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Buffalo Basics

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I am not the author of these notes - just came across them, and think they are pretty good - basic and easily followed. To me they make sense and would appear fairly practical to put into practise. Abbreviations like DM and TDN, DP ect ect ... are easily looked up on the net. If you don;t understand something - ask, will do my best.

The main aims are:

1. compare the characteristics of the digestive physiology and nutrition of the buffalo and the cow, and

2. describe an improved feeding/management package for (in buffalo) enhancing the production of milk and meat (this looks good.

COMPARATIVE DIGESTION AND NUTRITION OF RIVERINE BUFFALOES AND CATTLEThere is no difference in the digestive tract between the buffalo and the cow, the four-pouched stomach and the rest of the gastro-intestinal tract are the same in both species. The rumen in cows and buffaloes is well adapted to utilize the cellulosic matter and the main fermentative compartment proceeds the main site of digestion, allowing the maximal use of fermentation products.

From a functional point of view however, there is a difference between the buffalo and the cow in ability to digest poor quality roughage, e.g. rice straw. The reason for this difference lies in rumen bacterial growth rate between.

Research on comparative digestibility and efficiency of feed utilisation between buffaloes and cows is limited. It has been reported that buffaloes and cows digest concentrates and good quality roughages, like hay, equally well. With poor quality roughages like rice straw however, the buffalo excelled the cow in digesting DM and CF. With regard to the efficiency of feed utilisation for meat production, the buffalo steer calves produced more meat per unit of feed intake than either local breeds or Friesian type breeds.

Research reports indicated the superiority of buffaloes over cows in lignin turnover and that was due to animal size being responsible for greater digestion in buffaloes than cows. The results also show that TDN output/input ratio varied from 6 to 30% and protein output/input ration from 5 to 40%, indicating that buffaloes fed on straw and a grain-based diet were more efficient than cows. With regard to comparative utilization of energy for milk production, it has clearly been shown that maintenance and production requirements were higher in buffaloes than in Brown Swiss x Sahiwal cows, indicating that cows were more efficient in utilizing metabolizable energy for milk production than buffaloes.


Feeding from birth to weaning

A project was started in 1973 and continues at Ain Shams University, Faculty of Agriculture to study the effect of improved feeding management on the performance of buffalo calves during pre-and post-weaning phases of growth. The accumulated results from this project:

In general, to achieve maximum benefits from rearing calves on milk replacers, a package of management is required, namely to feed restricted amounts of replacers (4 kg liquid divided into two meals), to have fresh water available, to avoid using antibiotics in milk replacers, to introduce a mash starter from two weeks, to offer good quality hay leaves ad libitum and to rear calves in a well ventilated barn, always using a dry bed of straw.

Feeding buffalo males for growth

From weaning to about 150 kg body weight, male calves require special attention in formulating rations to promote maximum tissue growth. A highly digestible pelleted starter (70 to 75 % TDN and 15 to 17% DP) is essentially required to achieve about 0.7–0.8 kg ADG. The ration concentrate to roughage ranges between 50:60 or 60:40 on a DM basis, with good quality hay making up at least half of the roughage. Comparable ADG values for buffalo calves at the same age/weight reported in the fifties and sixties were much lower.

Different roughages fed to male calves during growth have shown the superior effect of rice straw, compared to straws. Their results showed that calves required 4.42, 4.68 and 4.80 kg feed DM to produce one kilogram gain.

Rice straw contains more ligno-cellulose bonds and ash than grass straws and its TDN value is less than the other two straw. A possible explanation for better efficiency of utilization by buffalo calves is that the rumen cellulolytic micro-organisms in buffaloes are more capable of breaking these bonds, making hydrolyzed glucose units available for VFA production.

Feeding for fattening of buffalo males

Two fattening practices of male buffalo calves:

1. Fattening from 200 to 350 kg, over a short fattening period of about 4 months, and

2. Fattening from 250 to about 500 kg over a relatively longer period of 10 to 11 months.

The first practice produces relatively juicier meat but the second is the main practice because of its high dressing yields.

