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Chapter six
Milking buffalo
V.D. Mudgal

Milk production
Socio-economic impact
Erosion of genetic resources and breeding
Feeding buffalo
Buffalo management
Multiple ovulation and embryo transfer technology


The world population of buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) has been estimated at over 140 million head (FAO 1991). Of these, 97 per cent are found in Asia and the Pacific region, mainly in India (75 million), China (21 million), Pakistan (14 million) and Thailand (6 million). About 98 per cent of buffalo in the region are raised by small farmers owning less than two hectares of land and less than five buffalo. The buffalo originated in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, thrived throughout Asia and became a symbol of life, religion and endurance. Water buffalo were in the service of humans as early as 2500-2100 BC. Buffalo have been classified into two distinct classes: swamp and river (Mudgal 1992).

The swamp buffalo of China, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Burma (Myamar), Laos, Sri Lanka, Kampuchea and Malaysia, are mainly used as draught animals particularly in rice cultivation. Very few swamp buffalo are reared for milk because they only produce 1.0 to 1.5 litres of milk per day. In contrast, the riverine breeds of the Indian sub-continent are mainly raised for milk production since they yield six to seven litres of milk daily.

Milk production

Buffalo are the second largest source of milk supply. Of the 38.5 million tons of world milk production, India produces 23.6 million and Pakistan 10.5 million tons (FAO 1991, Table 6.1). While the world cattle population over the last 18 years has risen by less than one per cent per year, the buffalo population has gone up by two per cent per year, with higher rises in India (3.5 per cent), Pakistan (5.4 per cent), China (3.7 per cent), Vietnam (4.8 per cent) and Nepal (2.0 per cent). The higher population growth rate of buffalo can be attributed to better conversion efficiency compared to the local cattle. Ninety-five per cent of India's milk is produced from bovine diets based on crop residues like wheat straw, paddy straw, maize and millet stovers, supplemented with concentrates made out of agricultural by-products such as, oil cakes, rice polish and molasses. In India buffalo account for 33 per cent of the milk animal population and 45 per cent of milk.

Table 6.1. Buffalo milk production (unit: 1000 tonnes).






Average annual growth rate1980-90 (%)

























































Sri Lanka





















Twelve of the 18 major breeds of buffalo are kept primarily for milk production. The main milk breeds of India and Pakistan are the Murrah, Nili-Ravi, Surti, Mehsana, Nagpuri and Jafarabadi. Buffalo are used for milk production in, Egypt, Eastern Europe, Italy, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Brazil.

Buffalo of the Indian Sub-continent have been grouped into the following five distinct groups:

1. Murrah Group: Comprises Murrah, Niti-Ravi and Kundi : Niti-Ravi and Kundi have their home tract in Pakistan. The former is also found in Indian Punjab along the border with Pakistan. The new breed Godavari is a cross between the local buffalo of coastal Andhra Pradesh and Murrah.

2. Gujrat Group: Surti, Jaffarabadi and Mehsana. The Mehsana has been developed from crosses between Murrah and Surti.

3. Uttar Pradesh Group: Bhadawari and Tarai.

4. Central India Group: Nagpuri, Pandharpuri, Manda, Jerangi, Kalhandi and Sambalpuri.

5. South India Group: Toda and South Kanara.

The overall production performance of buffalo in Pakistan is presented in Table 6.2

Table 6.2. Production performance of buffalo in Pakistan.










Body weight (kg)          












Age at first calving (months)






Weight at first calving (kg)






Lactation length (days)






Lactation yield (l)






Dry period (days)






The production performance of two herds of Murrah buffalo in India is presented in Table 6.3. Age at first calving ranges from 54.6 months (Chhikara et al 1978) to 39.9 months (Bhadula and Desai 1973) in Murrah buffalo. The first lactation performance, service period and calving Intervals are presented in Tables 6.4 and 6.5, respectively.

Table 6.3. Production performance of Murrah buffalo.

Murrah, NDRI, Karnal 1995-96

Murrah CIRB, Hisar 1987

Calving (months)



Total milk yield/ lactation (kg)



305 days of less milk yield (kg)



Lactation length (days)



Dry period (days)



Service period (days)



Calving Interval (days)



The Indian diet is mainly vegetarian and people relish the hot thick creamy milk for their breakfast associated with higher fat content (Table 6.6).

Table 6.4. First lactation performance of different breeds (Mudgal and Sethi 1989).

Lactation milk yield (kg)

Lactation length (days)

Calving interval



296± 3.2


















Nili Ravi (Pakistan)





Table 6.5. Average service and dry period and calving interval in different riverene buffalo.


