|The Water Buffalo: New Prospects For An Underutilized Animal (1984) |
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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, loo 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.
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