The overall ADG during fattening is usually between 800 to 900 g/d, depending on the level of concentrates, being higher with concentrates level in ration over 50 % of the diet in which the main roughage as rice straw. In feedlot fattening, ADG was 800 to 1000 g when the concentrate portion of the ration was 75% and when 1 kg concentrates was offered for each 50 kg live body weight.

Carcass measurements

Although in fattening trials different ratios of concentrates to roughages were used, the dressing percentage ranged from 50 to 60 %, depending on the weight at slaughter, being higher than 52% at slaughter weights above 400 kg. Also, high dressing percentages, meat:bone ratios and carcass-fat are usually associated with high levels of concentrates (Table 1).

Table (1) Dressing and bone-less meat percentages of buffalo calves slaughtered at different weight categories.

Feeding groups*

Item I II III IV V Overall average

Calves slaughtered at 300 kg

Dressing % 53.3 53.5 57.4 50.2 47.1 52.3

Boneless meat % 83.2 81.7 82.8 79.9 81.7 81.8

Calves slaughtered at 400 kg

Dressing % 57.1 54.7 54.1 54.0 57.6 55.5

Boneless meat % 81.2 82.5 82.7 81.9 83.4 82.3

Calves slaughtered at 500 kg

Dressing % 59.8 60.2 59.7 60.6 54.4 59.9

Boneless meat % 79.3 82.1 84.0 83.0 78.2 81.3

* Feeding groups I to V corresponds to levels of Napier grass of 5, 10,15,20 and 25%, respectively on DM basis.

In conclusion, the recommended feeding regime for growing male buffalo calves from 90 to 200 kg live body weight consists of a 50:50 concentrate to roughage ratio on a DM basis. The concentrate portion should be highly digestible pellets containing 65–70% TDN and at least 15% DP, while the roughage portion is made up of 2-cut hay and rice straw (50:50 ratio). Intake in this growing period was calculated as 3% of body weight. For fattening purposes, the rations should contain between 65–80% concentrates.

Feeding of growing/pregnant heifers

Raising of a good buffalo heifer is a prerequisite for achieving a high-yielding buffalo cow. The characteristics of a good heifer in Thailand are to weigh 350–370 kg at 16–18 months of age at which the heifer reaches sexual maturity, exhibit regular oestrus cycles and to be ready for mating in order to deliver her first calf at 27–28 month of age (460 to 480 kg weight).

From weaning to about 180 kg, heifers require the same special attention as was described in feeding males. About 2 kg/100 kg body weight of the pellet starter are required to achieve about 700 g ADG. A typical ration during this growing phase (average weight 125 kg) is composed of 2.5 kg of starter concentrate and 1 kg each of hay and rice straw. Calculated intakes of nutrients in this ration are as follows: DM 4.1 kg, DM % of body weight 3.2, TDN 2.5 kg, DP 0.455 kg, ME/kg W0.75 229 kcal. Reported ME for maintaining buffalo heifers as 188 kcal/kg W0.75, while Arora (1988) reported a value to 206 kcal/kg W0.75 for maintenance and growth.

It has been shown that late-pregnant buffalo heifers need an extra 0.5 kg corn per day, in addition to the previously mentioned requirements. Resumption of cyclic activity post-partum in buffalo cows is influenced by feeding in late pregnancy and early lactation.

Feeding lactating buffalo cows.

On a DM basis, buffalo's milk contains about 41 % of total ingredients as fat and is thus characterized by a relatively high energy content, which should be carefully considered in the ration fed. A standard water buffalo cow weighing 500 kg, in her 3rd lactation, producing 7 kg/d milk for 300 days with average 7% fat requires 2 kg TDN and 400 g DP for maintenance plus 750 g TDN and 80 g DP per kg milk produced.