Service period

Dry period

Calving interval


142± 7



































1. Basu et al (1978); 2. Gurnani et al (1976); 3. Lall (1975);
4. Singh and Desai (1962); 5. Belorkar et al (1977);
6. Deb and Kadu (1977); 7. Siddappa and Gani (1976);
8. Chaudhary and Ahmed (1978).

They also enjoy the curd, butter milk and sweet meats prepared from buffalo milk. Buffalo milk has higher fat, protein and vitamins. Buffalo milk has less cholesterol and more tocopherol, which is a natural anti-oxidant. The peroxidase activity in buffalo milk is 2 to 4 times higher than cows milk which accounts for the higher natural preservability of buffalo milk. Buffalo milk is richer in calcium and phosphorus and lower in sodium and potassium than cow milk. It is not feasible to segregate cow and buffalo milk and collect them separately in countries where the ratio of production of buffalo milk to cow milk is high and the size of animal holding is small.

Socio-economic impact

In a study in Punjab (India), a predominantly buffalo area, it was noted that milk production was apparently the greatest component of economic change of the lower strata of the farming community, while income from the sale of milk constituted 25 per cent of the total farm income in Punjab. This income also corrects the negative income balances from general farming particularly for marginal and small farmers. Hence milk production is apparently the largest component of economic change in the lower section of the farming community.

Table 6.6. Typical composition of buffalo milk and cow milk (Anon 1995).



Total solids (%)



Fat (%)



Protein (%)



Lactose (%)



Tocopherol (mg/g)



Cholesterol (mg/g)



Calcium (mg/100 g)



Phosphorus (mg/100 g)



Magnesium (mg/100 g)



Potassium (mg/100 mg)



Sodium (mg/100 g)



Vitamin A (incl. Carotene) IU.



Vitamin C (mg/100 g)



Erosion of genetic resources and breeding

Crossbreeding among riverine breeds: Crossing/grading of Surti in Gujrat (India) and of local buffalo in coastal Andhra Pradesh with Murrah resulted in the evolution of Mehsana and Godavari breeds respectively. The crossbreeds involving Murrah and Surti had a lower age at first calving, shorter dry period and shorter intercalving period than both the parents.

Crossbreeding between riverine and Swamp buffalo in the Philippines, resulted in 100 per cent higher weight at one year for crossbred raised in confinement and 40 per cent under range management conditions. Milk yield in crossbreeds averaged 1300 litres compared to 500 litres in the Swamp buffalo. There was little difference in draught capacities.

Buffalo have been bred to pull loads greater than three times their body weight while also producing milk (Acharya and Bhat 1989). These loads can be pulled for two to three hours continuously and for six to eight hours a day during winter and five to six hours during summer with rest pauses in between. Working buffalo increases heart rate, respiratory activity, body temperature and plasma volume and develops a mild alkalosis. Milk production can be maintained when buffalo cows were fed and managed adequately although it is compromised under hot environmental conditions.

In the Indian sub-continent the high producing milk buffalo are brought from their breeding tracts to metropolitan cities and after completion of lactation, they are slaughtered. Similarly younger and heavier males in some South east Asian countries, because of higher demand for meat for internal consumption and export, are slaughtered, resulting in the loss of valuable germ plasm. The Haryana Government (the home tract of Murrah buffalo) in India have banned the export of Murrah buffalo from the state till they leave behind one or two calves in the home tract. Salvation of this high producing genetic material could occur by collecting their ovaries after slaughter, allowing for oocyte maturation and in vitro fertilisation and transplanting such embryos into low producing surrogate mothers.

Feeding buffalo

Buffalo digest feeds more efficiently than cattle, particularly when feeds are of poor quality and high in cellulose (Punj et al 1968; Ichhponani et al 1971 a and b; Ludri and Razdan 1980). One study revealed that digestibility of wheat straw cellulose was 24.3 per cent for cattle and 30.7 per cent for buffalo. The figures for berseem (Trifolium alexandrinum) cellulose was 34.6 per cent for cattle and 52.2 per cent for buffalo (Sharma and Mudgal 1966; Ichhponani and Sidhu 1966). In another trial, the digestion of straw fibre was 64.7 per cent in cattle and 79.8 per cent in buffalo (Sebastian et al 1970). Other nutrients reported to be more highly digested in buffalo than Zebu cattle were crude fat, calcium, phosphorus and non-protein nitrogen (NPN). Similar results have been reported from Pakistan (McDowell et al 1990).

