The Ultimate Water Buffalo Resource

The water or Asian buffalo is a large mammal and is mostly found in south and southeastern Asia. It is a member of the Bovini family and has animals like, the yak, bison and African buffalo as its relatives. Largely domesticated, these animals are used for purposes of farming, fuel (from manure) and for milk and meat.According to the FAO statistics, there are about 158 million buffaloes in the world and nearly 97 percent of them are in Asia. The scientific name of the water buffalo is Bubalus Bubalis.

Water buffaloes are usually of two types – River and Swamp. According to a report titled The Water Buffalo: New Prospects for an Underutilized Animal, published by the U.S National Research Council Advisory Committee on Technology, “ … 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.”The report also discusses the Mediterranean buffalo which though is a River buffalo has its own unique characteristics since it has been isolated for many years.

According to Water Buffalo: An Asset Undervalued, a report published by the FAO Regional Office for the Asia and Pacific, swamp buffaloes have not been differentiated and the entire population represents one breed. However, there are nearly eighteen breeds of River buffalo and these are further divided into five major groups. According to the U.S National Research Council Advisory Committee on Technology’s report, these groups are Murrah, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Central Indian and South Indian. Of these groups, the best known breeds are Murrah, Nili/Ravi, Surti, Mehsana, Nagpuri and Jafarabadi.

River buffaloes are usually reared for milk production and at times, for meat, fuel and fertilizer (from manure) production as well. In fact, nearly 70% of India’s milk production comes from river buffaloes. On the other hand, swamp buffaloes are reared mainly for fuel and fertilizer production. Both breeds are hardy and strong with the ability to work long hours and for many years.

The water buffalo is a remarkably strong animal and although it spends a lot of time in hot and humid conditions, it has the ability to resist many cattle-related diseases. However, newborn and young calves are not that strong and therefore, often suffer fatally from lack of proper nutrition and health care. However, there are certain diseases that water buffaloes are prone to. These diseases can be caused by both bacteria and viruses. Diseases caused by bacteria include Brucellosis, Leptospirosis, Pasteurellosis, Tuberculosis, Blackleg, Anthrax and Salmonellosis. Viral diseases include Buffalopox, Bluetongue, Rabies, Foot and Mouth Disease, Bovine viral diarrhea, Ephemeral fever and Rinderpest. Most of these diseases can be prevented by administering the proper vaccination for them.

According to authors of Zoonoses and Communicable Diseases Common to Man and Animals hemorrhagic septicemia is another common and important disease among water buffaloes in Southern and Southeastern Asia. The symptoms of this disease include fever, edema, excessive nasal secretion and difficulty in breathing. The mortality is high and animals who survive generally become carriers of the disease.

The most common parasites on water buffaloes are ticks, screwworms, roundworms, liver fluke, trypanosomiasis, buffalo fly and the sucking louse.

Buffaloes are grazers and feed on grass, fodder, straw, oilseeds and grains. Since they also spend large amounts of time floating in water and water bodies, they also eat aquatic plants and weeds. Despite the fact that buffaloes are usually found in areas, which lack lush green pastures, they remain healthy, strong and yield good quantities of milk. According to the report published by the U.S Advisory Committee, studies and reports have indicated that buffaloes digest their feeds more efficiently than cattle do and this efficiency is enhanced when the feed is of relatively poor quality. They also digest other nutrients such as crude fat, calcium, phosphorous and nitrogen better than cattle.

Since the water buffalo grows relatively slowly, its growth rate is lower than that of cattle. However, the birth weight of the water buffalo calf is more than that of most breeds of cattle.The slow process of growth and maturity eventually has an effect on consequent reproduction and calving.

The reproductive process of the water buffaloes is still under research and study. Considering the fact that buffaloes have a slow growth rate and are also fed poorly, the reproductive cycle is bound to be slow and sluggish. Water buffaloes can calve at the same age as cattle. However, good nutrition and healthcare is essential for achieving this. Well-fed buffalo cows progress just as well as cattle and come into heat or estrus naturally, which normally lasts for anywhere between 11- 72 hours. Most buffalo cows produce 2 calves every 3 years. However, poor health, nutrition and hygiene conditions can cause abortions and other pregnancy- related problems in water buffalo cows.

While mating can and does take place naturally, artificial insemination has become increasingly popular. The gestation period of buffaloes is approximately 10 months or so.

Managing water buffaloes is relatively easy and in most Asian countries, these farm animals are kept pretty much like cattle. They require little money and maintenance and families in rural areas with limited resources are able to maintain a buffalo or two quite easily. However, one can also find plenty of buffaloes in the cities of Asian countries and these animals adapt to the change in environment easily. In other countries, buffaloes are managed on farm-like ranges and they adapt to life on a range and being controlled by handlers on horseback with ease.In either case, it is seen that handlers can easily control the docile and domesticated buffaloes.

Although buffaloes raised for farm work and milk may be able to function on inadequate nourishment, buffaloes raised for meat are different.When raising buffaloes for meat, it is essential to maintain proper feeding and nourishment. Only then will the meat be tender and tasty.

Buffaloes may have simple feeding requirements however, they do need plenty of water to float in and cool off. This is because they do not have many sweat glands and therefore, need water or even damp mud to wallow in. In areas where large water bodies are not available for buffaloes to bathe in, handlers may have to resort to showering the buffaloes with water from a hose or tub. They are also good swimmers which is quite a surprise considering their bulk and size.

Intelligent and independent, buffaloes learn new patterns and behaviors with relative ease. Allonursing – a practice in which a buffalo cow or dam allows orphans calves to nurse is frequently practiced indicating the intelligence of the animal.

Although buffaloes are docile and tame, it is essential that cattlemen treat them with gentleness and patience. Rushing, yelling and handling roughly can anger and startle a buffalo. In fact, buffaloes and cattle can be and are usually kept together and they can stay together peacefully. Farmers and cattlemen can use the same feeding troughs for both buffaloes and cattle. However, it will be wise to remember that buffaloes lack a respect for fences, unlike cattle and will therefore, break them down when angered or desperate for food.

Identifying buffalos is normally through skin branding, especially in the rural areas. However, this type of branding wears off with time. In more advanced farms and ranges, freeze-branding is used and this form of identification is definitely more long-lasting.

Buffaloes are reared and maintained mainly for their ability to work hard and long. However, it will be unfair to only treat them as a mere “beast of burden”. Buffalo milk is rich and used widely. In fact, it is buffalo milk that gives the world its delicious mozzarella cheese. In India, buffalo milk is exceedingly more popular than cow’s milk.

Buffaloes can be raised for their lean meat and for fertilizer and fuel in the form of manure..In Asian countries, however, buffaloes are primarily raised for milk and farm work. Despite not getting adequate nourishment, water buffaloes can yield good quantities of rich milk and can also work for long hours in the hot sun pulling plows and carts with relative ease. Moreover, hides of buffaloes are used extensively to make excellent leather goods such as handbags and shoes.

Placid, useful and highly versatile, water buffaloes are animals that can be used for food, work and fuel. It is important that they be raised with care, given proper nutrition and have good healthcare available. Only then will their numbers increase and humans will be able to make full use of the potential that these animals have.