices of destruction are worshipped in the community of the military-industrial complexes of the world, it shows demure to use mules. But then, India has been called a humble nation for ages–especially since Gandhi. When I first heard about this fascinating exchange, I could not hold off and promised to keep track of the issue. I grew up around horses in Interlaken, Switzerland, which, in part, is why I was so excited to share this with The Draft Horse Journal. An official who was part of this project was recently promoted and honored in person by the president of India for the good work performed in pursuing the endeavor.

Shortly upon their arrival in India, the horses were taken to the Indian Army Equine Breeding Stud, the world's greatest stud farm, where about 2,000 equines can be accommodated. It has been described as an "EQUINE SHANGRI-LA" of heavenly magnitude. Soon thereafter, 222 mares were brought to Hissar, another Army facility of similar scope. They are henceforth destined strictly for the purpose of producing mules.

Mule breeding on a similar scale occurred in the Kansas area of the United States during the first half of the last century. The DHJ memorialized this undertaking in one of their issues many years ago.
The balance of mares and horse stallions are to remain in the Babugarh area (approximately 50 miles east of Delhi) and are earmarked to breed purebred stock to maintain a herd of Norikers. The Noriker, a middleweight draft horse, is one of 20 distinguished breeds with their own studbook in Europe. With numbers in the stud book of about 10,000 horses, it is a very well established breed, and a real cultural treasure in Austria and its neighboring countries. Six distinctive coat colors are admitted in their stud book, with the Leopard Appaloosa-style piebald being a real star among them (the others include chestnut, bay, jet black, blue roan and gray). Because forage in the Himalayas is less than bountiful, the Indian Army's aim is not to breed gigantic mule stock. While feed could be made available, their intent is to maintain economic feasibility. I was unable to find out how many mule foals are already on the ground. Bear in mind that everything pertaining to the military in India is strictly confidential and when I say confidential, there are no Wiki-leaks.

A bidding marathon, requiring a lot of patience and determination, as well as an exhausting selection tour, made the deal with India a challenge for all involved. In the interview with Hans Wieser, a graduate engineer and the managing director of ARGE Noriker, and Hans Haberl, the owner and CEO of AUSTROVIEH Export-Import GmbH, a company that sells cattle all over the world, we learn how this centennial project came about and, more importantly, how it was accomplished.

"In November 2007," recalls Hans Wieser, "we [and other European countries] learned of a request of the Indian government for about 400 cold blood mares for a large breeding project. In relatively short order, it became clear that we could not carry out an endeavor of this scale on our own." Expertise and experience in this area was needed. "I distinctly recall the first telephone call on the matter to Hans Haberl," he recalls. "I knew him as a serious businessman from the export of substantial numbers of Haflingers to Bulgaria and asked him whether he would be interested in supplying Noriker horses to India. The decision did not take long–he was game. After studying the extensive tender conditions, which were sent to 12 countries besides Austria, the Noriker breeders realized the importance of this venture. The proposal requirements included a number of veterinary tests, as well as details on the selection, purchase and transport to Delhi, including a performance bond, all to be done within four months from the signing of the contract."

The tender of the Indian government for the import of 400 cold blood mares, four horse stallions and 10 donkey stallions for breeding mountain-hardy pack animals received several bids that were rejected. For whatever reasons, the Indian government was repeatedly unsatisfied with the offers. Altogether, Austrovieh submitted three offers between December 2007 and December 2008. Hans Haberl recalls, "In February 2009, I was invited to Delhi as part of a delegation for the first negotiations with the Indian government. One month later, I returned to Delhi, together with Chairman Janko Zwitter and Hans Wieser as representatives of ARGE Noriker, for further negotiations." The exchange went well and the Austrians returned home having been awarded the tender. The Norikers appealed to the Indians both because of their ideal breed characteristics and due to the fact that the horses were so genetically fixed to type.

Hans Wieser recalls, "After an April 2009 announcement of ARGE Noriker to its breeders, we received about 490 registrations of mares–and it seemed like nothing would stand in the way of fulfilling the contract. But due to high temperatures in the spring of 2009–in the middle of April the record temperature of 43 degrees Centigrade (109.4°F) was measured in Delhi–shipping the horses was unthinkable. The plan became jeopardized. However, through Austrovieh's commendable skills of negotiation, the deadline for fulfilling the contract was extended until Autumn.

The exhaustive selection process entailed 14 days of inspections at 41 different locations and 5,000 road kilometers. The Indian veterinarians examined well over 500 head of Norikers. From this pool, 444 were finally accepted, but by the time all the test results were received, the total was reduced to 410 Norikers, joined by 3 donkey stallions.