The buffalo's success in using poor quality forages is related to:

Pradhen et al (1991) reported that irrespective of the source, buffalo have a higher capacity to digest dietary crude protein and crude fibre than cattle. This has been attributed to the lower feed intake and fasting heat production (68.4 kcal/unit W0.75) than crossbred cattle (81.6 kcal/unit w0.75). Higher fibre digestion in buffalo may be due to a narrow calorie protein ratio, which is better suited to proliferation of ruminal cellulolytic microbes, than those by cattle. The additional causes for better conversion of feed in buffalo may be attributed to longer retention of feed in the digestive tract, favourable rumen conditions for NH3 utilisation, less depression of cellulose digestibility by soluble carbohydrates, higher capacity to handle the stressful environment, and a wide range of grazing preferences. In a study by Lal et al (1987), buffalo did not differ from crossbred cattle in respect to energy digestion, though these differences existed with regards to buffalo and exotic cattle. However, Agarwal et al (1990) reported higher efficiency of conversion of nutrients from feeds such as berseem, oats, maize and sorghum, to milk in crossbred cows than buffalo. This is contrary to those reported by Mudgal (1988) when straw based diet was fed to ruminant species which may be attributed to the higher activity of cellulase in buffalo (399) than cattle (300 ug sugar/mg protein) fed on a high fibre diet. However, other microbial intracellular enzyme profiles responsible for proteo-synthetic activities remain identical in cattle and buffalo on the same diet. Activities of animo-transferases and synthetases vary due to the dietary fibre and protein sources (Pradhan et al 1991).

Microbial populations in the rumen of cattle and buffalo have been compared. In general, protozoal counts were significantly higher (P<0.05) in buffalo than in cattle fed on straw and varied protein supplements. The conspicuous absence of only Diplodinium cristagalli in cattle and Qphryoslex purkynei and Epidinium ecandatum in buffalo was detected. Minimum distribution was observed in Eudiplodinium and metadinium in both species, while the occurrence of Entodinium was most predominant. Buffalo exhibited higher amounts of rumen amylolytic bacteria than cattle fed on groundnut cake as a protein supplement, but this difference vanished when another protein supplement (sesame meal) was used. Buffalo had a higher cellulolytic bacterial population in the rumen (6.86 x 108/ml) than in cattle (2.58 x 108/ml) when maintained on wheat straw and concentrate mixture. In recent studies Chhabra et al (1998) confirmed the total viable counts and the proportion of cellulolytic amylolytic and proteolytic bacteria was higher in buffalo compared to cattle. The berseem fed rumen (cattle) showed highest cellulolytic counts in cattle, whereas sorghum fed buffalo rumen recorded a higher count compared to cattle.

Since buffalo have a higher capacity to digest fibrous feeds such as straws, which are deficient in nitrogen content, various studies have shown that the NPN supplementation such as urea and biuret is utilised in buffalo in a better way than cattle. Biuret was found to be superior to urea in both the species and dry matter intake and nutrient digestibility were higher in buffalo than cattle, irrespective of NPN supplement and their level (Mudgal et al 1983). Sharma and Mudgal (1981) reported that incorporation of two and three per cent urea in the concentrate mixture of lactating zebu cattle and buffalo, fed on a wheat straw based diet did not affect dry matter intake/kg w0.75 however, nutrient digestion was significantly higher (P<0.01) in buffalo than cattle. The level of urea did not influence the fibre digestibility and milk yield in both the species but milk fat and protein content were increased following the feeding of urea.

Feeding strategies

In South Asia, limited grazing, tethering and cut-and-carry feeding are more common. The principle aim of this process is to make available those nutrients which buffalo lack due to limited access to grazing. The reverse is true throughout most parts of South East Asia where buffalo derive most of their nutrient needs for maintenance and production from grazing approximately six to eight hours per day. They may also be fed with limited supplements in the evening such as cereal straws and cakes (coconut cake or groundnut cake), brans (rice and wheat) or leguminous forages (Leucaena leucocephala, Gliricidia maculate and Manihot esculenta Crantz) and salt.

In South Asia chronic annual feed shortages for animals and under-nutrition are common. However, there has been a significant trend towards reduced feed deficits, which is probably reflective of improved feeding systems, more efficient use of all available feeds and increasingly intensive systems of production. Further opportunities exist for reducing this feed deficit through more intensive use of non-conventional feed resources (Devendra 1988; Mudgal 1990).

