|By pinoyfarmer | August 12, 2007|
The water buffalo has a reputation for being a sluggish breeder, but the average animal is so poorly fed that its reproductive performance is unrepresentative of its capabilities. Without reasonable nutrition the animals cannot reach puberty as early in life or reproduce as regularly as their physiology or genetic capability would normally allow.
Actually, adequately nourished buffaloes reach puberty at about the same age as cattle, as early as 18 months of age in buffalo bulls. In northern Australia Swamp females have conceived even as early as 14 months of age and feral buffaloes routinely conceive at 16 months of age. In the herd at Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana, India, 11 River buffalo heifers showed estrus at ages less than 18.5 months and a few came into heat when less than 15 months old.
The water buffalo also can calve at an age comparable to that of cattle. At the Ain Shams University in Egypt a well-fed Egyptian buffalo herd of several hundred animals has an average age at first calving of 27 months, 22 days(Information supplied by M. El Ashry. Because of nutritional uncertainties, El Ashry and his colleagues believe that body weight is a better indicator of sexual preparedness than age is. These researchers at Ain Shams University recommend mating heifers when they weigh 365 kg no matter what their age. Research at Punjab Agricultural University shows that buffalo heifers can be bred when they weigh over 270 kg and manifest estrus).Most animals in the Punjab Agricultural University River buffalo herd calved before 35 months, one at 28.3 months.! In one Venezuelan herd almost all heifers 20-24 months old were pregnant; virtually all calved before age 38 months, most by 30 months, and one at age 23 months.
In trials in Queensland, Australia, and in Papua New Guinea buffaloes produced more calves over a 3-year period than the cattle tested with them. In the hot, humid Sepik Plains in northern Papua New Guinea it was noticed that female buffaloes (Swamp breed) came into estrus even while they were losing weight because of inadequate nutrition, whereas cattle did not. Under these stressful conditions the buffalo calves also reached sexual maturity earlier and the buffaloes had a higher calving percentage and a shorter calving interval because they came back into estrus more quickly than cattle(Information supplied by J. Schottler. The age at first calving of more than 60 nutritionally poor buffaloes was 38 months in one herd and 45 months for Brahman cross cattle) . Similar observations have been made in Florida, Trinidad, the Brazilian Amazon, Venezuela, and elsewhere. Although these are exceptions to the normal observations in Asia, where buffaloes seem to breed more slowly than cattle, they do demonstrate the buffalo’s potential for improved breeding.
Estrus in buffalo cows usually lasts about 24 hours, but duration varies and may range from 11 to 72 hours. It occurs on an average 21-day cycle. Determination of when a cow is in estrus is difficult because often the animal shows few outward signs of “heat.” This increases the chances of missing a cycle, especially for artificial insemination. Unclean surroundings, poor nutrition, and poor management, cause a high death rate among calves; this also contributes to the buffalo’s often low reproductive rate.
In many areas, calving is seasonal. This seems to be largely due to changes in nutrition. It may also be caused by heat stress, in either males or females, which results in a low breeding rate during the hot season. However, when buffalo cows are well fed, they come into estrus and will breed in any season.
Many matings take place at night and are therefore unobserved. In one set of pregnancy diagnoses in northern Australia, the buffalo’s conception rate (81 percent) was higher than that of the Brahman crossbreeds (70 percent) they were with. In India, artificial insemination of water buffaloes began in the late 1950s. Deep-frozen semen is now available and its use is spreading. Overall conception rates of 70-80 percent are obtained. It is estimated that some 100,000 buffaloes are now being artificially inseminated.
The water buffalo’s gestation period is about one month longer and is more variable than that of cattle. Whereas cattle give birth after about 280 days (Angus, 279, Holstein, 279-280, Brown Swiss, 286), buffaloes take 300334 days (average 310) or roughly 10 months and 10 days (differences between breeds are unknown). In Punjab, India, River buffaloes have been observed to come into estrus as early as 40 days after calving.
