(BOSTID, 1981, 111 p.)

Milk[edit | edit source]

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.

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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.)

Milk Products

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).

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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.)

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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.)

Dairy Management

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.

Selected Readings

Addeo, F., Mercier, J. C., and Ribadeau-Dumas, B. 1977. The caseins of buffalo milk. Journal of Dairy Research 44(3):455-468.

Agarwala, O. P. 1962. Certain factors of reproduction and production in a water buffalo herd. Indian Joumal of Dairy Science 15(2):45-51.

Albourco, F., Mincione, B., Addeo, F., and Ameno, M. 1969. Buffaloes' milk. II. Variations in composition during lactation of milk produced without change in feeding. Industrie Agraria 7(5):210-219.

Associazione Italiana Tecnici del Latter. 1970. Buffaloes' milk and cheese. Scienza e Tecnica 21(3):175-196.

Bhatnagar, V. K., Lohia, K. L., and Monga, O. P. 1961. Effect of the month of calving on milk yield, lactation length and calving interval in Murrah buffaloes. Indian Journal of Dairy Science 14(3): 102-108.

Bhasin N. R., and Desai, R. N. 1967. Effect of age at first calving and first lactation yield on life time production in Hariana cattle. Indian Veterinary Journal 44:684694.

Cady, R. A., Shah, S. K., Schermerhorn, E. C., and McDowell, R. E. In Press. Factors affecting performance of Nili-Ravi buffaloes in Pakistan. Journal of Dairy Science.

Castillo, L. S. 1975. Production, characteristics and processing of buffalo milk. In: The Asiatic Water Buffalo. Proceedings of an International Symposium held at Khon Kahn, Thailand, March 31-April 6, 1975. Food and Fertilizer Technology Center, Taipei, Taiwan.

Dassat, P. M., de Paolis, P., and Sartore, G. 1966. Environmental effects on milks yield in Italian buffalo.Acta Medica Veterinaria 12(6):587-593.

Dave, B. K., and Taylor, C. M. 1975. A study on relationship of persistency with other first production traits in Indian water buffaloes. Indian Journal of Animal Health 14(1) :77-80.

Deshmukh, S. N., and Choudhury, P. N. R. 1971. Repeatability estimates of some economic characteristics in Italian buffaloes. Zentralblatt fuer Veterinaer-medizen 18:104-107.

Ganguli, N. C. 1979. Buffalo milk technology. World Animal Review 30:2-10.

Gomez, I. V. 1977. The manufacture of semihard cheese (Danish type) from carabao milk. Philippine Agriculturalist 61(3/4) :78-86.

Gurnani, M., and Nagarcenkar, R. 1971. Evaluation of breeding performance of buffaloes and estimation of genetic and phenotypic parameters. Annual Report of the National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal, India.

Katpatal, B. G. 1977. Dairy cattle crossbreeding in India. I. Growth and development of crossbreeding. World Animal Review 22: 15-21.

Kay, H. D. 1974. Milk and milk production. In: The Husbandry and Health of the Domestic Buffalo, edited by W. R. Cockrill. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.

Kohli, M. L., and Malik, D. D. 1960. Effect of service period on total milk production and lactation length in Murrah buffaloes. Indian Journal of Dairy Science 13(3): 105-111.

Nascimento, C. N. B., Moura Carvalho, L. O. D., and Lourenco, J. B. 1979. Irnportancia do Bufalo para a Pecuarfa Brasileira. Agricultural Research Center for Humid Tropics (CPATU), Belem, Para, Brazil.

Raafat, M. A., El-Sayed, Abou-Hussein, Abou-Raya, A. K., and El-Shirbiny A. 1974. Some nutritional studies of colostrum and milk of cows and buffaloes E:gyptian Journal of Animal Production 14(1) :137-148.

Ragab, M. T., Asker, A. A., and Kamal, T. H. 1958. The effect of age and seasonal calving on the composition of Egyptian buffalo milk. Indian Journal of Dairy Science 11(1):18-28.

Saudi Arabia Standards Institution. 1978. Raw milk. Saudi Arabia Standard 98.

Sebastian, J., Panthulu, P. C, and Bhimasena, M. 1971. Composition of Surti buffalo milk. Annual Report of the National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal, India.

Sekhon, G. S., and Gehlon, M. S. 1966. Repeatability estimates of some economic traits in the Murrah buffalo. Ceylon Veterinary Journal 14:18-22.

Singh, B. B., and Singh, B. P. 1971. Comparative study of lifetime economics of Hariana versus Murrah buffaloes. Indian Veterinary Journal 48:485-489.

Singh, R. P. 1966. A study of production up to ten years of age in buffaloes maintained at military farms. Indian Veterinary Journal 43:986-992.

Singh, S. B., and Desai, R. N. 1962. Production character of Bhadawari buffalo cow. Indian Veterinary journal 39:332-343.

Venkayya, D., and Anantakrishnan, C. P. 1957. Influence of age at first calving on the performance of Murrah buffaloes. Indian Journal of Dairy Science 10(1):20-24.

Williamson, G., and Payne, W. J. A. 1965. An Introduction to Animal Husbandry in the Tropics. Longman, London, United Kingdom.

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Created April 14, 2006 by Eric Blazek
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