Buffalo Commentary:

The following are the excerpts from FAO/ILRI/ICIMOD/CIP e-conference on Livestock in Mountain / Highland Production Systems: Research and Development Challenges into the Next Millennium held in October 1999 (See http://www.mtnforum.org/resources/library/dijkj00a.htm for report)


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FAO/ILRI/ICIMOD/CIP Livestock in Mountain/Highland Production Systems


Mon, 25 Oct 1999 02:03:46 –0700


Contribution from D. P. Rasali and G. H. Crow sent to Highlands-L@mailserv.fao.org:

Production of buffaloes (Bubalus bubalis) in the mountains and hills of Nepal: Constraints and opportunities

D.P. Rasali and G.H. Crow

Dept. of Animal Science, University of Manitoba

Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2, Canada


The unique physiographic features of the two distinct eco-zones –mountains (>2000 masl) and hills (<2200 masl)- on the southern face of the Nepali Himalayan range, have allowed local farmers to raise buffaloes in a variety of traditional production systems. As a result of the physiographic isolation of the buffaloes raised in these eco-zones, their populations have a high genetic diversity (Rasali and Joshi, 1996; Joshi and Rasali, 1998). Official statistics (CBS, 1997), show that Nepal has a c. 3.36 million buffaloes. Sixty six % of these animals are scattered over the mountains and hills, although most can be found in the middle mountains and hills of the Western region. In 1996/97, 701 thousand mt of milk and 113 thousand mt of meat were produced from buffalo, accounting for 69% of the total milk and 65% of the total meat produced in the country. More than half of this production originates from the mountains and hills, where a buffalo serve as a true multipurpose livestock species.

This paper attempts to review the constraints to, and the opportunities for sustainable improvement in these buffalo production systems.

Breed Types and Strains

Indigenous breeds and their intermediates make up the majority (c. 90%) of the buffalo population in the mountains and hills. These buffaloes are given a number of breed names, such as Pahadi, Lime, Parkote and Gaddi depending upon the location. A recent study (Rasali et al., 1998b) involving external phenotypic measurements of buffaloes in the western hills, showed two distinct clusters corresponding to two breed types; Lime and Parkote, with an additional two clusters with intermediate phenotypic features, which may be the result of indiscriminate breeding between the two types. Results of recent karyotyping studies (Rasali et al., 1998b; Rasali et. al., 1998d ) confirmed that all buffaloes in the mountains and hills are riverine (2n = 50 chromosomes), contrary to the earlier view which considered Lime buffalo as swamp (Shrestha and Shrestha, 1998). Despite the efforts made over the past 40 years by the national programme to crossbreed the local buffaloes with the Indian Murrah breed, crossbred populations are small and not significant enough to make an impact on the indigenous buffalo population in the mountains and hills.

Production systems

Buffaloes are raised by smallholder farmers in the hills and mountains in a range of production systems which can be broadly classified into stall-feeding, semi stall-feeding and migratory systems. In the lower hills of the southern hill-belt, buffaloes are mainly stall-fed with cut-and-carry of fodder derived from the crop fields or forests. Going North, semi stall-feeding systems become more important with occasional tethering and grazing in recently harvested fields, communal pastures or forests. In the northern high hills and mountains, buffaloes are kept in river valley villages during winter, and taken up past the tree line to graze the alpine pasture at 4000 masl, during the wet summer.

Buffaloes are well known for their ability to utilise low quality forage. In Nepal they are generally fed on crop residues - straws of rice, millet, wheat and legumes-, and occasionally on green forage. Usually only milking buffalo are fed with high quality green fodder and some supplemental grains.

A recent study showed that buffalo calves, which are otherwise disposed off early by many farmers, could be weaned early and raised on a grain mixture supplement (Rana et al, 1998).

A number of infectious diseases such as Foot and Mouth disease and pasteurellosis are very common. Parasites such as liver flukes, mange and ticks also affect buffaloes in Nepal.

Productive and reproductive performance

A number of milk recording studies in buffaloes of the hills and mountains have been reported to date (Shrestha et al, 1988; Joshi et el, 1992;  Rasali et al, 1997a;  Rasali et al, 1998a). Results of two of these studies, indicated that the indigenous buffaloes produced between 800 and 950 litres of milk with a fat content of 6 to 7 %, over a 305 day lactation. F1 Murrah crosses, produced about 50% more milk per lactation under the same smallholder production systems.  However, there exists potential to improve milk production from the indigenous buffaloes through selection, utilizing the genetic variability of the population (Rasali and Joshi, 1996).