Nonetheless, only under uncommon circumstances can a buffalo cow produce a calf each year. In one herd of 800 cows in Venezuela the average female buffalo over age 4 produces 2 calves every 3 years. In response to a recent questionnaire, the majority of Indonesian farmers estimated that the calving rate was between 3 and 4 calves in 5 years. A few claimed a calf a year, some only 1 or 2 calves In 5 years. In Florida it has been noted that some buffalo cows having just calved became pregnant more quickly than cattle, so that a calf may indeed be produced each year. Regular yearly breeding has been noted also in northern Australia.
The incidence of abortion, dystocia, retained placenta, and other parturition problems in buffaloes is similar to that in cattle. Twinning is very rare; probably no more than 0.01 percent of buffalo pregnancies produce twins.
Preliminary results in northern Australia indicate that weaning can be carried out as late as 12 months of age without any effect on conception time of the buffalo dam.
Water buffaloes are adaptable and are managed in many ways. In general, they are raised like cattle. But in some operations they must be handled differently. This chapter highlights these differences.
Millions of water buffaloes are managed in “backyards” in Asia. They exist on the resources of small holdings. Management and expenditures are minimal. Care of the family buffalo is usually entrusted to children, old people, or women not engaged in other farm duties; the buffalo allows them to be useful and productive.
The buffalo fits the resources available on the farm, but it is also an urban animal. Thousands of herds of 2-20 buffaloes may be found in the cities and towns of India, Pakistan, and Egypt-all fed, managed, and milked in the streets.
In addition, the buffalo has important qualities as a feedlot animal; it can be herded and handled with relative ease because of its placid nature. The Anand Cooperative in India’s Gujarat State, which daily contributes thousands of gallons of milk to Operation Flood (the world’s largest nutrition project), involves more than 150,000 Surti buffaloes that are fed, managed, and milked by their owners under feedlot-like conditions in their villages. Many of Italy’s 100,000 buffaloes are maintained under similar conditions.
Water buffaloes can also be managed on rangelands. In Brazil, Venezuela, Trinidad, the United States, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and elsewhere there is rising interest in raising buffalo beef on the range. The production practices for raising them are similar to those used for range cattle.
Water buffaloes in the humid tropics must be able to cool off. Shade trees are desirable, and although a wallow is not essential, it is probably the most effective way the animal has of coping with heat. Alternatively, water showers may be provided to wet down the animals 3-5 times during the hottest part of the day.
Water buffaloes are intelligent animals. Young ones learn patterns quickly and often are reluctant to change their habits. Feral animals-even those born in the wild-tame down after a week or two in a fenced enclosure to the point where many can be handled, haltered, and hand fed (In one example, 100 feral buffalo were captured in Northern Territory, Australia. With in 14 days all the animals-males and females, young and old-had become docile and amenable to handling. -Information supplied by D. G. Tulloch) . Among feral herds of northern Australia it has been observed that buffaloes have clans and families. A female calf seems to remain with its family and mother for many years (possibly for life). A male calf stays until it is about 2 years old, when it is driven from the group by an adult bull.
It has also been noted in northern Australia that free-ranging buffaloes instinctively select clean water areas to drink from, other areas to wallow in, and still others as “toilet areas.” In addition, China’s buffaloes reportedly are being “toilet trained” to defecate only at specific sites to avoid contaminating waterways with schistosome eggs.
Another interesting observation from northern Australia is that most buffalo dams readily adopt a calf that has been orphaned by the death of its mother. In fact, females will allow several calves to nurse (including calves of other mothers and sometimes even adults).
Buffaloes are also self-reliant. For several months each year in Vietnam and Malaysia, for instance, they are turned loose in the forests to fend for themselves.
Provision of adequate fencing is one of the great problems of buffalo management. The animals have strong survival instincts and if feed runs short, such as in the dry season, they will break through fences that would deter cattle who would remain and starve. They will also break through fences if their family unit is split up. Barriers must be stronger than those used for cattle and the wires closer together and lower to the ground because buffaloes lift fences up with their horns rather than trample them down. In northern Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Costa Rica it has been found that buffaloes are particularly sensitive to electric fences (a single wire is all that is needed), and in Brazil a special suspension fence has been devised (Moura Carvalho et al., 1979). Both of these seem to be cheap and efficient answers to the fencing problem.
Water buffaloes are easily handled from horseback and easily worked through a corral. Actually, because of their docility they can be mustered on foot, even on ranges where cattle require horses. Unless they come from different areas they tend to herd together and can be mustered like sheep.
