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Water buffaloes

The domestic water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) contributes a significant share of global milk production and is the major milk producing animal in several countries. Buffaloes are kept mostly by small-scale producers in developing countries, who raise one or two animals in mixed crop­–livestock systems. Water buffaloes are classified into two subspecies: the river buffalo and the swamp buffalo. River buffaloes constitute approximately 70 percent of the world water buffalo population. River buffalo milk accounts for a substantial share of total milk production in India and Pakistan and is also important in the Near East. Swamp buffaloes are smaller and have lower milk yields than river buffaloes. They are present mainly in Eastern Asia and are primarily raised for draught power.

River buffaloes usually produce between 1 500 and 4 500 litres of milk per lactation. They have a significantly longer productive life than cattle, providing calves and milk until they are up to 20 years of age. The many factors that constrain commercial buffalo milk production include animals’ late age at first calving, the seasonality of oestrus, and the long calving interval and dry period.

In recent decades, breeding programmes – especially in Bulgaria, China, Egypt, India and Pakistan – have attempted to improve the milk yield of river buffalo. Well-known specialized dairy buffalo breeds include Murrah, Nili-Ravi, Kundi, Surti, Jaffarabadi, Bhadawari and Mehsana.

Dairy buffalo facts

  • The world population of water buffaloes is approximately 168 million head: more than 95 percent are in Asia; 2 percent are in Africa, particularly Egypt; 2 percent are in South America; and less than 1 percent are in Australia and Europe.
  • The countries with the largest numbers of dairy buffaloes are India, Pakistan, China, Egypt and Nepal. In Pakistan, Egypt and Nepal there are more dairy buffaloes than dairy cows.
  • Water buffaloes are the principle source of milk in South Asia.
  • The largest water buffalo milk producers are India and Pakistan, where buffaloes produce more milk than cattle.