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The Water Buffalo New Prospects for an Underutilized Animal 14
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- (BOSTID, 1981, 111 p.)
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.