One of the major management adjustments to be made by cattlemen is understanding and capitalizing on the buffalo’s placid nature. Buffaloes are naturally timid and startle easily; they must be handled quietly and calmly. Rough handling, wild riding, and loud shouting make handling them more difficult and training them much harder.
Village buffaloes are led and managed by a ring threaded through the septum between the nostrils. The technique is frequently applied crudely and cruelly, often resulting in a ripped septum.
The identification of individual buffaloes is difficult. Fire brands do not remain legible on the skin for long. Cryobranding (freeze branding) is more durable. Most types of ear tags are not very successful; the numbers wear off and mud covers up the tag’s color. In northern Australia ear tattooing has been the most successful identification technique, with tattoos remaining legible for at least 8 years(Between 1958 and 1962 hundreds of Australian buffalo were shipped on the hoof to the meat markets in Hong Kong without trouble, despite crowded shipboard conditions and the long sea voyage. But in 1962 one roughly treated bull went berserk in Hong Kong and killed a handler, and the Hong Kong authorities stopped the trade as a result, although the problem was really one of mismanagement. Buffalo have since been sent by air from Australia to Venezuela, Nigeria, and Papua New Guinea and by barge to Papua New Guinea. No handling problems have been experienced en route). When they pasture together, cattle and buffaloes coexist satisfactorily. They segregate themselves into their own groups and do not interfere with one another. The buffaloes, however, usually dominate the cattle and tend to monopolize the areas with the best feed supply.
Feed troughs and mineral boxes used for cattle are suitable for buffaloes, but chutes and crushes must be widened to accommodate the buffalo’s broader body and, when necessary, the Swamp buffalo’s greater horn spread.
Water buffaloes are powerful swimmers. In Brazil they have been known to escape by swimming down the Amazon River. An unusual management difficulty is caused by piranha in the rivers and swamps of Venezuela. In one herd of 100 heifer buffaloes, 40 have lost all or part of a teat to these voracious fish.
The horns of water buffaloes are seldom removed or prevented from growing, a testament to the animal’s docility. (When questioned, one Thai villager said that he wouldn’t allow it because it would be a disgrace to the buffalo.) However, the animals can be dehorned as calves in the same manner as cattle. They are then easier to handle In chutes and cause less accidental injury to neighboring animals, handlers, walls, and trees.
The grazing and wallowing habits of water buffaloes may have unexpected consequences when the animals are introduced to new, perhaps fragile environments. The presence of several thousand feral buffaloes on the coastal plains of northern Australia, for example, has become a very emotional issue among Australian environmentalists, some of whom foretell the complete destruction of the environment if the uncontrolled feral herds are not destroyed( It is not at all clear, however, that the buffaloes (which have existed in the area for 150 years) are causing the observed environmental degradation. Other possibilities include: fire, climatic stress, overgrazing, and a variety of farming, hunting, and other human activities, especially the use of four-wheel-drive vehicles. Thousands of wild pigs also share the area, along with crayfish that burrow into and weaken the levees that keep out the sea, something for which the buffaloes have been blamed).
Water buffaloes have larger hooves than cattle of comparable size and thus they compact the soil less. But buffaloes often live in damp, boggy areas where their feet may compact soft soils. Also, buffaloes are creatures of habit and, when able, they set up fixed points for drinking, feeding, defecating, wallowing, and sleeping. Between the points they wear sharply defined trails in the vegetation and soil.
Possibly the water buffalo’s greatest environmental limitation is its propensity to build wallows. In hot climates every buffalo will wallow at some time during the heat of the day if water is available. When they can, buffaloes will make their own wallows, enlarging a mud puddle by rolling in it or even using their heads to flip water out of a drinking trough and muddying the ground nearby.
The pasture in the immediate area of the wallow is usually damaged by trampling and waterholes may become fouled, but buffaloes return to the same wallow day after day and do not build new ones indiscriminately. Thus, the muddied area is not a large proportion of the location in which they graze unless a large number of animals are confined in a small space(At Gainesville, Florida (possibly because of its subtropical but not hot climate), a herd of 52 buffaloes concentrated in a one-hectare field did not attempt to build a wallow at ale -Information supplied by H. Popenoe.) . In addition, man-made wallows can be dug at safe sites and the animals will use them. The problem of wallowing is therefore not generally a serious one.
