|By pinoyfarmer | August 12, 2007|
The water buffalo is an animal resource whose potential seems to have been barely recognized or examined outside of Asia. Throughout the world there are proponents and enthusiasts for the various breeds of cattle; the water buffalo, however, is not a cow and it has been neglected. Nevertheless, this symbol of Asian life and endurance has performed notably well in recent trials in such diverse places as the United States, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Trinidad, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Brazil. In Italy and Egypt as well as Bulgaria and other Balkan states the water buffalo has been an important part of animal husbandry for centuries. In each of these places certain herds of water buffalo appear to have equaled or surpassed the local cattle in growth, environmental tolerance, health, and the production of meat and calves.
Although these are empirical observations lacking painstaking, detailed experimentation, they do seem to indicate that the water buffalo could become an important resource in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate zones in developing and developed countries.
If this is the case, then it is clear that many countries should begin water buffalo research. Serious attention by scientists could help dispel the misperceptions and uncertainties surrounding the animal and encourage its true qualities to emerge.
This report describes the water buffalo’s attributes as perceived by several animal scientists. It is designed to present the apparent strengths of buffaloes compared with those of cattle, to introduce researchers and administrators to the animal’s potential, and to identify priorities for buffalo research and testing.
The panel that produced this report met at Gainesville, Florida, in July 1979. It was composed of leading water buffalo experts (particularly those from outside Asia who have directed the beginnings of water buffalo industries in their countries) and leading American animal scientists, many of whom are also familiar with the animal.
This report complements The Husbandry and Health of the Domestic Buffalo, edited by W. Ross Cockrill and published in 1974 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Cockrill’s 933-page book is a “bible” of water buffalo knowledge and provides details of breeds, world distribution, physiology, and an extensive bibliography.
The present report is an introduction to the water buffalo and its potential. It is written particularly for decision makers, as well as scholars or students, in the hope that it will stimulate their interest in the animal and thereby increase the appreciation of, and funding for, buffalo research. The report includes much empirical observation, largely from the panel members. Some of these observations may, in the long run, prove not to be universally applicable. Much benchmark information needs to be obtained.
Since its creation in 1971, the Advisory Committee on Technology Innovation (ACTI) has investigated innovative ways to use current technology and resources to help developing countries. Often this has meant taking a fresh look at some neglected and unappreciated plant or animal species. The committee assembles ad hoc panels of experts (usually incorporating both skeptics and proponents) to scrutinize the topics selected. The panel reports serve to draw attention to neglected, but promising, technologies and resources. (For a list of ACTI reports, see page 115.) ACTI reports are provided free to developing countries under funding by the Agency for International Development (AID).
Program costs for this study were provided by AID’S Office of Agriculture, Development Support Bureau, and staff support was provided by the Office of Science and Technology, Development Support Bureau.
The domesticated water buffalo Bubalus bubalis numbers at least 130 million-one-ninth the number of cattle in the world. It is estimated that between 1961 and 1981 the world’s buffalo population increased by 11 percent, keeping pace with the percentage increase in the cattle population.
Although there are some pedigreed water buffaloes, most are nondescript animals that have not been selected or bred for productivity. There are two general types-the Swamp buffalo and the River buffalo.
Swamp buffaloes are slate gray, droopy necked, and ox-like, with massive backswept horns that make them favorite subjects for postcards and wooden statuettes in the Far East. They are found from the Philippines to as far west as India. They wallow in any water or mud puddle they can find or make. Primarily employed as a work animal, the Swamp buffalo is also used for meat but almost never for milk production.
River buffaloes are found farther west, from India to Egypt and Europe. Usually black or dark gray, with tightly coiled or drooping straight horns, they prefer to wallow in clean water. River buffaloes produce much more milk than Swamp buffaloes. They are the dairy type of water buffalo. In India, River buffaloes play an important role in the rural economy as suppliers of milk and draft power. River buffaloes make up about 35 percent of India’s milk animals (other than goats) but produce almost 70 percent of its milk. Buffalo butterfat is the major source of cooking oil (ghee) in some Asian countries, including India and Pakistan.
