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Environmental effects on water buffalo production

Seasonal reproductive-productive pattern

M.M. Shafie

The author's address is: Animal Production Department, Faculty of Agriculture, Cairo University, Egypt

The water buffalo species is divided into two types, the swamp buffalo and the riverine buffalo. Swamp buffaloes are lighter in weight (males approximately 700 kg and females 500 kg mature weight) and have a lower milk production capacity, i.e. 430 to 620 kg of milk per lactation (Webster and Wilson, 1980). These buffaloes are used mainly for draught power in rice cultivation in the paddy-fields of Southeast Asia. The swamp buffalo is a semi-aquatic animal, spending the hottest part of the day (10.00 to 16.00 h) partly submerged in natural swamps or self-made wallows (MacGregor, 1941).

The riverine buffalo, on the other hand, is heavier (males approximately 1 100 kg and females 550 kg mature weight). Their milk production capacity is far higher than that of swamp buffaloes, ranging from 1 000 to 2 000 kg per lactation and varying among countries and strains.

The water buffalo Bubalus bubalis is the domestic form of the wild progenitor Bubalus arnee of India, southern Asia and possibly the wet areas of western Asia (Brock, 1989). This domesticated buffalo has been little exposed to human interference such as artificial breeding because of its already perfect adaptation to the harsh environment in the swampy rice fields of Asia. Examples of other animals that are also perfectly suited to their environments include the camel in the Sahara, the reindeer in the Arctic and the yak in the Himalayas. It is interesting to note a conclusion made by Webster and Wilson (1980): "The water buffalo is potentially a most important tropical bovine species, especially in very hot areas where rivers and swamps abound. It can compete very successfully with other bovine species and any attempt to 'phase out' the buffalo and replace it with expensive exotic importations should be treated with caution".

The water buffalo is ranked highly in the tropics and subtropics since it thrives in hot conditions. In particular, the genus Bubalis surpasses the cattle genus Bos in its ability to adapt to the hot, humid areas of muddy and swampy lands; therefore, water buffaloes have special importance in the swamps of Southeast Asia, the marshes of southern Iraq and the valleys of flooding rivers in the Indian subcontinent, as well as near the River Nile in Egypt.

It is because of its morphological and anatomical characteristics that the buffalo is so well suited to hot and humid climates and muddy terrain. Moreover, buffalo skin is covered with a thick epidermis, the basal cells of which contain many melanin particles that give the skin surface its characteristic black colour (Shafie, 1985). The melanin particles trap the ultraviolet rays and prevent them from penetrating through the dermis of the skin to the lower tissue. These rays are abundant in solar radiation in the tropics and subtropics, and excessive exposure of animal tissue could be detrimental, perhaps even resulting in skin tumours.

1. Seasonal pattern of sex hormones in buffalo cows in Egypt - Variation saisonnière hormones sexuelles chez les bufflonnes en Egypte - Estructura estacional de las hormonas del sexo en las búfalas de Egipto

2. Expected natural coincidences between climatic conditions, flood) of the River Nile and vegetation and the reproductive performance of the buffalo - Coïncidences naturelles prévues des conditions climatiques, des crues du Nil, de la végétation et de l'activité reproductrice du buffle - Coincidencias naturales previstas entre condiciones climáticas, inundación del Nilo y vegetación, y el rendimiento reproductivo de las búfalas

Buffalo skin is almost devoid of hair, particularly in older animals, because of its exposure to water and mud. This beneficial characteristic is reinforced by its well-developed sebaceous glands. With- greater secretary activity than in cattle (Shafie and Abou El-Khair, 1970), these glands secrete a fatty substance called sebum, which emerges on the skin's surface and covers-it with a lubricant, making it slippery for water and mud. This greasy sebum, along with the thick horrified top layer of skin, prevents water and the solutes in it from being absorbed into the skin. In this way, the animal is protected from the harmful effects of any deleterious chemical compounds in the water. Moreover, the sebum layer melts during hot weather and becomes glossier to reflect many of the heat rays, thus relieving the animal from the excessive external heat load.

With this physical adaptation to the tropical and subtropical hot humid conditions, the water buffalo has acquired a reproductive-productive pattern that conforms to the sequential seasonal changes in climate, terrain and vegetation conditions.

Seasonal reproductive-productive pattern

Over several millennia, the buffalo has maintained a fine natural conformity with the annual climatic cycles of temperature, humidity, rainfall, sunshine, solar radiation, etc., which in turn induce the annual vegetation cycle, whether natural or cultivated. This indirect effect of climate (the vegetation pattern) seems to be the most influential in the buffalo's natural reproductive-productive pattern. The water buffalo's natural conformity has been reported in several geographical regions, including China, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Iraq and Egypt. Misra and Sengupta (1965) stated that, in India, the buffalo's sexual vigour declines during summer and improves- with the onset of the colder season. In Egypt, its reproductive behaviour, in particular oestrus, is feeble during the hot season. A herd of buffaloes had almost equal incidences of ovulation in the hot (May-October) and the colder (November-April) seasons. The observed cases of oestrus, however, were more frequent and stronger in the colder season, accompanied by changes in the seasonal pattern of sex hormones (Figure 1) (Shafie et al., 1982; Barkawi, Mokhless and Bedeir, 1989). The number and amplitude of the luteinizing hormone (LH) pulse-e were greater in the colder season (Aboul-Ela and Barkawi, 1988).