Damage to Waterways
Because buffaloes often live near and enter water freely, they may cause erosion in ditches, river banks, canals, and levees. Also, their wallowing muddies the water, which may adversely affect some fish species and reduce the growth of algae. Buffaloes commonly urinate and defecate in the water, possibly creating a pollution hazard, although in most situations this contamination is likely to be minor.
The presence of this herbivore in natural waterways may reduce the number of water plants. Some plants are trampled, some eaten, and some underwater species are suppressed because the muddied water transmits less light. This (and several other of the buffalo’s environmental effects) can be turned to advantage (see picture page 85) when, as often occurs, aquatic plants grow out of control and become obnoxious weeds.
Damage to Pastures
Water buffaloes have very strong jaws, and when forage is sparse they graze it close to the ground; this overgrazing can destroy a pasture. In addition, they eat virtually all available plant material (including many species that cattle shun), so that a densely stocked pasture can become completely defoliated. In northern Australia it has been found that, with time, buffaloes become accustomed to a given pasture, and unless fences are strong they will instinctively return to it until the forage has been depleted.
The buffalo’s inclination to eat many plants can be used to improve the environment and suppress growth of coarse weedy species of plants. On the Sepik Plains in Papua New Guinea buffaloes are being used to graze and suppress sedges (Cyperus species), as a result, the more desirable Paspalum species are beginning to appear. At Mount Bundy in northern Australia native pastures are being improved on a commercial scale by overstocking them with buffaloes. The animals reduce or completely eliminate spear grass and other weeds-even those with thorns-and thus foster the survival and growth of introduced forage legumes such as stylo (Stylosanthes guianensis). In Sri Lanka buffaloes have been used to graze out the vigorous tropical grass Imperata cylindrica.
Damage to Trees
Buffaloes instinctively rub against trees (and walls and fences), eagerly browse leaves, and sometimes nibble bark, so they damage trees more so than cattle. In northern Australia it has been noted that each “family herd” of feral buffaloes selects one or two trees for rubbing against so that the rubbing damage is confined to them.
Recommendations and Research Needs
This report has outlined the water buffalo’s apparent merits, but most of the statements made about the animal are based on empirical observations. Many of its most exciting and potentially valuable features have not been subjected to the careful scrutiny needed to confirm their validity.
Despite the fact that there are 130 million or more water buffalo in the world, research on the animal is scanty and limited to only a few situations and sites. Quantitative information (especially for the various breeds), tests, trials, and comparison studies are needed.
The research to be done on the water buffalo offers scientific challenges that can be undertaken in laboratories and experiment stations in most parts of the world and in many disciplines: breeding, physiology, microbiology, veterinary science, nutrition, food science, dairy science, and other fields. Water buffalo research is an area worthy of financial support by philanthropic institutions and international development agencies concerned with problems of food and resource shortages. The dominant role of the buffalo in the rural economies of Egypt and Asian countries offers the opportunity for buffalo research that can bring improvements quickly and easily to the rural poor. For other countries the water buffalo is an untapped resource, and they should test its productivity on native pasturelands, marshy lowlands, hot and humid areas where cattle do not thrive, and on areas prone to cattle diseases and parasites that are difficult to control.
Specific recommendations follow.
Comparison with Cattle
Animal scientists worldwide should undertake trials to compare growth rate, feeding, nutrition, breeding, and other aspects of buffalo and cattle performance.
Cattle and water buffaloes are obviously different animals. Each has its own limitations and advantages, and each deserves to be studied in its own right. Perhaps the quickest way for animal scientists to experience for themselves the merits of the water buffalo is to conduct their own comparative trials with buffaloes and cattle in their areas. The results will provide local guidance and will help extend recognition of the buffalo’s value, especially under difficult conditions where it may exceed cattle in productivity and profitability.
Germ Plasm Preservation
Urgent action is needed, especially in Southeast Asia, to preserve and protect outstanding buffalo specimens.