Although water buffaloes are bovine creatures that somewhat resemble cattle, they are genetically further removed from cattle than are the North American bison (improperly called buffalo) whose massive forequarters, shaggy mane, and small hindquarters are unlike those of cattle. While bison can be bred with cattle to produce hybrids,( This is not, however, very successful, the male progeny (at least of the F 1 generation) are sterile).there is no well-documented case of a mating between water buffalo and cattle that has produced progeny.
Parts of Asia and even Europe have depended on water buffaloes for centuries. Their crescent horns, coarse skin, wide muzzles, and low-carried heads are represented on seals struck 5,000 years ago in the Indus Valley, suggesting that the animal had already been domesticated in the area that is now India and Pakistan. Although buffaloes were in use in China 4,000 years ago, they are not mentioned in the literature or seen in the art of the ancient Egyptians, Romans, or Greeks, to whom they were apparently unknown. It was not until about 600 A.D. that Arabs brought the animal from Mesopotamia and began moving it westward into the Near East (modern Syria, Israel, and Turkey). Water buffaloes were later introduced to Europe by pilgrims and crusaders returning from the Holy Land in the Middle Ages. In Italy buffaloes adapted to the area of the Pontine Marshes southeast of Rome and the area south of Naples. They also became established in Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Bulgaria and have remained there ever since.
Villagers in medieval Egypt adopted the water buffalo, which has since become the most important domestic animal in modern Egypt. Indeed, during the last 50 years, their buffalo population has doubled to over 2 million head. The animals now supply Egypt with more meat-much of it in the form of tender “veal”-than any other domestic animal. They also provide milk, cooking oil, and cheese.
Other areas have capitalized on the water buffalo’s promise only in very recent times. For instance, small lots of the animals brought to Brazil (from Italy, India, and elsewhere) during the last 84 years have reproduced so well that they now total about 400,000 head and are still increasing, especially in the lower Amazon region. Buffalo meat and milk are now sold widely in Amazon towns and villages; the meat sells for the same price as beef. Nearby countries have also become familiar with the water buffalo. Trinidad imported several breeds from India between 1905 and 1908, while Venezuela, Colombia, and Guyana have been importing them in recent decades. During the 1970s Costa Rica, Ecuador, Cayenne, Panama, Suriname, and Guyana introduced small herds. By 1979 the buffalo in Venezuela numbered more than 7,000 head.
Across the Pacific, the new nation of Papua New Guinea has found the water buffalo well suited to its difficult environment. For 9 years the government has attempted to run cattle on the Sepik and Ramu Plains on Papua New Guinea’s north coast, where the temperatures are high and the forage of poor quality. But the cattle remain thin and underweight. In the 1960s animal scientists began evaluating water buffaloes already living in Papua New Guinea and, encouraged by the results, introduced additional buffaloes from Australia. These have performed remarkably well, producing greater numbers of calves and much more meat than the cattle in the region. The buffaloes appear to maintain appetite despite the heat and humidity, whereas cattle do not. The government of Papua New Guinea has since imported more water buffaloes and today has thriving herds totaling almost 3,500 head.
The United States has been slow to recognize the water buffalo’s potential, but the first herd (50 head) ever imported for commercial farming arrived in February 1978.(Air-freighted from the wilds of Guam, the U.S. island possession on the western Pacific, by panel member Tony Leonards. Prior to that time (in 1974), four head of water buffalo were imported to the Department of Animal science’ university of Florida, for study. The only other water buffaloes in North America were a few animals in zoos.) The humble water buffalo, normally considered fit only for the steamy rice fields of Asia, is now proving itself on farm fields in Florida and Louisiana. As a result, interest in the animal is on the rise in U.S. university and farm circles.
From experience accumulated in Asia, Egypt, South America, Papua New Guinea, Australia, the United States, and elsewhere, animal scientists now perceive that many general impressions about the water buffalo are incorrect.
