Thursday, March 31, 2011

Philippine Carabao - a Threatened Species

Typical Philippine carabao

Beating the summer heat. Agoo, La Union

The oil and food crisis revived much interest about the lowly water buffalo that nearly relinquished its old-age role to agricultural modernization. Although the animal still serves as a beast of burden on the farm, the fact is that it is now a threatened species in many parts of the world.

As a work animal it is efficient, it requires little maintenance, and depreciates slowly. As a biological unit, it is capable of providing food, articles of trade and services. As an ecological unit, it is key to sustainability in farm production and balance of the ecosystem .

How much do we really know about the water buffalo? Here is a question and answer review:

Q : How is the Asian water buffalo related to the American bison and African buffalo?

A : They are distant relatives although they belong to a common family (Bovidae) and genus (Bos) which also includes the Indian on Zebu cattle, Bali cattle, and all European cattle breeds. Each group has marked characteristics in anatomy, physiology and behavior.

Q : Is cross breeding among these groups possible?
A : Not for water buffaloes which breed strictly within its group (Water buffaloes are grouped under sub-genus Bubalinae. It is known that the other groups can be crossbred with Zebu cattle, and European cattle, bisons and Zebu/European cattle, Bali cattle and European/Zebu cattle.

Q : To what type of water buffalo does the Philippine carabao belong?
A : The Philippine buffalo or carabao, Bubalus carabanesis belongs to the swamp type. Its counterpart, the Indian buffalo, Bubalus bubalis belongs to the river type. It is not indigenous and therefore, is not locally popular.

Q : To what group does the tamaraw belong?
A : The tamaraw, Anoa mindorensis, is a related wild species, and belongs to the same family. Other off-lineages are the Anoa depressionis of Sulawesi (Indonesia) and the seros (Capricornis sumatraensis) of Sumatra.

Q : What colors are water buffaloes distinguished?
A : Buffaloes are predominantly grey, grey-black or normal black. There are however, few white ones or albino. The rarest is the black-and-white which is known to exist only in Toroja, South Sulawesi, which is highly prized for its value in religious offering.

Q : What is the productive life span of a working buffalo?
A : The Philippine carabao is put to continuous work from the age of 4 years up to 15 years, or over.Three females can perform the same work as two males.

Q : How is the draft of buffaloes compared with that of cattle?
A : At 4 to 11 years old male crossbred cattle has a power equivalent to 74 percent that of a 7 to 15 years old male carabao. A native male cattle delivers only 58 percent power. A young 4 to 6 years old male carabao is only half as strong as one twice its age.

Q : Buffaloes feed on low nutritious coarse roughages such as rice straw yet they attain remarkable size and fast growth rate. How do you account for this feat?
A : Surprisingly, they are able to convert low quality rations effectively and live over lengthy periods under conditions unsuitable for other domestic animals. Buffaloes have been found to enjoy high feed conversion efficiency. They have a 5 to 7 percent advantage over Holstein cattle on digestibility coefficients. It is proven that the bacterial count in the rumen of the buffalo especially the large Osillatoria type that aids in digestion, is 10 to 30 times more than in he cow. This is complemented by the longer retention time of the feed thereby further aiding to a more complete digestion.

Q : How long is the gestation of buffaloes and at what age are the calves weaned?
A : 322 days, 40 days more than cattle. Weaning time is 8 to 9 months. Calving interval is 1 1/2 to 2 years, or earlier under a breeding management program.

Q : Is the quality of carabeef is inferior to beef?
A : There is little difference if the slaughtered animals are of the same age.

Q : Buffalo milk is richer than dairy cows' milk. Is this true?
A : True.Buffalo milk is richer in all major nutrients and has much higher total which is important in creaming. Philippine carabao's milk has 9.65 percent fat (4.5 percent higher than Jersey's cow's milk), 5.26 percent protein, 4.24 percent casein, 5.29 percent lactose, 20.36 percent total solids, 0.083 percent chloride, 0.216 percent calcium, and 0.177 percent phosphorous. Philippine carabaos, produce the highest fat and total solids content than any domesticated buffaloes. Local soft white cheese is made from carabao's milk.

Q : How important is the hide of the water buffalo?
A : India and Pakistan are the souces of buffalo hide, while the US, UK, Yugoslavia, Italy and Australia are the major markets. The hide is used for all types of heavy leather manufacture from belts to upholstery, and recently, articles for the fashion world. In the Philippines, we consume a lot of "chicharon" which is made of carabao hide, kare-kare which is partly skin of the animal, and a favorite pulutan called caliente, softened thin slices of hide spiced heavily with ginger, onion and red pepper.

Q : How do carabaos contribute to ecological balance?
A : Firstly, their mud wallows serve as abode of useful organisms including edible snails, frogs, mudfish and shrimps which use them also as aestivating place during summer. When the monsoon rains come, the population of these organisms readily increases to the delight of farmers who depend on them for food. Secondly, they are agents, in fact, biological machine in recycling waste and residues on the farm.

Q : What value has the excreta of the animal?
A : it is a good organic fertilizer containing 18.5 percent nitrogen, 43.7 percent phosphoric acid, and 9.6 percent potash. It is a good source of fuel either as dried dung, or in generating biogas. By the way, per capital solid waste output is 18.8 kg. per day or 6,896 kg. annually. Thirdly, it is mixed with clay as a building material or as a plaster on the ground where palay is threshed.

With the efforts of the Philippine Carabao Research and Training Center based at Central Luzon State University (Muñoz, Nueva Ecija), and its regional and provincial centers, carabao population is expected to increase not only for farm power but for meat and dairy, ecological significance notwithstanding.

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Let us not underestimate this lowly beast of burden. It is Nature's most efficient farm machine capable of providing food, articles of trade and services. It requires little maintenance and depreciates very slow. The carabao generally enjoys perfect health and long productive life. There is some truth in the aphorism that "a sick carabao is a dead carabao". --------------------------------------------------------------------------

The presence of the carabao on Philippine landscape adds aesthetics to rural life. National artist Fernando Amorsolo was fond of portraying the carabao is his paintings of countryside. ~

Reference: Living with Nature in Our Times, by AV Rotor UST

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