By comparison, the annual availability of feed for ruminants is generally inadequate in most countries in humid South East Asia, such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the Philippines. In these situations, feeding strategies could be more selective, and use a variety of traditional feeds such as Guinea (Panicum maximum) or Napier (Pennisetum purpureum) grasses, agro-industrial by-products or a variety of shrubs and tree legumes.

The main concept promoted under the National Dairy Development Board's `Operation Flood' for improvement of feeding systems in India is optimal utilisation of available feed resources. Considering that the major feed resource in India is cereal straws and that the nutritive value of straw can be increased considerably through supplementation with concentrate, green fodder and some special supplementation, such as urea molasses blocks, emphasis has been placed on both cattle feed and green fodder production. Efforts have also been made to improve utilisation of straws through direct treatment of straws.

By the end of March 1990, there were 40 cattle feed plants with a total capacity of 4305 MT per day. The sale of cattle feed per litre of milk procured during 1989-90 was 205 g/l (Kurup 1990). Seventeen plants also produced bypass protein feed which formed about 18 per cent of total cattle feed production. In addition, eight urea molasses block plants have been established. These plants in 1989-90 produced and sold 407 MT of urea molasses blocks. Village demonstrations (3106) on straw treatment were also carried out. Improved fodder seeds, fodder demonstrations, and mini-kit distribution have been implemented under Operation Flood III. The programme does not distinguish between cattle and buffalo dairy enterprises.

Special aspects of feeding of milk buffalo

Milk of the buffalo is richer in fat and solids-not-fat, creating higher nutrient requirements. If a high producing buffalo is giving 25 kg of milk, it may require 64.8 Mcal of ME per day for milk production alone. This may be about two to three times its requirements for maintenance. To satisfy energy requirements a buffalo producing 25 kg of milk would require 16 to 17 kg of dry matter per day. As a general rule, the maximum daily intake of dry buffalo does not exceed two per cent of their live weight or 11.0 kg dry matter per 550 kg body weight. High yielding buffalo are therefore often unable to eat enough to satisfy their requirements for energy, particularly if the energy concentration of their diet is low.

It has become clear that maintenance requirements do not remain the same in dry and lactating buffalo as was assumed earlier. Recent studies have revealed that during lactation, heat production in an animal of 550 kg body weight is increased by over 2000 kilocalories per day. Therefore, for high producing buffalo to meet energy requirements, higher levels of intake are required. Also, when the level of intake increases it depresses the digestibility and ultimately metabolisable energy available to the animal because conversion into milk is less than the calculated value. Under such circumstances concentrate feeding is introduced because the high energy requirements cannot be met only by fodder.

The higher feed intake and greater transformation of digested organic matter in intermediary metabolism by lactating as opposed to non-lactating buffalo is responsible for higher maintenance energy requirements for lactating buffalo. The dairy buffalo which has higher basal metabolism during lactation will need more energy for maintenance than the dry buffalo. Thus provision of energy for maintenance in dairy cows and buffalo should be liberal (Holmes and Jones 1965; Patle and Mudgal 1977; Mudgal 1991). Moreover, in high producing animals, there is pressure to produce a greater quantity of milk. Feeding high fibre diets may add further stress in chewing, ruminating digestion. Concentrates are important in this situation.

From the studies conducted at NDDB, it has been found that when 30 per cent of requirements were given through concentrate to Surti buffalo, along with ad lib urea molasses lick and straw, milk production of 5.65 kg/day was maintained. However, the animals lost 455 g in body weight per day. On the other hand, when the concentrate level was increased to 70 per cent, Surti buffalo produced 6.27 kg milk per day and gained 246 g body weight per day (Kunju 1988). Urea molasses lick supplementation maintained milk production in both Jersey and crossbred cows without the loss of body weight at 50 per cent reduction of green fodder dry matter and ad lib feeding of rice straw. The reduction of 30 per cent concentrate or 50 per cent green fodder with sustained milk production when urea molasses lick supplemented diets of buffalo decreases, costs of production.

Buffalo management

Irrespective of breed, season or time of day, body temperature, respiration rate and pulse rate of buffalo in the shade is lower than that of cattle. These physiological differences often lead to buffalo being incorrectly considered to have a better heat regulatory mechanism.