For example, it is widely believed that the water buffalo is mean and vicious. Encyclopedias reinforce this perception, and in the Western world it is the prevalent impression of the animal. The truth is, however, that unless wounded or severely stressed, the domesticated water buffalo is one of the gentlest of all farm animals. Despite an intimidating appearance, it is more like a household pet-sociable, gentle, and serene. In rural Asia the care of water buffaloes is often fumed over to small boys and girls aged about four to nine. The children spend their days with their family’s gentle buffalo, riding it to water, washing it down, waiting while it rolls and wallows, and then riding it to some source of forage, perhaps a grassy field or thicket. It is not uncommon to see a buffalo patiently feeding, with a young friend stretched prone on its broad gray back, asleep.
Perhaps the notion about the viciousness of water buffaloes stems from confusing them with the mean-tempered African buffalo Syncerus caffer, actually a distant relative with which they will not interbreed and which is classified in a different genus.
Ferocity is the most blatant misconception concerning the water buffalo, although other fallacies are widely reported as well.
One generally held belief is that water buffaloes can be raised only near water. Actually, buffaloes love to wallow, but they grow and reproduce normally without it, although in hot climates they must have shade available.
Another belief is that the water buffalo is exclusively a tropical animal. River-type buffaloes, however, have been used to pull snow plows during Bulgarian winters. They are found in Italy (over 100,000 head), Albania, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, the Georgia and Azerbaijan areas of the Soviet Union (almost 500,000 head) and other temperate-zone regions as well. They are also found in cold, mountainous areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal.
Yet another misconception is that the water buffalo is just a poor man’s beast of burden. In addition to providing fine lean meat, buffaloes in fact provide rich milk. Mozzarella cheese, one of the most popular in Europe, comes from the buffaloes in Italy. Buffalo milk has a higher content of both butterfat and nonfat solids than cow’s milk does. It therefore often brings higher prices than cow’s milk. Throughout much of India it is in such demand that cow’s milk is sometimes hard to sell.
Many of the misconceptions generally held about buffaloes are based on little data and much prejudice. For instance, it is widely believed that water buffalo meat is tough and less desirable than beef. However, when the animals are raised for meat, buffalo steaks are lean, as tender as beef, and in appearance it is difficult to distinguish the two. In taste-preference tests at the University of Queensland, buffalo steaks were preferred over those from Angus and Hereford cattle. Tests conducted in Trinidad, Venezuela, the United States, and Malaysia produced similar results.
Australia has shipped water buffalo meat to Hong Kong, the United States, Germany, and Scandinavia. Buffalo meat is now available in stores in Australia’s Northern Territory, where demand exceeds supply. It sells at competitive prices and is particularly sought for barbecues and the famous Australian meat pie. In the Philippines, two-thirds of the meat consumed in homes and restaurants is actually water buffalo, a fact that many Filipinos do not realize.
Compared with cattle, waterbuffaloes apparently have an efficient digestive system, one which extracts nourishment from forage so coarse and poor that cattle do not thrive on it. Thin cattle are commonly seen in Asia and northern Australia, for example, but it’s rare to see a protruding rib on a buffalo, even though it uses the same source of feed.
In Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, water buffaloes live on coarse vegetation on the marginal land traditionally left to the peasants. They help make human survival possible. An old Chinese woman in Taiwan once told panelist W. Ross Cockrill: “To my family the buffalo is more important than I am. When I die, they’ll weep for me; but if our buffalo dies, they may starve.”
A better understanding of the water buffalo could be invaluable to many developing nations. In particular, improved production of water buffalo meat offers hope for helping feed India, the second most populous nation on earth. Although India for religious reasons forbids the slaughter of cows, it has no prohibitions regarding slaughter of water buffaloes or the consumption of buffalo meat.
Most developing countries are in the tropics, and the water buffalo is inherently a tropical animal. It is comfortable in hot, humid environments. In the Amazon, for example, buffaloes are now common on the landscape and may even replace cattle completely.
Tropical countries have more serious disease problems than temperate countries do. Although susceptible to most cattle diseases, the water buffalo seems to resist ticks and often appears to be more resistant to some of the most devastating plagues that make cattle raising risky, difficult, and sometimes impossible in the tropics. Several researchers report that when water buffaloes are allowed to wallow, their mud-coated skin seems to deter insect and tick ectoparasites and they consequently require greatly reduced treatment with insecticides. Although the buffalo fly (Siphona exigua) affects the animals, other pests such as the warble fly and the screwworm, for example, seldom affect healthy buffaloes. Also, despite their inclination for living in swamps, Avers, and ponds, diseases of the feet such as foot rot and foot abscesses are rare.
