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Carabao(Water Buffalo) : Rediscovering the Beast of Burden
A quick look at this endangered animal is enough to convince us that even in this age of highly mechanized farming, the carabao still has a lot to offer in terms of business opportunities.

The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has listed tamaraw under Appendix I, which means that “the trade of species of subspecies” of the animal is “strictly prohibited” except for educational, scientific or research and study purposes.

After the tamaraw, what Philippine animal is most likely to make it to the CITES list? The carabao, that’s what The Filipino’s beast of burden, forced out from the farm by mechanized farming, is now being pushed to extinction.

The carabao population has steadily dropped since 1988. Statistics compiled by the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) showed that there were 2.95 million of carabaos in the country in 1988. This figure dwindled to 2.48 million by 1992. The trend is continuing even today. “Unless we do something now, we might wake up one day an agricultural country without a carabao to speak of,” warns a farming expert.

The Philippine carabao is just one of the many breeds of the water buffalo, sometimes known as an “Asian animal” since the region is home to some 95% of the world’s stock. The buffalo was first domesticated about 4,500 years ago, in China or the Indus Valley - perhaps at the same time - and a “buffalo culture” spread gradually throughout Asia.

There are two types of water buffaloes: the river and the swamp types. The river type is exemplified by the Indian and sub-continent breeds. It is considered under the dairy category because it possesses high genetic capacity for milk production.

On the other hand, the swamp type - to which the Philippine carabao belongs - is distinguished by its preference for swamps or marshlands. This type of buffalo is primarily utilized for farm work. “About 98% of the total available agricultural power in Asia is derived from animals - mainly from the water buffalo,” noted Dr. Abercio V. Rotor, one of the country’s carabao experts.

In the Philippines, the carabao is put to continuous work from the age of four years up to i5 years or beyond. Some studies have shown that three females can perform the work of two male carabaos. As a draft animal, the carabao is most remarkable. It pulls plows, harrows, and carts with loads of several tons, forging through mud up to its belly.

There’s more to water buffalo than just a draft animal. W. Ross Cockrill, author of The Husbandry and Health of the Domestic Buffalo, said that in Brazil, buffaloes are credited for almost everything good.

Cockrill narrated the story of an Amazonian cowboy, well into his 70s, who had 20 children, ranging from middle-aged men and women to babes in arms. Despite a vigorous life, the aging gentleman looked the picture of health. Asked how he did it, he replied: “You have to drink lots of buffalo milk and eat lots of buffalo beef. There’s nothing better to keep you fit and in your proper manhood.”

Livestock specialists claim a “caracow” or a crossbreed carabao and cow, with nursing calf can produce 300 to 38o kilograms of milk during a lactation period of about i8o days. According to the Laguna-based Dairy Training and Research Institute (DTRI), the carabao’s milk contains 5 % protein. In comparison, cow’s milk has a protein content of less than 4%.

The only bad thing about carabao’s milk is that it is higher in fat than cow’s milk. But then, carabao’s milk is also higher in total solids and protein and has more energy value compared with cow’s milk. “Its mineral content is nearly the same as cow’s milk, except that it has twice more phosphorus,” said PCARRD’s Anna Marie Alo.

Currently, carabao’s milk is being processed into premium ice cream, specialized cheese varieties, yoghurt, and “pastilles,” all in high demand in the markets.

The carabao also offers big opportunities for the meat industry. In South American countries like Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela, the demand for “carabeef” (carabao meat) is growing. This has resulted in the astounding growth of the carabao population in these countries: 14% to 18% each year. In the United States, the price of carabeef has doubled in recent years.

This current demand of carabeef is due to the recent studies which show that buffaloes are the better source of quality meat than cattle. Based on data released by the United States Department of Agriculture, carabeef has 41% less cholesterol, 92% less fat and 56% fewer calories than beef. Recent studies regarding the chemical composition of caraheef show that fresh caraheef obtained higher crude protein than pork and beef.

“Ground carabeef has an exquisite flavor and texture,” said a fact sheet disseminated by the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC). “Buffalo meat is tender. It has little or no marbling or outside fat, so only a small amount of juice is lost when it is cooked.”

Another good thing about carabeef: the meat is produced with fewer hormones or antibiotics. “Carabaos are not raised in mass and are not fed in feedlot such as that done in cattle. Carabaos are raised mainly out of nature’s fodder and grain,” the PCC explains.

