The Life of the Water Buffalo

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

The Life of the Water Buffalo

Their milk is Higher in Fats and Proteins than Cattle


Photo byjean wimmerlin onUnsplash


Water Buffalo have been domesticated for 5,000 years in India, and 4,000 years in China. They were classified as two distinct species by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature in 2003 as Bubalus Arnee, for the wild form, and B. Bubalis for the domestic and feral populations. 


They are classed as bovines as cattle are. They are specified as Swamp Buffaloes and River Buffaloes.  They are different in looks and genetics.


Swamp buffaloes have grey skin at birth and which becomes slate blue. There are a few albinos. The Tedong Bonga water buffalo has a unique black and white colouration. They are heavy-bodied, stockily built, their body short with large bellies. They have flat heads, prominent eyes, short face and wide muzzle. They like shallow, muddy water in which they can wallow. They dig mud out with their horns in order to do this. Water availability is essential and the wallowing and splashing in the water assist in thermoregulation. Some water buffalo breeds are adapted to saline seaside shores and saline sandy terrain.  Swamp buffalo have 48 chromosomes. There are 16 breeds in China. 


River Buffaloes have longer faces, smaller girths, bigger limbs. They like deep water as in rivers. They have 50 chromosomes. There are two types that are not easily interbred. There are 22 breeds of the present-day river buffalo, the result of domestication involving more than one maternal lineage and significant maternal gene flow from wild populations after initial domestication.


Water Buffalo range from 660-2,200 lbs. The rumen of Water Buffalo is higher in bacteria, lower protozoa, higher fungi, higher ammonia nitrogen, higher ph than cattle. Both types of Water Buffalo like hot, humid climates ranging from 

32 F- 86 F. 


Aquatic plants are their main source of food. During floods, they graze submerged. They eat reeds, Cyperaceae and Juncaceae. Some plants are valued by local people, and some are a major problem in the tropical valley. By eating these plants, the Water Buffalo helps control invasive plants. 


Green fodder crops are used for intensive milk production. They are conserved as hay, chaffed, or pulped such as alfalfa, the leaves and stems or trimmings of banana, cassava, mangelwurzel, esparto, kenaf maize, oats, peanut sorghum, soybean sugarcane, turnip and so on. They even eat the citrus pulp, pineapple wastes. In Egypt, dates are fed to milk buffalo, up to 25% of their standard feed mixture.


They are usually mated at 3-3.5 years old and successfully mate up to 12 years of age. The male impregnates 100 females in a year. Heat stress reduces their libido. Heifers mate every two years, after reaching from 13 to 33 months, depending on the breed, and the gestation period is 300- 320 days, producing one calf. Swamp buffalo carry their calves 1-2 weeks longer. 


Working buffalo have a work-life of 30- 40 years. By 2011, the global population was about 172 million, and in 77 countries in five continents. An analysis of genomes of both types of buffaloes showed that they separated already before domestication about 0.23 million years ago.


In India and Pakistan, the Water Buffalo is used for pulling and for milk production. Water buffalo milk contains higher levels of total solids, crude protein, fat, calcium and phosphorus.  It is made into dairy products such as cream, butter, ghee, heat-concentrated milk products, fermented milk products, whey, hard, and soft cheeses. These are higher in fats and proteins than the milk from dairy cattle. 


Water buffalo meat, called “carabeef”, is a bit tougher than beef from cattle. However, the slow-cooking process and spices make it more palatable, and the spices preserve it. This is important in hot climates where refrigeration is not always available. 


Hides are used for leather, especially shoes. Bones and horns are made into jewellery and musical instruments such as ney and kaval. 


Water Buffalo are now being introduced to manage uncontrolled vegetation growth in and around natural wetlands and for opening up clogged water bodies for waterfowl, wetland birds, and other wildlife. In uncontrolled circumstances, can cause environmental damage such as trampling vegetation, disturbing nests, and spreading exotic weeds. 


In the Philippines and in India they have been cloned somewhat successfully.



Shirley Langton 2020




Submitted: December 30, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Shirley M. Langton. All rights reserved.

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