In some countries (Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, for example) buffalo populations are decreasing dramatically. High demands for meat are causing slaughter at younger and younger ages. Much of the meat is exported to restaurants and markets in Singapore and Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the largest and quickest growing animals are often selected for slaughter. This results in the loss of a major genetic resource, which is compounded by the practice of castrating the largest males to make them more tractable as work animals. Ten years ago in Thailand it was common to find buffalo weighing 1,000 kg; now it is hard to find 750-kg specimens. A similar situation exists in the Philippines where there is no dearth of good breeding stock, but butchers are paying such high prices that farmers are selling even quality animals for slaughter. In northern Australia, where some of the bulls weigh almost 1,200 kg, the largest animals are being shot for meat, hides, pet food, or sportsmen’s trophies,
A large number of high-yielding buffaloes are taken each year to big cities in India (for example, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras) for milking. At the end of lactation many are returned to the villages, but many others are slaughtered, rather than being fed and retired. This creates a huge loss of valuable germ plasm. In many locations most of the largest animals have already been lost. Only urgent action will protect those remaining.
Buffalo quarantine stations should be organized in “disease-free” areas to develop buffalo germ plasm pools for international exchange.
The importation of buffaloes presents difficulties for any government, researcher, or farmer wishing to obtain the animals for the first time or for breeding purposes. Quarantine laws make it extremely difficult and expensive to exchange genetic resources.
Australia is one of the few nations where there are large numbers of water buffalo in an area free of the major animal diseases. Papua New Guinea,Nigeria, Colombia, Venezuela, and other nations have taken advantage of this and have imported Australian buffaloes. But Australian herds are all Swamp buffaloes(The island of Guam is also a safe source of Swamp animals, although the feral herds there are depleted, only 300 or 400 animals were left on Guam in 1978) and so breeding centers should be set up also (in Sri Lanka and Italy perhaps) where importers can obtain River-type (including Mediterranean) buffaloes.
Worldwide efforts should be made to select superior buffalo bulls and cows for breeding.
Performance testing, leading to the mass selection of superior animals, deserves high priority. Virtually all buffalo breeding is haphazard and unplanned. Village animals graze together and matings are usually not con” trolled, observed, or recorded. Thus, the full genetic potential of the water buffalo is not being realized.
A massive selection program is needed to bring about genetic progress. For each breed, bulls and cows with the potential for improving production of meat and milk and increasing draft power should be identified and used for breed improvement. However, the wide variations between the characteristics of individual animals may make exceptional genetic advances difficult to achieve quickly.
Important traits for culling and selection include behavior, temperament, reproduction rate, easy milk letdown, average daily gain in weight or weight at a given age, carcass quality (for example, large hindquarters), and milk production, as well as strength and endurance for work.
Crossbreeding of Swamp and River buffaloes is a potentially important route to genetic improvement. The progeny reportedly show hybrid vigor (heterosis) in milking ability, fertility, meat production, and working ability. Infusing genes for high milk production into the Swamp buffalo, now used mainly for meat and work, creates the potential for a triple-purpose animal.
The use of artificial insemination and deep-frozen semen should be a major help in upgrading the buffalo. Moreover, the transport of live embryos (rather than neonatal animals) for implantation in the uterus of surrogate mothers could be important for water buffalo. It seems unlikely, however, that buffalo embryos can be implanted in cattle.
Most genetic selections should be made in Asia where 97 percent of the world’s water buffaloes are located. The improvements will depend on how accurately bulls can be identified, selected, and mated. Performance and progeny testing is sorely needed at research stations as well as “on the farm.” Governments should also institute bull-loan or artificial-insemination programs as a means for upgrading the village herds.
Comparison of Breeds
The relative merits of the various buffalo breeds should be determined,
Little or no information is available on the comparative performance of the different buffalo breeds in various environments, especially the 17 or so River breeds in the Subcontinent and the Egyptian and Mediterranean breeds. Comparison trials of the breeds and breed-crosses are needed in a wide range of climates from the humid tropical to the temperate. In addition, the cytogenetic, immunogenetic, and inheritance relationships of breeds should be clarified.
The panel encourages countries such as India and Pakistan that have a number of buffalo breeds (for example, Murrah, Surti, Jafarabadi, Mehsana, and Nili/Ravi) to set up experimental farms for scientific reproduction of superior specimens. Substantial research benefits as well as profitable economic returns from using and exporting some of them would be realized.
