Reengineering the carabao
Science City of Muñoz—RICE farmers used to see the color of their money only after four months of toiling in their fields. Nowadays they earn enough of the day’s take to send their children to school, renovate their houses and acquire motorcycles.
That’s the benefit of harnessing the dairy carabao, now called “beasts of fortune,” to improve the image of the former “beasts of burden.”
“Over the years, we did not see the contribution of the carabao to local dairy production. Today, their contribution is more than 34 percent and is increasing,” said Dr. Arnel del Barrio, acting executive director of the Philippine Carabao Center in the Science City of Muñoz in Nueva Ecija.
Del Barrio said there were excellent examples of farming achievements in carabao dairying.
In Barangay Mapiña in Magalang town in Pampanga, Andypoe Garcia harvests 14 liters of milk each day for three months from his prized carabao during the animal’s peak period, and up to 8 liters during the rest of its 10-month lactation period. He sold the milk at P80 a liter.
Garcia has 20 other dairy carabao but their milk production could not match that of his outstanding carabao, “Menang.”
In General Trias, Cavite, Francisco Solis used to deliver his carabao’s milk using an owner-type jeep. Now, his milk delivery vehicle is a P1.3-million Ford Everest van.
In Nueva Ecija, about 6,000 dairy carabao turn out at least four liters of milk each daily. Their farmer-owners, scattered in different rice-farming communities in the province, sell the milk at P45 to P50 a liter.
History says that among the animals introduced by migrants to the islands was the swamp-dwelling water buffalo, or carabao, which was excellent for its draft power usability.
Its cousin, the riverine dweller common to the Indian sub-continent, is excellent for meat and milk.
In a 2002 study, the carabao’s value as a draft and dairy animal, as well as a meat and hide source, summed up to almost P5 billion.
But misfortune struck the carabao on the way up to being a very important domestic animal.
More than a century ago, it was almost wiped out due to diseases like rinderpest and poor dietary supply.
Years of neglect
In World War II, most carabao were killed when invading Japanese soldiers realized the animals were used by Filipino guerrillas to transport weapons and goods to help an American-organized resistance force.
“The farmers, wanting to have bigger and sturdier animals, castrated the best of their bulls. As a result, fewer quality bulls were left for mating,” said Dr. Libertado Cruz, former PCC executive director.
“Their nutritional needs and health care were not well attended, too, by the farmers,” he added. But the carabao’s welfare eventually got the attention it deserved. “In 1973 the Philippine Council for Agricultural Resources Research launched a research effort for the improvement of the carabao’s breed,” said Dr. Patricio Faylon, former executive director of the council.
In 1981, with funding from the United Nations Development Program-Food and Agriculture Organization (UNDP-FAO), the government embarked on a project to strengthen institutions and to test the performance of carabaos crossbred from swamp and riverine buffalos.
It took 15 years to stabilize the characteristics of the re-engineered carabao for its superior draft, milk, and meat qualities.
In 1992, the Philippine Carabao Act (Republic Act 7307) was enacted to “conserve, propagate, and promote the carabao as source of draft power, meat, and hide for the benefit of small farmers.”
“In terms of carabao meat, our carabao slaughter rate was formerly 11 to 12 percent but it has gone up to 16 percent… The demand is increasing [and] the local carabao is contributing much to that [market],” Del Barrio said.
He said the PCC was pursuing projects to increase the population of thedairy carabao. It is also establishing dairy carabao hubs that will serve a well-oiled business marketing chain.
Soon, scientists will develop a Philippine dairy carabao that is excellent for milk, meat and draft, he said.
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