Domesticated water buffalo are known by the genus Bubalus bubalis and originated in India. Water buffalo have been domesticated for approximately 5,000 years in India and China. Water buffalo are divided into two main groups the river and the swamp buffalo.
River buffalo are found in Europe especially the Balkans and in South America. They are raised for milk with high fat content making excellent cheese and yogurt. Males are raised for meat, they also have excellent draught potential. There are several breeds of river buffalo and their universal characteristic is 50 chromosomes.
Swamp buffalo are found in East Asian countries and are used mainly for draught and meat production. Characteristically the swamp buffalo has broad wide horns, a chevron on the chest, lighter coloured legs and bigger hooves. They traditionally have a lower milk yield and have 48 chromosomes, 2 lower than the river. River and swamp can interbreed developing a 49 chromosome fertile buffalo, a genetic anomaly. Breeding river and swamp improves the milk production of the swamp.
The South African Cape Buffalo, genus Syncerus caffer, remains wild and dangerous and they are being hunted to very low numbers.
In North America, Water Buffalo are confused with the native Bison, known as North American Buffalo by early settlers. Bison are raised for lean meat but never for milk production. Bison will breed with cows and produce the infertile beefalo, more docile than a bison and used for meat.
Water buffalo are raised in the same way as beef and dairy cattle, however, they will not interbreed between species.
- Buffalo can be reared with other cows using the same milking equipment;
- Buffalo are hardy animals and they flourish in temperate climates;
- Buffalo have a longer digestive tract and more digestive juices than cattle and metabolize their food more effectively. They thrive on local forages.
- Milk from the buffalo is white with a creamy texture, naturally homogenized and high in milk solids, perfect for the production of traditional buffalo mozzarella, yogurt , ice cream and Asian spacialties;
- The milk contains a natural anti-oxidant and is easily digested even by people with milk allergies. Raised on pasture the milk has healthy conjugated linoleic acid (CLA);
- Buffalo are extremely disease resistant – lameness, mastitis, calving issues, pink-eye, common cattle diseases, are almost unknown in water buffalo;
- There are no incidents of BSE (mad cow disease) in water buffalo anywhere in the world;
- Management requires similar fencing, housing and handling equipment as cattle. Water buffalo respect electric wire, a single strand will protect trees and permanent fences;
- In hot humid climates water buffalo prefer to cool off in wallows, however, immersion in water is not necessary. In temperate climates buffalo cool off quickly in the shade because their black skin, rich in blood vessels, conducts and radiates heat efficiently. They have 10th the sweat glands of cattle.
- The meat is indistinguishable in flavour from beef, however it is lower in cholesterol and higher in mineral content than meat from cattle. Lean water buffalo meat has less than half (44%) the total fat content of lean beef and has proportionately less saturated fat compared with beef (30% vs. 40%). Pasture raised meats offer more omega-3 and fewer omega-6 fatty acids.
- Excess males are available for breeding, reclaiming wetlands and as therapeutic companions for adults and children with neurological and social challenges.
- Buffalo are extremely docile and often compared to dogs as they love interaction with humans. They can be wary of strangers though curiosity eventually draws them closer.