In Thailand, different concentrates and roughage ingredients are used to make up rations for lactating buffalo cows. Common concentrates which have been examined include cereal grains, cane molasses, cotton-seed cake, soybean, linseed meal and sunflower seed. Common roughages include hay; rice, straw; rice brans; rice hulls and water hyacinth hay or silage.

In practice, a mixture of concentrates (60% TDN, 14% DP) is prepared in a cube form and comprizes yellow corn 23–25%, undecorticated cotton seed cakes 25–40%, wheat bran 10–15%, rice bran 10–15%, sugar cane molasses 3–6% and common salt plus lime stone 1.5%– 2.5%. In winter, the feeding system of dairy buffaloes depends on green berseem and rice straw for dry, non-pregnant or early-pregnant buffalo cows. In summer, on the other hand, hay replaces green grass and green maize is offered as a source of available vitamins.

Several research trials were conducted to evaluate different roughages and concentrates for lactating buffalo cows. The ultimate goal of these trials was to introduce cheaper feed ingredients at maximum rate in the rations. The relatively cheaper roughages, mechanically-treated non-classical roughages like cotton stalks and corn cobs, were sprayed with sugar cane molasses to improve their utilization by lactating buffalo cows. Although hazardous and expensive, NaOH treatment significantly improved the utilisation by lactating buffalo cows of poor quality roughages (rice and wheat straws and cotton stalks). The level of roughages in rations for lactating buffaloes has been generally accepted as 50% of total DM.

Research on the use of cheaper sources of nitrogen indicated that the urea can replace up to 50% of total nitrogen of rations for lactating buffaloes with no adverse effect on milk or fat yield.

The level of concentrates in rations for milk production from buffaloes has a significant effect on milk and fat yields and the efficiency of dietary energy utilization; the results are summarized in Table 2. Their data indicate that the efficiency of dietary utilization for milk production was significantly greater in winter than in summer. The level of 50% concentrates was more efficiently utilized for milk energy or protein but more than 60% concentrates in the ration reduced milk fat.

When intake is equal, the efficiency of utilization of the above feed ingredients for milk production is not different within a class of feedstuff. Several factors affecting feed requirements and utilisation by buffalo cows and indicated that in dry subtropic regions temperature, shade, water requirement and disease are most important factors.

Table 2 Effect of level of concentrate and season on efficiency of dietary energy utilisation for milk production

Feeding season Concentrate level % Net efficiency of use of dietary energy %

Winter 0 65.2

25 68.0

50 67.6

Summer 0 60.2

25 60.9

50 62.0

Feeding bulls for production and draught

Feeding buffalo bulls for production and draught is not common practice in Thailand anymore. For doing some light work and for exercise, 5–6 year old breeding bulls are used on occassion to draw light paddy ploughs. The share of buffaloes in farm work is now calculated as less than 3% of annual working hours regardless of farm size.


The following practices are used in improved management systems in Thailand:

• supplementary minerals and vitamins when animals are consuming dry feeds (summer feeding),

• spraying animals with water twice/d in summer (June-August),

• tethering fattened calves or lactating buffaloes and loose-housing for heifers,

• use of locally available materials for making sheds (the roof for sheds is made of rice straw sandwiched between two light-wood-framed bamboo mats),

• detecting oestrus with the bull twice daily,

• artificial insemination (using fresh semen) 10–12 hrs from the first natural mating,

• using mechanical milking machines, and

• regular (weekly) veterinary checks and assistance of the veterinarian in heifers delivering their first calf.


Research will concentrate on biotechnology aspects such as super ovulation, embryo transfer, hormonal treatments to increase milk production and manipulation of rumen micro-organisms for better utilisation of ligno-cellulosic bonds in high-fibre-containing roughages. With increasing demand for milk and the noticeable decrease in the area of forage every year, there is an urgent need for cross breeding, possibly with a smaller but more productive strain. Otherwise buffaloes could loose ground to the efficient crossbreds from exotic cattle.