Meat and Milk Research
Research and demonstration is needed to foster the widespread consumption of buffalo meat and milk.
Buffalo milk, cheese, and other dairy products are considered outstanding foods in all locations where they are produced. Taste tests so far have indicated that buffalo meat is similar or slightly superior to beef produced under the same conditions.
A specific need is to feed the male calves and use them for meat. Many are now slaughtered at a young age and light weight. Research that provides either a partial or complete milk substitute for feeding calves would have a major impact on meat supplies and farmer income. Diets being developed for calves in Egypt incorporate such ingredients as whey, soybean meal, corn flour (corn starch), and yeast.
Other research topics include:
· The effect of climate, thermoregulation, and wallowing on meat and milk production;
· The meat characteristics of each of the breeds and the differences between them,
· Milk production and quality for each of the breeds;
· Adapting buffaloes to machine milking by genetic selection or by designing new milking machinery;
· Developing new or improved milk products (such as yogurt, cottage cheese, and hard cheese); and
· Banking genetically superior germ plasm for later use.
The panel recommends research on new harnesses to replace the omnipresent yoke.
As already noted, the wooden yoke, which has not changed in 1,500 years or more, is an inefficient harness. Research is needed to adapt horse collars, hames, breast straps, and other devices for the buffalo. Because much of the farm power in Asia comes from buffaloes, the impact of improved harness could be dramatic, widespread, and of enormous value to millions of small farmers there. If the experiments in Thailand described earlier are an indication, the farm power in Asia could be increased by 25 percent overnight with the adoption of an improved harness. The buffalo will continue to be the small farmer’s “tractor,” so the benefits from improved harnesses are likely to continue for a long time.
There are 13 million buffalo and bullock carts in India and 20 million Indians are engaged in the business of road haulage. Application of appropriate technology would eliminate the archaic wooden wheels, axles, and heavy carts and substitute lightweight carts, perhaps with such features as metal wheels, pneumatic tires, ball bearings, and fixed axles. With such improvements, loads might be increased and hauled over longer distances at greater speed and with less work.
Trials in New Areas
Testing of water buffalo production is needed in many areas where the animal is not known.
A seemingly adaptable animal, the water buffalo should be productive throughout the earth’s warm temperate, subtropical, and tropical zones. Different breeds may adapt differently to extremes of heat, humidity, and cold, and this needs further study.
The United States, the Mediterranean Basin of Europe, and some of the more temperate European areas like southern England are worth considering for water buffalo trials. In the Southern Hemisphere River buffaloes are already found as far south as 25° latitude in Brazil’s Sao Paulo State (where large herds are raised); an experimental herd of Swamp buffaloes has performed outstandingly in Brisbane, Australia (27°S); and there are a few Swamp buffalo in South Australia and Victoria (35°S or more). There is good reason to believe that water buffaloes may be productive in all of the states in Australia, New Zealand’s North Island, South Africa, Argentina, and other warm temperate areas of the Southern Hemisphere.
The biggest void in the water buffalo map is virtually the entire continent of Africa. It seems a paradox that the buffalo-Egypt’s most important domestic animal-is not farmed commercially in any other African country. Experimental herds have been introduced to Nigeria, Uganda, Mozambique, Tanzania, and other countries in the past, and the initial success of three of them is described in Appendix A.
The water buffalo, with its tolerance for heat, disease, poor-quality feed, and mismanagement, appears to have outstanding promise for African nations such as Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, and The Gambia as well as all nations south of the Sahara (Nambia perhaps being an exception).
More specific aspects of environmental tolerance deserving research attention are:
· The physiology of the buffalo’s response to heat, cold, humidity, and other environmental factors;
· The effect of climate on growth, reproduction, milk production, health, respiration rate, behavior, and carcass quality; and
· Measurement of the calorific efficiency and chemical composition of all breeds of buffaloes and cattle to determine the environments best suited to each breed.
Despite observations of the buffalo’s ability to utilize poor quality forage, research is needed to learn how the animal does it.