Another plus factor: “Carabeef is nutrient-dense or concentrated,” said Alo. “It does not shrink in cooling and only a little of it is needed to satisfy a person. This quality makes it a suitable ingredient in locally produced corned beef and comminuted products such as longanisa, hotdogs, bologna and chorizos.”

Carabao is equally important for its hide. In the Philippines, people consume a lot of chicharon made of carabao hide, kare-kare, which is partly skin of the animal, and a favorite pulutan, softened thin slices of hide spiced heavily with ginger, onion and red pepper.

Carabao manure is also of economic importance. It’s a good organic fertilizer, containing 18.5 % nitrogen, 43.7 % phosphoric acid, and 9.6 % potash. It’s also a good source of fuel either as dried dung, or in generating biogas or methane. When mixed with clay, the dung serves as building material or as plaster on the ground where palay is threshed.

The carabao is considered a national symbol of the Philippines. In fact, a national daily newspaper is using the carabao as its mascot. Also in May, a festival is observed in honor of this animal. At the Carabao Festival, the animals are washed and decorated with ribbons and flowers. After the carabao race, the animals are paraded in front of the local church, where they are made to kneel down to be blessed.

In 1992, the carabao finally gets the respect it deserves when the Philip
pine Carabao Act was enacted. The RA 7307, which was authored by then senator Joseph Estrada, was implemented in 1993. The law created Philippine Carabao Center (PCC), which is mandated to conserve, propagate, and promote the carabaos as a source of draft power, meat, milk and hide for the benefit of small farmers.

“Since its establishment in April 1993 as an agency attached to the Department of Agriculture, the PCC has vigorously pursued buffalo sector development, promoting genetic improvement not only for draft animals but more importantly for milk and meat,” said PCC head Libertado C. Cruz. “These efforts should lead to the establishment of a buffalo-based enterprise that would have significant implications for improving the income and nutrition of the majority of rural farming families in the Philippines.


Livestock : Introducing Dairying - The Cavite Experience Using Buffalo
With the Carabao or Buffalo as a source of milk, the introduction of dairying in the Philippines is like an attempt to introduce dairying in a foreign land, as the carabao in many places was never used as a dairy animal.

The numerous experiences of the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) indicate that with strong determination, farmers who see the bright prospects of carabao dairying have persevered and succeeded.

In Cavite, introduction of dairying started with the “impact zone concept.” It was developed by PCC wherein all the necessary elements needed are put in place to ensure the development of a dairy buffalo enterprise, says Dr. Arnel del Barrio, center director of PCC at UP Los Banos. At first, it was like a dream envisioning a dairy enterprise in Cavite where only a few farmers knew about dairying and had a meager number of dairy animals.

Likewise, no clear-cut livestock program in the municipalities was being implemented to initiate or develop a dairy industry. Only inventories of native carabao and cattle serving as breeding base for draft and meat production, respectively, were at hand.

In August 1997, PCC at UPLB prepared a program proposal titled “Carabao Development Program” (CDP) with the objective of developing a dairy enterprise in Imus, General Trias, Tanza, Dasmarinas, and Maragondon. The CDP is a PCC concept that is generic to all PCC Centers.

The program proposal gained support from Cavite local executives, leading to the first meeting of the Cavite impact zone, which was participated in by the municipal agriculturists (MAs) and/or municipal agricultural officers (MAOs) of the six municipalities. The Office of the Provincial Veterinarian (OPV) was instrumental in making the initial progress of the program.

The Imus Dairy Multi-Purpose Cooperative, Inc. was the only existing dairy cooperative at that time. It was a recipient of dairy cattle from then Philippine Dairy Corporation (PDC), now the National Dairy Authority. Around 20 participants attended the meeting.

Looking back, Dr. del Barrio said the convergence of programs, manpower, and technical support brought the dairy program in motion. A series of briefings about the program for LGUs, as well as orientation seminars and meetings for the farmers were done to disseminate and promote the dairy program.

Massive upgrading of native carabaos became the main activity. It was initially led by PCC technicians and was continued later by LGU technicians. Early on, Al (artificial insemination) technicians of PCC performed estrus synchronization and artificial insemination (ES/Al) in the six municipalities to produce a significant number of crossbreds, which are considered better dairy animals than the native carabao.

“It was a slow process because of the low pregnancy rate but it was the only available option at that time,” Dr. del Barrio reminisced.