The expected natural coincidences between climatic conditions in Egypt, the flooding of the River Nile (before the establishment of the Aswan High Dam), post-flooding cultivation and the buffaloes' reproductive pattern (mating and calving) are presented in Figure 2. This sequence of events results in most of the carvings (63 percent) occurring during the colder season (El-Sheikh, 1987), which is characterized by optimum temperatures and an abundance of nutritious pasture fodder for the lactating buffalo and her offspring. Mostageer, Morsy and Sadek (1981) carried out a study on two groups of approximately 200 females each located on the same farm during the hot and colder seasons. The average milk yield was greater and the lactation period longer in females calving during the colder season than those calving in the hot season: 1 309 versus 1 147 kg and 233 versus 200 days.

Milk production of riverine and swamp buffalo breeds in different countries
Production latière de buffles de rivière et de marais dans différents pays
Producción de leche de las razas de búfalos de río y pantano en distintos países



Mean/range (kg)

Riverine buffaloes


Former USSR

1 110 - 1 724


Former USSR

595 - 872



1 290- 1 737



1 000 - 2 025



945 - 1 113



1 110 - 2 035



1 200



2 095



1 111




Nili Ravi


1 586 - 1 855



1 031 - 2 565

Nili Ravi


1 555 - 1 971

Swamp buffaloes






435 - 620

Egyptian buffaloes feeding on stalk residues in a wheat field after a wheat field after harvest in June - Buffles égyptiens pâturant les chaumes dans un champ de blé a peine moissonné, en juin - Búfalos de Egipto alimentándose en los rastrojos de un campo de trigo después de la cosecha de junio

Buffaloes resting under trees at midday in summer - Buffles se reposant sous les arbres à midi, en été - Búfalos descansando bajo los árboles un mediodía de verano

Buffaloes swimming in an irrigation channel - Buffles nageant dans un canal d'irrigation - Búfalos nadando en un canal de riego

This inherent pattern of reproductive-productive performance affects the level and sequence of milk production and the calf crop in cases of extensive rearing of buffaloes on traditional farmer holdings. If systems of semi-intensive and intensive herd management are adopted for regular, non-seasonal production, then modern husbandry techniques should be applied. Efficient methods of oestrus detection, ovulation inducement for faster postpartum resumption of ovarian activity and the application of artificial insemination could achieve successful results. An optimum feeding regime of concentrate rations and cultivated green fodder is necessary throughout the year, and proper housing would also be beneficial. By using these techniques, the rate of conception could be raised to as high as 80 to 85 percent, compared to that achieved using traditional methods, i.e. less than 60 percent.

Breeding plans for improving genetic potential and regular production are also required, but they must comply with the animals' adaptation to the local climatic conditions, technical expertise and the needs of the human population.

This article deals with the adaptation of buffaloes to tropical and subtropical hot, humid conditions. Buffaloes have also been introduced into European countries with temperate climates, however, because of the particular quality of their milk. Out of a total of 437 000 (FAO, 1990), most have been introduced in Romania (236 000) and Italy (150 000). The physiological effects of a cold winter on buffaloes have not as yet been studied.

Special managerial arrangements will have to be made to meet the technical and economic demands of intensive buffalo farming; unfortunately, the necessary data are lacking. Regarding milk production, however, quite a lot of data have been published. Ranges of milk production in different geographical areas and countries (Webster and Wilson, 1980) are presented in the Table, with wide discrepancies regarding the strain of the buffaloes, age, parity, season, nutrition level and farm management evident.


Aboul-Ela, M.B. & Barkawi, A.H. 1988. Pulsatile secretion of LH in cycling buffalo heifers as affected by season and stage of the oestrous cycle. Paper presented at the 11th International Congress on Animal Reproduction and Artificial Insemination in Dublin, Ireland, June 1988.

Barkawi, A.H., Mokhless, E.M. & Bedeir, L.H. 1989. Environmental factors affecting age at puberty in Egyptian buffaloes. Buffalo J., 1: 71-78.

Brock, J.C.1989. A natural history of domesticated mammals, p. 140-142. Cambridge, UK., Cambridge University Press (British Museum).

El-Sheikh, A.S. 1987. The reproductive performance of the buffalo in Egypt. Indian J. Dairy Sci., 20: 8995.

FAO. 1990. Animal production yearbook 1990. Rome.

MacGregor, R.1941. The domestic buffalo. Vet. Rec., 53: 443-450.

Misra, M.S. & Sengupta, B.P. 1965. Climatic environment and reproductive behaviour of buffaloes. III. Observations on semen quality of buffalo maintained under two different housing conditions. Indian J. Dairy Sci., 18: 130-133.

Mostageer, A., Morsy, M.A. & Sadek, R.R. 1981. The production characteristics of a herd of Egyptian buffaloes. Z. Tierzüchtung & Züchtungsbiol., 98: 220236.

Shafie, M.M. 1985. Physiological responses and adaptation of water buffalo. In M.K. Yousef, ed. Stress physiology in livestock, vol. 2: Ungulates. Florida, USA, CRC.

Shafie, M.M. & Abou El-Khair, M.M. 1970. Activity of the sebaceous glands of bovines in hot climate (Egypt). J. Anim. Prod. U A R, 10: 81-98.

Shafie, M.M., Mourad, H., Barkawi, A.H., Aboul-Ela, M.B. & Mekawy, Y. 1982. Serum progesterone and oestradiol concentration in the cyclic buffalo. Anim. Prod., 7: 283-289.

Webster, C.C. & Wilson, P.N. 1980. Agriculture in the tropics, p. 390-400. London, UK, Longman. (ELBS, 2nd ed.)

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