Management methods to ameliorate adverse effects of physical environment


Housing needs to be very simple, because the winter is mild and the rain fall medium, with severe heat in the summer. Such a climate calls for open structures allowing plenty of air movement to keep heat stress to a minimum. A system of loose housing is best for these conditions and also saves on labour. A system for a herd of 20 cows was devised at the National Dairy Research Institute Karnal. This consists of a roofed shed 40'x15' (about 12.5 m x 4.5 m), along the 40' length on one side is a 2.5' (0.75 m) wide manger, with a water trough at one end. The remaining 12' (3.75 m) of the 15 ft (4.5 m) covered space is concreted and slopes away from the manger. There is an open paved area behind measuring 40'x35' (12.5 m x 10.75m) surrounded by a 5' (1.5m) wall with a gate (Sundaresan 1973).

Wallowing and bathing

Buffalo like to wallow in fresh water in herds. In hot weather, perhaps due to their thick subcutaneous fat layer and less developed sweat glands, buffalo are more comfortable while wallowing. Even sprinkling of water or showering and splashing makes buffalo comfortable. Wallowing buffalo seek out rivers, ponds and other waters in groups of five to ten animals clustered together. When sufficient water is not available particularly in the summer months, they lie in the mud to keep their body cool.

Wallowing tanks should be provided on large farms and animals in small numbers should be washed or showered once or twice a day. Various thermal ameliorative measures that have been tried include wallowing, mud plastering, sprinkling, splashing, body wetting with small quantities of water and providing cool drinking water (Pandey and Raizada 1979). Simple body wetting two to three times during the hottest part of the day was found to keep buffalo in a reasonably comfortable condition as judged by their physiological reactions (Sastry and Tripathi 1988).

Summer sub-fertility

Despite the evidence of some intrinsic hormonal constraints in the buffalo (Madan 1987), the problem of long intercalving periods seems to be due to environmental factors, and can be controlled by the farmer (Sastry and Tripathi 1988). Bhat et al (1983) observed that buffalo cows continue to come in heat regularly in all months, the highest incidence being after a period of wet season feeding. However, conception rates at this time are lower due to poor semen quality of buffalo bulls. Buffalo protected from high ambient temperature and direct solar radiation, and with adequate nutrition, show higher reproductive performance (Acharya and Bhat 1989). Management practices involving provision of shade and application of water to the skin surface reducing the adverse effects of a hot environment and improving estral expressivity and thus reducing seasonality of breeding, should be adopted. In addition, low levels of nutrition appeared to increase the length of the oestrus cycle.

The summer management practices desirable for improving the reproductive performance of buffalo cows includes:

Protection against thermal stress:

Multiple ovulation and embryo transfer technology

Multiple ovulation and embryo transfer (MOET) in buffalo is still in the initial stages of experimentation. Whether or not embryo transfer is appropriate and worth while as a technological tool in buffalo reproduction improvement is difficult to appraise at the present stage of development. The initial success of Drost et al (1983) in the United States, who pioneered application of the technology in buffalo, was soon followed with the successful birth of buffalo calves in Bulgaria and in India by Madan (1989). In view of the poor knowledge concerning the reproductive physiology and endocrinology of buffalo, embryo transfer can be instrumental in opening the way to a more accurate understanding of numerous unknown aspects of reproduction. Information concerning superovulation response, recovery rate of embryos and their quality vis-à-vis the endocrine picture of both super-ovulated and normal cyclic animals, needs to be generated for a better understanding of reproduction and development of MOET in buffalo.

So far the embryo recovery rate is only 1.16 embryos per donor with a conception rate of 14 per cent. MOET in Swamp buffalo under tropical conditions suffers from many constraints such as, detecting and regulating oestrus, setting a date for multiple ovulation and insemination, collecting embryos and finding appropriate recipients. Therefore, there is an urgent need to study the causes of the low MOET success rate in buffalo. The possibilities of single ovulation and embryo transfer (SOET) in non-superovulated buffalo needs further exploration (Singla and Madan 1990). Therefore, in developing countries where few infrastructural facilities for effective progeny testing programs under field conditions exist the MOET nucleus scheme can prove to be a useful alternative for production and evaluation of young bulls in organised /institutional herds, although this is not a smallholder technology.

FAO conferences in New Delhi, India (1988) and Varna, Bulgaria (1991) concluded that, reproduction is the major limiting factor in improving buffalo productivity. The late age at first calving, longer post-partum oestrus interval and consequently longer calving intervals, problems of detection of oestrus and poor conception rates, particularly from frozen semen are some of the problems resulting in poor reproductive performance in buffalo. There are still problems in the implementation of MOET in buffalo. A need exists for a network program with India, Pakistan, Egypt, Bulgaria, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Philippines, Thailand, China and Indonesia, with a focus on milking buffalo.


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Milking buffalo

Nili–Ravi buffalo

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