Friday, August 24, 2012

The Beauty of the Beast

Beating hot summer, Agoo, La Union

Carabao herd, San Marcelino, Zambales

Detail of mural, Life on the Farm

Dell H. Grecia*
Women’s Journal
Backyard Ventures

Don’t underestimate the lowly carabao. In this country where modernization remains a distant dream, the carabao is still nature’s most efficient farm machine.

How much do we really know about the water buffalo or carabao?

The carabao is nature’s most efficient farm machine, capable of providing food, articles of trade and services. It requires little maintenance and depreciates very slowly. It also adds aesthetic value to the rural landscape.

Three factors are responsible for our renewed interest in the water buffalo. These are: 1) the worsening oil crisis; 2) the growing ecological concern; 3) the increasing demand for natural food.

Undoubtedly, the carabao is not only a beast of burden, but also a beast of hope in the Third World.

What about Mindoro’s tamaraw?

The tamaraw, or Anoa Mindorensis, is a related species as it belongs to the same family. Other off-lineages are the Anao depressionis of Sulawesi, Indonesia, and the seros or Capricornis sumatraensis of Sumatra.

There are only around 100 million heads of water buffaloes in existence today in 38 countries, mainly in the Asian region with India and China accounting to seventy percent of the population. We have around two million heads in the Philippines, 99.5 percent is raised in the backyard, according to the Philippine Carabao Research and Training Center. 

But just how important is the buffalo as a draft animal? Until recently 50 percent of the total available agricultural power in Asia is supplied by animals - most of which are water buffaloes.

Beef vs. Carabeef

The carabeef of a two-year-old animal is even better in chemical and nutritional value than beef. As for the taste, carabeef, provided they came from animals of the same age and raised on the same feeds, have similar qualities, including tenderness, flavor juiciness and general taste.

I also learned that the apparent aversion to carabeef is caused by the fact that nearly all carabaos slaughtered for meat are tired animals, which have fibrous meat with low nutritional value.

Better Than Dairy Cattle

Buffaloes have a longer lactation period, and produce a greater percentage of milk (over 2,700 kg per lactation) with higher fat content. In addition, they also have a much longer productive life. However, buffaloes have longer dry and gestation periods. They tend to be older at first calving, and have no longer calving intervals. These, among other factors, cause raisers to prefer dairy cattle to buffaloes.

Richer Than Dairy Cow’s Milk

Buffalo milk is richer in all major nutrients, which is important in creaming. Philippine carabao’s milk contains 9.65 percent fat (4.5 percent higher than Jersey’s cow’s milk), 5.26 percent protein, 4.24 percent total solids, 0.083 percent chloride, 0.216 percent calcium, and 0.177 percent phosphorous. Philippine carabaos also produce a higher fat and total solid content than any other domesticated buffaloes.

Our local soft white cheese is made from carabao’s milk. Local cheese is made in many parts of the world where buffaloes and cattle are raised. Laguna and Batangas are the country’s leading white cheese makers.

There are two cheese- making methods: one is the traditional method, which produces inferior cheese with low quality: the other is the improved method, which was developed by the University of the Philippines Los  Banos (UPLB). With the latter, both yield and keeping quality have been improved. One study even showed that the quality of white cheese produced through the UPLB method is comparable to that of European cheese.

More Notes on the Carabao

India exports millions of dollars worth of buffalo hide yearly. Next to jute and cotton, buffalo hide is the third largest industry in Pakistan. The U.S., UK, Yugoslavia, Italy and Australia are the major markets for buffalo hide, which is used in all types of heavy leather manufacturing- from belts to upholstery, and recently, even fashion articles.

Filipinos, on the other hand, love chicharon, a delicacy made from carabao hide, and kare-kare, which also contains buffalo skin.

Buffalo hair is also made into industry brushes and paintbrushes used by artists.

Promotes Ecological Balance

Raising water buffaloes likewise helps in maintaining ecological balance. For one, the mud in which they wallow serves as the habitat of useful organisms like edible snails, frogs, mudfish and shrimps. When the monsoon rains come, the population of these organisms increase, to the delight of farmers who depend on them for food.

Secondly, buffaloes also serve as agents-biological machines- that recycle farm waste and residues.

The excreta of the buffaloes are 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 for generating biogas.

Thirdly, it can be mixed with clay as a building material or as plaster for the ground where palay is threshed. When mixed with clay, it is excellent for sealing jars and other earthen containers.

When I was in Pakistan to attend a convention, along with half a dozen other Filipino agricultural journalists, I observed that houses in the countryside were made of a mixture of animal dung and clay.

Raising the Beast

Buffaloes, like cattle, can be raised in the ranch. In fact, there are now carabao ranches in the Philippines housing around 500 heads.

Buffaloes can also be raised by small farmers principally for meat and milk. An individual farmer can raise 10  fattening steers as year by planting good forage in an irrigated area and can make as much money from these as a successful rice farmer does. Raising carabaos is the perfect companion industry for rice farming, as water power, meat, milk, and organic fertilizer.


The sight of the carabaos reminds me of my farming days, back when I was studying at the Central Luzon Agricultural School (now Central Luzon State University) in Munoz, nueva ecija. And then, during the Japanese time, my father and I tilled our two-hectare farm in Balabag, Pavia, Iloilo.

When I was in agricultural vocational school, my group mates and I were lent a male crossbred buffalo (native bred with India Buffalo) to use in farming. (Second-and third-year students were required to complete a two-year rice farming activity, so we had to devote half a day to our farm work and the rest of the day to studying.) The buffalo assigned to us was docile and industrious- it could work rain or shine. We also saw to it that he was fed well, and we let him wallow in the mud.

After the two-year farming period, we found that parting from the animal was difficult, as we had learned to love him, and we felt that he, too, loved us back.

As for our harvest, the school bought them all, and the money was immediately deposited in our student bank to withdrawn once we graduated, so we had money for capital or for college education.

In our Iloilo farm, our male carabao was also a hardworking one. He was adept at plowing, especially in making straight rows, and in intertillaging, when plants-especially corn-needed tillaging.

One day, I was riding on the back of our carabao on my way to our farm. While crossing the lake, the animal got scared of something and suddenly stopped, tossing me, head first, into the muddy part of the lake. I could have drowned if it were it not for Ising, a cousin who happened to pass by.

My anger at the animal was short lived, though. I forgave him, and enjoyed many more journeys with it.~ ~

Acknowledgment: In memory of the late Dell H Grecia, long time friend of the author; Living with Nature in Our Times, 2006 UST Publishing House

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