Another benefit to developing countries is the water buffalo’s legendary strength. A large part of the total farm power available in South China, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Indochina states, India, and Pakistan comes from this “living tractor.” Dependable and docile, the animals pull plows, harrows, and carts with loads that weigh several tons. In the Amazon buffalo teams pull boats laden with cargo and tourists through shallows and swamps.
The petroleum crisis has forced many farmers to reconsider animal power even in some of the technically advanced countries. Buffaloes are not only extraordinarily strong, they can also work in deep mud that may bog down a tractor. Even up to their bellies they forge on, dragging both plow and driver through the mud. Although its average walking speed is only about 3 kilometers per hour, the buffalo, unlike its mechanical competition, doesn’t need gasoline or spare parts and its working life is often 20 years or more.
As already noted, the major genetic divisions of the water buffalo are the Swamp buffalo of the eastern half of Asia, which has swept-back horns, and the River buffalo of the western half of Asia, which usually has curled horns. There is also the Mediterranean buffalo, which is of the River type but has been isolated for so long that it has developed some unique characteristics. (Records of the buffalo in Italy date back 1,000 years, during which there have been no reported imports.) Mediterranean buffaloes are stocky, high yielding animals that combine both beef and dairy characteristics.
Although there is only one breed of Swamp buffalo, certain subgroups seem to have specific inherited characteristics. For example, the buffaloes of Thailand are noted for their large size, averaging 450-550 kg, and weights of up to 1,000 kg have been observed. Elsewhere, Swamp buffaloes range from 250 kg for some small animals in China to 300 kg in Burma and 500-600 kg in Laos.
Only in India and Pakistan are there well-defined breeds with standard qualities. There are eighteen River buffalo breeds in South Asia, which are further classified into five major groups designated as the Murrah, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Central Indian, and South Indian breeds. These are the five groups and main breeds:
|Murrah||Murrah, Nili/Ravi, Kundi|
|Gujarat||Surti, Mehsana, Jafarabadi|
|Uttar Pradesh||Bhadawari, Tarai|
|Central Indian||Nagpuri, Pandharpun, Manda, Jerangi, Kalahandi, Sambalpur|
|South Indian||Toda, South Kanara|
The best-known breeds are Murrah, Nili/Ravl, Jafarabadi, Surti, Mehsana, and Nagpuri. Most of the buffaloes of the Indian subcontinent belong to a nondescript group known as the Desi buffalo. There is no controlled breeding among these animals and most are quite small, yield little milk, and are variable in color.
The Swamp buffalo has 48 chromosomes, the River buffalo, 50. The chromosomal material is, however, similar in the two types and they crossbreed to produce fertile hybrid progeny. Cattle, however, have 60 chromosomes and although mating between cattle and buffaloes is common, hybrids from the union are unlikely to occur.( In 1965 a reputed hybrid was born at Askaniya Nova Zoopark in the Soviet Union (see Gray, A., 1971. Mammalian Hybrids, Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux, Slough, England, p. 126). Hybrids have also been reported from China (Van Fu-Czao 1959, Gibridy buivolc i krupnogo i rogatogo skota(buffalo and cattlehybrids)Zhivotnovodstro, Mosk., 21:92). Both of these reports seem doubtful because despite many attempts, no other hybrids have ever been claimed to have been produced).
Individual buffaloes show large variation in milk yield, conformation, horn shape, color, meat production, temperament, growth rate, and other characteristics. Selection for survival under adverse conditions has occurred naturally (those that could not stand adversity died early) and farmers have probably tended to select animals of gentle temperament. But systematic genetic improvement has almost never been attempted. It seems likely that further selection could quickly improve their productivity.
Unfortunately, the large bulls that would be best for breeding purposes are often being selected as draft animals and castrated, or sent to slaughter, or (as with some feral animals in northern Australia and on the Amazon island of Marajo) shot by hunters. The result is that the buffalo’s overall size in countries such as Thailand and Indonesia has been decreasing as the genes for large size and fast growth are lost.