This research should:
· Establish the buffalo’s nutrient requirements by breed, sex, age, and weight for maintenance, growth, reproduction, lactation, and work;
· Determine voluntary forage consumption and the nutrient utilization of different forages in various stages of maturity;
· Examine rumen microbiology and fermentation, the rate of digestion, production, and absorption of volatile fatty acids produced in the rumen, and utilization of energy, nitrogen, vitamins, and minerals;
· Develop milk replacements for early-weaned calves;
· Observe the current village-level feeding of low quality forages to learn their nutrient requirements, nutrient deficiency diseases, and nutrient supplementation needed;
· Study the utilization of concentrated, high-energy feeds (especially byproduct feeds) to determine the upper limits of buffalo growth and productivity (milk, meat, and work) and carcass quality;
· Compare various breeds of water buffaloes and other ruminants to determine possible differences in nutritional requirements and performance; and
· Apply economic research to production practices, including night feeding of cut forage and the use of improved pastures.
Research to improve management practices could benefit small farmers, ranchers, and feedlot feeders alike.
Little is known about the farm management factors that influence water buffalo productivity. Studies and extension literature for farmers are needed on subjects such as:
· Proper fencing;
· Procedures for dehorning and for preventing horn growth in calves;
· Grazing management methods;
· Preservation of forages;
· Methods and effect of castration;
· Methods and effect of spaying;
· Breeding methods;
· Milking methods;
· Artificial insemination, methodology and use;
· Methods of handling animals under grazing conditions or in feedlots;
· Age for weaning under different conditions;
· Mineral and protein supplementation methods;
· Semen freezing;
· Ova transplantation methods;
· Cryobranding and other methods of animal identification;
· Control of internal parasites; and
· Disease prevention and treatments.
Research is needed in areas where uncertainties about buffalo diseases are hindering the animals’ use.
The research should:
· Develop control and management practices to prevent specific infections and parasites for buffalo groups such as calves, yearlings, heifers, pregnant cows, newly calved cows, and bulls;
· Elucidate the factors (genetic, nutritional, management, disease) causing losses of newly born calves;
· Prevent and control the major diseases and parasites of the buffalo: hemorrhagic septicemia, brucellosis, tuberculosis, foot-and-mouth disease, sarcoptic mange, fascioliasis, nematode parasites, rinderpest and “rinderpestlike” diseases, nephritis, and conjunctivitis;
· Develop herd-health programs and specific disease-control programs for the various production systems;
· Determine the level of susceptibility to trypanosomiasis, a disease that might mitigate against introducing the animal widely to Africa; and
· Define the buffalo’s role in malarial ecology.
Research is needed to improve water buffalo reproduction.
Research topics should include:
· Physiology and deep-freezing of buffalo semen. (Although it is possible to freeze the buffalo semen now, further improvements are needed to achieve higher conception rates.)
· Incidence of sub-estrus and anestrus. This is fairly high in buffaloes. Work is needed to determine the factors contributing to this problem and find solutions applicable in the field. A simple, inexpensive test for the routine diagnosis of estrus is needed. It could ensure that buffaloes are inseminated at the optimal time and could lead to the possible synchronizing of estrus in groups of animals as well as the elimination of seasonal breeding.
· Seasonality of breeding. Investigations are needed into seasonal effects on the intensity and deviation of estrus in buffaloes. Most of the buffaloes in northern India and Pakistan, for example, calve between July and December, causing scarcity of milk in the summer season and a flush of production in the winter months (this phenomenon causes serious marketing problems).
· Low libido and low semen yield in buffalo bulls. Semen yield in buffalo bulls is less than half of the yield from cattle bulls.
· Effect of season and other factors on semen quality.
· Variation in the freezability of semen from different bulls.
Dissemination of Information
The panel recommends that two water buffalo publications be produced.
These should be:
· An international water buffalo newsletter. It is important to maintain communication among researchers working with the water buffalo in far flung research stations, universities, missions, and villages. Research findings may not be widely shared if technical animal science journals and the one or two national newsletters now available remain the only source of water buffalo information. A newsletter would bring together results from different parts of the world. It would provide rapid exchange of information as well as a forum for informal opinions, observations, and preliminary experimental data that are usually not accepted by journals.
· A formal journal of water buffalo research.
In addition, other methods for disseminating water buffalo information are to be encouraged.
The Water Buffalo: New Prospects for an Underutilized Animal (BOSTID, 1981, 111 p.)