The bull loan program was implemented later in 2000, with the awarding of six bulls in the six municipalities. As this article is being written, the province already has 36 purebred Murrah breeding bulls.

Moreover, the 25-cow dairy module was awarded to the Imus Dairy Multipurpose Cooperative, Inc. while a special dairy module was loaned to the Naic Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative, Inc. to showcase a dairy buffalo enterprise.

“The dairy modules, bull loan, and AI program collectively pushed the dairy program faster, which farmers and program proponents appreciated,” Dr. del Barrio quipped when asked what determined the success of the program.

Coupled with that, regular quarterly meetings were conducted to discuss dairy program accomplishments, problems encountered, and the recommended solutions. The local government units, Office of the Provincial Veterinarian and PCC at UPLB rotated in hosting of the meetings, and this practice proved that convergence worked well for dairy.

Due to the limited supply of and high demand for buffalo milk in Cavite, the price of raw milk has become abnormally high at P60 to P70 per liter. Thus, a dairy farmer can now easily earn P16,000 to P18,000 from his native carabao per lactation. With the crossbreds, however, the income can be as high as P60,000 per lactation.

Aside from raw milk, white cheese, or kasilyo, as it is locally called, is a favorite dairy product from buffalo milk. This trend encouraged farmers to impregnate their native carabaos with Murrah buffalo, thus shifting the use of carabao from draft to milk production. Some farmers even converted their rice lands to pasture areas to accommodate more buffalos for dairy production.

With the presence of the right animal, receptive farmers and cooperatives, as well as collaborative and supportive partners, this profit-driven program led the carabao owners to engage in dairying and organize into cooperatives.

In late 2004, the General Trias Dairy Raisers’ Cooperative (GTDRC) was organized followed by the Tanza Dairy Multi-purpose Cooperative (TDMC) in 2005.

GTDRC was initially composed of 44 members that boldly established a “kitchen-type dairy processing center”, which produced various products like fresh milk, flavored milk, white cheese, pastillas de leche, yogurt, and yema. Their products found a niche market in Tagaytay City, which is frequented by tourists.

The GTDRC eventually became a recipient of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) project and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of Representative Gilbert Remulla. Both provided funds for the purchase of dairy buffaloes and processing equipment.

The cooperative also recently availed of a grant from the Cavite provincial government for the purchase of a jeep as well as a motorcycle loan package from PCC. Both vehicles are being used for milk collection and product marketing. Tanza and Imus farmers likewise benefited from the PDAF fund.

The TDMC is slowly but surely building up a herd for dairy production. Other municipalities covered by the impact zone like Dasmarinas, Maragondon, and Naic are slowly making their way to develop their dairy industry. The pace is dictated by the aggressiveness of local executives in pushing the program and farmers’ receptivity to change.

A dream envisioned 10 years ago has now become a reality. “It happened because there are people who have worked together for a common cause to help smallholder farmers improve their livelihood through the buffalo dairy enterprise,” said Dr. del Barrio.

Looking into the future, he added: “The challenge ahead is to maintain product quality and find more niche markets for buffalo dairy products.”

In a quarterly meeting held last August 2007, the once 20 attendees 10 years ago have grown to more than 100 stakeholders composed of national agencies (PCC, NDA, BAI, DA-RFUs, DTI, and ATI), provincial and municipal LGUs, dairy cooperatives, private sectors, and farmers.

To the various stakeholders, their slogan has become “ANG GATAS AY BUHAY. .. AT HANAPBUHAY (Milk is life … and an occupation)”. This will guide them to continue nurturing the program that has touched the lives of smallholder farmers

any idea how much is the murrah buffalo? I think carabao is more viable dairy option because of adaptability to tropical climate and parasite resistance.If the PCC could provide affordable purebred or halfbred animal, the dairy industry will become more appealing.

hi sir...
    good day to you sir...i just want to know,they say that carabao are silent heater?is it true?if it so,how can we determine if shes in heat,was there any sign,are they seasonal breeder?how long it will take to have its reheat after calving?and how long is the gestation cycle of a carabao..thank you sir....

There are some that are silent heaters. SIgns may include swelling of vulva, mounting others,restlessness etc. almost same with pigs.
Seasonal breeders? they can be breed year round as long as they are in heat. The cycle is every 21 days. After calving the earliest you can breed the animal is around 60 days from calving.

 And it would take around 9 months before it would calve. some books would say 9-11 months gestation


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