The buffalo is still largely an animal of the village, and many of its reported limitations are caused more by its environment than by the animal itself. Moreover, much of the animal’s genetic potential is obscured by environmental influences. For example, for many breeds and types the genetic variations in milk yield and growth cannot be accurately determined because they are overwhelmed by the effects of inadequate nutrition and management.
Nevertheless, some inherent limitations of buffaloes can be identified. For instance, buffaloes suffer if forced to remain, even for a few hours, in direct sunlight. They have only one-tenth the density of sweat glands of cattle and their coating of hair is correspondingly sparse, providing little protection from the sun. Accordingly, buffaloes must not be driven over long distances in the heat of the day. They must be allowed time for watering and, if possible, for wallowing. Driving under a hot sun for long hours will cause heat exhaustion and possibly death; losses can be very high and can occur suddenly. Young calves are particularly affected by heat.
Buffaloes are also sensitive to extreme cold and seem less able than cattle to adapt to truly cold climates(A rule of thumb is that buffaloes don’t do well where the sun is inadequate to ripen, say, cotton, grapes, or Ace. Kaleff, B., 1942. Der Hausbuffel und seine Zuchtungsbiologie im Vergleich zum Rind. Zeitschsift Tierzucht Biologze, 51:131-178). Sudden drops in temperature and chill winds may lead to pneumonia and death.
The water buffalo is usually found m areas where there is ready access to a wallow or shower. This is not a necessity, but when temperatures are high the availability of water is important for maintaining buffalo health and productivity. It seems clear, then, that the buffalo is not suitable for arid lands.
Increasing buffalo productivity through breed improvement is just now beginning. Throughout Asia buffalo mating is almost completely haphazard, and so the animal lacks the quality improvement through breeding that most cattle have had. Therefore, most buffaloes are of nondescript heritage and genetic potential.
On poor quality feed water buffalo grow at least as well as cattle, but under intensive conditions they probably won’t grow as fast as the best breeds of cattle. In feedlots, therefore, the buffalo is likely to be less productive than improved cattle. Weight gains of about 1 kg per day have been recorded, some exceptional cattle may gain at almost twice that rate.
The buffalo has long been considered a poor breeder-slow to mature sexually, and slow to rebreed after calving. Accumulated experience now shows, however, that this is mainly a result of poor management and nutrition. Buffaloes are not sluggish breeders. Nevertheless, their gestation period is about a month longer than that of cows, buffalo estrus is difficult to detect, and many matings occur at night so that farmers are likely to encounter more problems breeding buffaloes than cattle.
Buffaloes are gentle creatures, but if roughly or inexpertly handled they can, through fear or pain, become completely unmanageable. Buffalo behavior sometimes differs from that of cattle. For example, most buffaloes are not trained to be driven. Instead, the herdsman must walk alongside or ahead of them; they then instinctively follow. Also, because of their innate attachment to an individual site or herd it is more difficult to move buffaloes to new locations or herds. In addition, buffaloes respect fences less than cattle do and when they have the desire to move they are harder to contain. (Electric fences, however, will stop them.)
Despite their general good health, buffaloes are probably as susceptible as cattle to most infections. However, the buffalo seems to be peculiarly sensitive to a few cattle diseases and resistant to a few others (see chapter 7). Reactions to some diseases seem to vary with region, environment, and breed, and the differences are not well understood.
Destruction of the environment is sometimes attributed to buffalo wallowing. This danger seems to have been overstated, except in cases where stocking rates were unreasonably high.(An ongoing study in Northern Australia of environmental degradation widely attributed to buffalo has now shown that the effects are caused by man and climatic changes and only very slightly by buffaloes. (information supplied by D. G. Tulloch.) ) However, buffaloes rub against trees more often than cattle do, and they sometimes de-bark the trees, causing them to die.
Unfortunately, some of the best genetic stocks of water buffaloes exist in areas where certain infections and viral and other diseases sometimes occur. Thus, many countries are reluctant to permit importation of water buffaloes, despite the fact that modern quarantine procedures under conditions of maximum security can essentially eliminate the risk.