The buyers, however, insisted on selecting animals on the spot. Arriving on September 1, 2009, the Indian delegation began the selection process in Carinthia the very next day. At India's request, three outstanding veterinarians were present to carry out the inspections according to a clearly defined procedure. Besides inspecting each animal at the trot, measurements were taken of their height, girth, rump and cannon bones. Teeth and feet were also examined. A reproductive exam was also performed on each mare. Every animal was provided with a transponder and photographed. For every horse selected, an individual transport document was issued. A number of additional medical tests were also performed by the official veterinarians in charge.

"In a real selection marathon entailing 14 days at 41 regional locations and covering about 5,000 km on the road, we were able to review 560 Noriker mares, as well as eight Noriker stallions," says Wieser. "Of those, 439 mares and five stallions were finally accepted by the Indian veterinarians!"

Haberl adds, "The inspections, which often lasted long into the evening hours, could only be carried out successfully in this short time frame due to the professional and diligent nature of the Indian veterinarians and the enormous discipline of all involved. I have learned one thing during this time: slow and steady wins the race!"

"More than 40 official district veterinarians from all over Austria were involved and responsible for the proper collection of blood and swab samples," notes Wieser. "The samples had to be taken on particular days, clearly marked and sent in due time to the laboratory of the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety in Vienna. Coordinating all the vets with the lab protocols and schedules tested the patience of Austrovieh's Mrs. Alexandra Vargo, more than once."

Five weeks were spent performing tests at individual farms. Finally 410 Norikers from the following federal provinces of Austria started their journey to India via FedEx (no kidding). This precious cargo was flown out of the city of Linz under continuous veterinary supervision:

• Burgenland................3 mares
• Carinthia....................74 mares, 2 stallions
• Lower Austria............13 mares
• Upper Austria............97 mares, 1 stallion
• Salzburg....................144 mares, 1 stallion
• Styria.........................25 mares
• Tyrol..........................30 mares
• Voralberg..................20 mares

A Logistical Masterpiece

Shipping the 410 Norikers and 3 donkeys required six FedEx flights from Linz-Hörsching, Austria, to Delhi, India.

"Gathering the approved mares and transporting them to the airport proved to be the biggest logistical challenge," concluded Hans Wieser. "The first of six flights was scheduled for Friday, October 9. However, on Wednesday, we did not yet have the lab results and it was necessary to coordinate regional loading schedules and to organize the trucks in order to get the 68 mares to the airport in Linz-Hörsching (Austria) in due time."


The excellent health status of the Norikers proved to be a great advantage here again. Altogether, only 5% of the tested horses showed slightly problematic results and so the loading plan drawn up even before receiving the lab results, was realized in full.

The horses were loaded in transport-safe containers which were gently positioned in the aircraft on dollies. Of course, a sufficient supply of hay and water during the flights was provided.

A team experienced in handling horses along with Austrovieh-veterinarian Michael Hulek accompanied the horses from loading until landing in Delhi. On this long flight to India, the Norikers proved their excellent physical constitution and their high capacity for handling stress. "None of the horses had to be sedated and all have come through transit in the best health," the accompanying veterinarian Michael Hulek confirmed.

"I have been involved in the export of breeding animals (primarily bovine) for more than 30 years," states Hans Haberl, "but India has caused more than one sleepless night, even for me. The hours after the first takeoff were particularly tense until the relieving call came from Dubai, where the aircraft landed for re-fueling: All horses are well!"


Without question, the Norikers received the best of care, not only in their transport, but also in their new homes. Pictured is the "Taj Mahal" of equines, at Babugarh, India.
The first flight served as a full dress rehearsal, after which, the work of the loading team was perfected in the days to follow. On six flights that took place from October 9 through 24, 2009, 406 mares, four Noriker stallions and three donkey stallions of the french Poitou Mulassier Baudet breed were airlifted from Linz, Austria, to Delhi, India.


"We did it!" exclaims a proud Hans Haberl. "We have successfully delivered 413 equines to India to the satisfaction of our Indian customers, to the satisfaction of the Austrian breeders, all the while maintaining the welfare of the horses!"

The Indian government will be engaging in a large-scale breeding program with the mountain-hardy and sure-footed Noriker horses from Austria. The animals will be used exclusively for breeding in moderate mountain regions in the north of the country under the best veterinary supervision. Kornel Rupitsch and Hans Herzog, two flight attendants that spent four days in Delhi, are convinced that the Norikers are in good hands in India. "The horses are very well!" they reported. And to top it all, the lucky guys spent two nights in Babugarh, the Taj Mahal of horsedom.

"This export business represents an important impetus for Austrian horse breeding and is the best evidence for the fact that nothing is impossible if all involved pull together," concludes Wieser. "My compliments and sincere thanks go to the team of Austrovieh, all provincial breeders associations, veterinarians, the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety, all transport agents, flight attendants, loading workers and the airport crew!"

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