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Easy to put into practice......I think not!.......Feeding concentrates, Embryo transfer blah blah blah. Has anyone EVER seen / known of a Thai farmer buying & feeding pelleted concentrated feed to Kwai? Buffaloes are eating machines, can utilise 'fang'-rice straw much better than cattle, this is common knowledge, they will tackle just about anything that grows & do so successfully. MF; although, your intentions in reproducing this paper here are undoubtably good I'm sure it will put the idea of keeping a few head of Kwai right out of any potential farang owners head. These scientific reports do nothing more than confuse and are carried out just to keep a few boffins in a job.

A practical small scale -realistic do's/dont's management topic would be of more use than a diatribe on the digestive physiology & nutrition of ruminants.

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On 2nd thoughts, you may have a point there, it is a bit academic (soemthing I usualy am quick to make a point of with others) - I should rephrase the heading to something like ... If you're interested in breeding them for profit - but for ther average kwai kept at home - granted: a bit much.


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can be done, at least for milk buffalos

we have a milk buffalo farm near here (not thailand as u all know) and thats more or less exactly what he does (no embroyo stuff) but uses a teaser bull (cant tell when they are in heat, with cows its much easier); uses AI; uses a milking machine, etc etc

and the guy isnt rolling in money, just an average moshavnik that researched his stuff, and then went ahead and tried methods out. he's the only farm i know of (maybe one more) here that does raise buffalo for milk-mozarella/yogurt market (thai workers are his clients for males for meat).

this info is maybe not for thai farmers, but for farang farmers that have access to internet, some extra money for starters, AND SOME EXPERIENCE WITH LIVESTOCK HUSBANDRY, it could be done.

manipulation of rumen micro-organisms--every area in the world has its own micro organisms in ruminants, so 'transplanting' micro organisms in the form of 'dried cud' can be and is, done. ( i did it to save a goat). if someone is creating better, super micro organisms in the lab, good for them, its easier then stealing cud!

everything else is just common sense: good vet routines etc(the farmer should know his stuff, as RC did for his cow herd) and not rely on other people

as for superovulation: using hormone injections and improving breed type (again, like certain sheep breeds) increases ovulation/embryos in sheep/goats so why not buffalos. sheep can give up to four + viable good birth weight lambs if managed properly.

hit and miss feeding is always a problem and it doesnt matter what the country. as a farmer, u have to know what is in your hay, in your area in your soil, rain, weather and other variables. true, it is difficult for most farmers (i hate it also, doing these calculations, which is why i use a good vet who is local to me). in thailand not sure how helpful extension services are or vetting ...

but MF, since when does thailand raise buffalo for the milk? i once brought up that idea and was laughed at...

from what i understood from the breeding farm here, the oestrus part is the main problem, even with a teaser. which means that if u miss a season, u've missed a years worth of milk/meat.

i didnt notice anything not impracticle for even basic farmers (sheds, sprinklers or water, hay, teasers, vets) with a little financial help and guidance...

the problem is how many thai farmers like getting unsolicited guidance ? even my husband's first reaction was along the lines of 'bullfeathers' why bother when buffalos do ok on their own hit or miss method.

but u should link or list your source...

thanx MF,



Edited by bina

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Nope - first to agree with u, for milk they're useless - (and the writeup is not only about milk - is it?) .

But if you were breeding for meat (which is becoming more popular in Thailand - demand for meat from buffalo in Thailand has gone up over 200% over the last 4 years - did you know that, while buffalo stock has more thanhalved for the same period of time) then what is written here makes a lot of sense -of which there has been more than 1 enquiry on this sub-forum. So as conceeded - yes, the title I gave to the thread was not the best, but other than that, it only makes no sense to a reader if it's just the 1 or 2 buffalo you have, an/or have no interest in breeding.


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but u should link or list your source...

thanx MF,



I think the forum policy is that if information is taken from a source and reproduced here then either the source should be given or a link to the source should be made.

Edited by chownah

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