Finally, it must be emphasized that because buffalo research has been largely neglected, most results reported in this and other buffalo writings cover small numbers of animals and short periods of time. Many are merely empirical observations that have not been subjected to independent confirmation.
The water buffalo offers promise as a major source of meat, and the production of buffaloes solely for meat is now expanding.
Because buffaloes have been used as draft animals for centuries, they have evolved with exceptional muscular development, some weigh 1,000 kg or more. Until recently, however, little thought was given to using them exclusively for meat production. Most buffalo meat was, and still is, derived from old animals slaughtered at the end of their productive life as work or milk animals. As a result, much of the buffalo meat sold is of poor quality. But when buffaloes are properly reared and fed, their meat is tender and palatable.
Water buffaloes are exported for slaughter from India and Pakistan to the Middle East and from Thailand and Australia to Hong Kong. Demand for meat is so great that Thailand’s buffalo population has dropped from 7 million to 5.7 million head in the last 20 years, a period in which the human population has more than doubled.
All buffalo breeds-even the milking ones-produce heavy animals whose carcass characteristics are similar to those of cattle.
Despite heavier hide and head, the amount of useful meat (dressing percentage) from buffaloes is almost the same as in cattle. Mediterranean type buffalo and Zebu cattle steers in Brazil yielded dressing percentages of 55.5 and 56.6 percent respectively. Swamp buffalo dressing percentages have been measured in Australia at 53 percent.
Buffaloes are lean animals. Although a layer of subcutaneous fat covers the carcass, it is usually thinner than that on comparably fed cattle. Even animals that appear to be fat prove to be largely muscle. Australian research on Swamp buffaloes reveals that buffaloes with more than 25 percent fat are difficult to produce, whereas average choice-grade beef carcasses may contain
In general, the buffalo carcass has rounder ribs, a higher proportion of muscle, and a lower proportion of bone and fat than beef has.
Buffalo hide is so thick that it can be sliced into two or three layers before tanning into leather.
Buffalo meat and beef are basically similar. The muscle pH (5.4), shrinkage on chilling (2 percent), moisture (76.6 percent), protein (19 percent), and ash (1 percent) are all about the same in buffalo meat and beef. Buffalo fat, however, is always white and buffalo meat is darker in color than beef because of more pigmentation or less intramuscular fat (2-3 percent “marbling,” compared with the 3-4 percent in beef).
Taste-panel tests and tenderness measurements conducted by research teams in a number of countries have shown that the meat of the water buffalo is as acceptable as that of cattle. Buffalo steaks have rated higher than beefsteaks in some taste tests in Australia, Malaysia, Venezuela, and Trinidad.
In taste-panel studies in Trinidad, cooked joints from three carcasses Trinidad buffalo, a crossbred steer (Jamaica-Red/Sahiwal), and an imported carcass of a top-grade European beef steer-were served. The 28 diners all had experience in beef production, butchery, or catering and were not told the sources of the various joints. All the carcasses were held in cold storage for one week before cooking. The buffalo meat was rated highest by 14 judges; 7 chose the European beef; 5 thought the crossbred beef the best; and 2 said that the buffalo and crossbred were equal to or better than the European beef. The buffalo meat received most points for color (both meat and fat), taste, and general acceptability. There was little difference noted in texture.( Information supplied by P. N. Wilson.)
Buffalo veal is considered a delicacy. Calves are usually slaughtered for veal between 3 and 4 weeks of age; dressed weight is 59-66 percent of live weight.
There is some evidence that buffaloes may retain meat tenderness to a more advanced age than cattle because the connective tissue hardens at a later age or because the diameter of muscle fibers in the buffalo increases more slowly than in cattle(Joksimonc, 1979) In one test the tenderness (measured by shearing force) of muscle samples from carcasses of buffalo steers 16-30 months old was the same as that from feedlot Angus, Hereford, and Friesian steers 12-18 months old. This gives farmers more flexibility in meeting fluctuating markets while still providing tender meat.
More than 5 percent of the world’s milk comes from water buffaloes. Buffalo milk is used in much the same way as cow’s milk. It is high in fat and total solids, which gives it a rich flavor. Many people prefer it to cow’s milk and are willing to pay more for it. In Egypt, for example, the severe mortality rate among buffalo calves is due in part to the sale of buffalo milk, which is in high demand, thus depriving calves of proper nourishment. This also occurs in India, where in the Bombay area alone an estimated 10,000 newborn calves starve to death each year through lack of milk. The demand for buffalo milk in India (about 60 percent of the milk consumed; over 80 percent in some states) is reflected in the prices paid for a liter of milk: about 130 paisa for cow’s milk compared with about 200 paisa for buffalo milk.
Twelve of the 18 major breeds of water buffalo are kept primarily for milk production (although males may be used for traction and all animals are eventually used for meat). The main milk breeds of India and Pakistan are the Murrah, Nili/Ravi, Surti, Mehsana, Nagpuri, and Jafarabadi. The buffaloes of Egypt, Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, and the USSR), and Italy are used for milk production and there are also herds used principally for this purpose in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.
Buffalo milk contains less water, more total solids, more fat, slightly more lactose, and more protein than cow’s milk. It seems thicker than cow’s milk because it generally contains more than 16 percent total solids compared with 12-14 percent for cow’s milk. In addition, its fat content is usually 50-60 percent higher (or more) than that of cow’s milk. Although the butterfat content is usually 6-8 percent,( An analysis of 7,770 records of Nili/Ravi buffaloes in herds at the Pakistan Research Institute showed that average butterfat content was 6.40 (a mean based on 10 tests over 10 months). of all the samples tested, 77 percent ranged between 5 and 8 percent butterfat and 12 percent were below 5 percent butterfat. -information supplied by R. E. McDowell.) it can go much higher in the milk of some well fed dairy buffaloes and in the milk of Swamp buffaloes (which are not normally used for milking). Cow’s milk butterfat content is usually between 3 and 5 percent.
Because of its high butterfat content, buffalo milk has considerably higher energy value than cow’s milk. Phospholipids are lower but cholesterol and saturated fatty acids are higher in buffalo milk. Studies have shown that digestibility is not adversely affected by this. Because of the high fat content, the buffalo’s total fat yield per lactation compares favorably with that of improved breeds of dairy cattle; it is much higher than that of indigenous cows.
Normally the protein in buffalo milk contains more casein and slightly more albumin and globulin than cow’s milk. Several researchers have claimed that the biological value of buffalo milk protein is higher than that of cow’s milk, but this has not yet been proved conclusively.
Tables 1 and 2
The mineral content of buffalo milk is nearly the same as that of cow’s milk except for phosphorus, which occurs in roughly twice the amount in buffalo milk. Buffalo milk tends to be lower in salt.
Buffalo milk lacks the yellow pigment carotene, precursor for vitamin A, and its whiteness is frequently used to differentiate it from cow’s milk in the market. Despite the absence of carotene, the vitamin A content in buffalo milk is almost as high as that of cow’s milk. (Apparently the buffalo converts the carotene in its diet to vitamin A. The two milks are similar in B complex vitamins and vitamin C, but buffalo milk tends to be lower in riboflavin.)
Buffalo milk, like cow’s milk, can provide a wide variety of products: butter, butter oil (clarified butter or ghee), soft and hard cheeses, condensed or evaporated milks, ice cream, yogurt, and buttermilk. It is of great economic importance in India in preparing “toned” milk-a mixture of buffalo milk and milk made by reconstituting skim milk powder.
The richness of buffalo milk makes it highly suitable for processing. To produce 1 kg of cheese, a cheese maker requires 8 kg of cow’s milk but only 5 kg of buffalo milk. To produce 1 kg of butter requires 14 kg of cow’s milk but only 10 kg of buffalo milk. Because of these high yields, processors appreciate the value of buffalo milk.
Buffalo cheese is pure white. It many countries it is among the most desirable cheeses (mozzarella and ricotta in Italy, gemir in Iraq, the salty cheeses of Egypt, and pecorino in Bulgaria, for example). In Venezuela all the cheese produced from the small La Guanota milking herd in the Apure River basin (about 100 kg a day) is bought by the Hilton Hotel and sells for 15 bolivars per kg compared with 8 bolivars per kg for cheese made from cow’s milk.
Although much in demand for making soft cheese, buffalo milk is less desirable for making hard cheeses such as cheddar or gouda. During cheesemaking it produces acid more slowly than cow’s milk, retains more water in the curd, and loses more fat in the whey.
Cheeses are becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. Demand is rising at a rate that is among the highest for any food product. Cheese offers particular benefit to areas where refrigeration is not widely available, where transporting high-protein foods to remote areas is difficult, and where seasonal fluctuations affect milk supplies. Buffalo milk may make cheesemaking profitable on an even smaller scale than conventional dairying; it is more concentrated than cow’s milk and requires relatively less energy to transport and process (an increasingly important factor where fuels are limited).
Table 3 Highest Milk Yield (kg per Day) Recorded in the All India Milk Yield
In countries like India and Egypt, the milk yield of buffaloes is generally higher (680-800 kg) than for local cattle (360-500 kg). However, since selection for exceptional milk production is not conducted systematically, large variations in yield occur between individual animals, and milk production of dairy buffaloes falls short of its potential.
Nonetheless, some outstanding yields have been recorded. On Indian government farms, average yields for milking buffaloes range from 4 to 7 kg per day in lactations averaging 285 days. Daily yields of 12 kg have been reported for some Bulgarian buffalo cows and a daily production of over 20 kg has been reported for some remarkable animals in India. A peak milk yield of 31.5 kg in a day has been recorded from a champion Murrah buffalo in the All India Milk Yield Competition conducted by the Government of India (see Table 3).
At Caserta, Italy, a herd of 1,600 machine-milked, pedigreed dairy buffaloes has produced average yields of 1,500 kg during lactations of 270 days. In Pakistan an analysis of over 6,000 lactations of Nili/Ravi buffalo cows showed an average yield of 1,925 kg during lactations averaging 282 days(Average adjusted for year and season and calving. Cady et al., in press.) . In India the average milks yield of Murrah buffaloes in established herds is also reported to be about 1,800kg(*”Williamson and Payne, 1965.)Table 4 lists some outstanding lactation yields reported from different parts of the world.
As with cattle, the percentages of fat, protein, and total solids decrease as the milks yield increases.
The Swamp buffaloes of Southeast Asia are usually considered poor milk producers. They are used mainly as draft animals, but it may be that their milk potential has been underestimated. In the Philippines Swamp buffalo cows with nursing calves have produced 300-800 kg of milk during lactation periods of 180-300 days(*Philippines Council for Agriculture and Resources Research (PCARR). 1978. The Philippines Recommends for Caraboo Production, PCARR, Los Banos, Philippines)In Thailand Swamp buffaloes selected and reared for milk production have yielded 3-5 kg per day during 305-day lactations.(Information supplied by Charan Chantalakhana.)
Table 4 Milk Production of Some Outstading Buffalo Cows and Dairy Herds
The Nanning Livestock Research Institute and Farm in Kwangsi Province,which is representative of many others in South China, is upgrading the native Swamp buffaloes (or Shui Niu) by selective breeding for size and weight and by crossbreeding with dairy breeds such as the Murrah and Nili/Ravi. The crossbreeds that are milked yield 4-5 kg daily.(*CockriH, W. R. 1976. The Buffaloes of China. FAO, Rome.)
The characteristics of the dairy buffalo so closely approximate those of the dairy cow that successful methods of breeding, husbandry, and feeding for milks production for the cow can be applied equally to the dairy buffalo. Buffaloes, however, have not been bred for uniform udders and it is more difficult to milk them by machine.(Some thousands of buffaloes are machine milked in Bulgaria and Italy, however. At Ain Shams University in Egypt, buffaloes have adapted to machine milking. The calves are separated from their dams immediately after birth and no problems of milk letdown have been observed. -information supplied by M. El Ashry.)Also, some buffaloes have more of a problem with milks letdown than dairy cows (although not as much of a problem as some native cattle breeds in the tropics). Frequently, a calf is kept with the cow and is tied to her foreleg at milking time. In India, Burma, and other countries a dummy calf may be provided; playing music seems to work, too.
The Water Buffalo: New Prospects for an Underutilized Animal (BOSTID, 1981, 111 p.)