One important aspect of buffalo production is their reproductive performance. Results of two studies (Rasali et al, 1997a; Rasali et al, 1998a) showed that the buffaloes raised in the western hills, due to the management system, have a delayed age of first calving (53 months), and a long calving interval (545 days). Most buffaloes in the hills and mountains calve between July and September. As a result, most calves are weaned during winter when feed starts to get scarce. Survey results (Rasali et al, 1998c) also revealed that about 20% of the hill buffaloes are affected by infertility problems such as repeat breeding (9.8%), anoestrus (9.5%), silent heat (7.2%) and endometritis (2.7%).

Constraints to Production Systems

There are a number of constraints to buffalo production in the hills and mountains of Nepal. Some of the more important ones are listed below:

-Rapid mongrelisation of the indigenous breeds due to indiscriminate breeding and crossbreeding; 

-Seasonality of breeding in buffaloes does not allow farmers to wean their calves when feed is abundant;

-Calves are disposed off early in their life by farmers to save the milk for human consumption, which reduces the opportunity to select better animals for future breeding and to improve milk and meat production;

-There is a lack of resource farms in the country that could supply suitable breeding animals to highland farmers;

-Feeding systems are traditional and feeds are inadequate for optimal levels for production;

-Lack of research to improve breeding and reproduction, feed use efficiency, health, and product processing.

Opportunities for improvement

Rapid increases in human population mean that Nepalese mountain and hill farmers will have to improve their current production. Studies (Rasali et al, 1997b) show that the farmers are in need of and, in fact, are looking for ways to make their buffalo production systems more efficient to improve their livelihoods. However, current government services are generally inadequate to address the multiple constraints faced by farmers. Formulating and implementing a simple integrated programme for smallholder farmers which provides milk recording, maintenance of pedigree records, breeding policies, adequate veterinary care, milk collection and quality control, and feeding and animal husbandry recommendations, can alleviate most of the constraints to buffalo production in the hills and mountains. Farmer participation in the planning of such a strategy will be crucial for its success and future sustainability. The opportunities for improvement include increased milk production and higher off-take for slaughter to replace current imports, diversified milk and meat products from buffalo to enhance export potential, conservation of natural resources, maintenance of genetic diversity in buffalo population and, consequently, overall wellbeing of the smallholder farmers. 


CBS (1997). Agricultural statistics Nepal, 1996/97. Central Bureau of Statistics, National Planning Commission Secretariat, Kathmandu, Nepal. pp. 18-21.

Joshi, BR, Kadariya, RK, Karki, NPS and Gurung, DB (1992). Milk production of local and 50% Murrah crossbred buffaloes under farmers traditional management in the western hills of Nepal. LARC Working Paper  92/16.

Joshi, BR, Rasali  (1998). Unique livestock resources of mountain farmers and the compatibility of on farm conservation efforts with livestock development approaches. In: Managing agro-biodiversity: farmers' changing perspectives and institutional responses in the HKH region (Eds. Pratap, T, Sthapit, B). ICIMOD, Kathmandu, 265-291.

Rana, RS, Rasali, DP and Khanal, RC (1998). Preliminary investigation on early weaning and artificial rearing of buffalo calves. Veterinary Review (Nepal), 13:34-36.

Rasali, DP, Joshi, BR (1996). Potential for utililisation of indigenous genetic resources in the improvement of buffalo in the hills of Nepal. Proc. First Nat. Liv./Fish. Res. Workshop, NARC (Nepal). pp 104-115.

Rasali, DP, Gurung, DB, Yadav, ER (1997a). Performance of monsoon calver buffaloes across genotypic and non-genotypic factors under farmers management in the western hill districts of Nepal. Veterinary Review (Nepal), 12(1):17-20.

Rasali, DP, Joshi, BR, Paudel, KC (1997b). Livestock systems analysis through a Samuhik Bhraman in the western hills of Nepal. LARC working Paper No. 97/34. 51 pp.

Rasali, DP, Gurung, DB, Yadav, ER (1998a). Performance recording of lactating local and corssbred cows and buffaloes of various exotic blood levels under farmers' management in the Western Hills-1995-97. LARC Working Paper No.98/39, 14 pp.

Rasali, DP, Joshi, HD, Patel, RK and Harding, AH (1998b). Phenotypic clusters and karyotypes of indigenous buffaloes in the Western Hills of Nepal. LARC Technical Paper No. 98/2, 24 pp.

Rasali, DP, Joshi, HD, Shrestha, HK and Gautam, DC (1998c). Assessment of the infertility situation in cows and buffaloes in the Western Hills of Nepal. LARC Working Paper No. 98/40, 16 pp.

Rasali, DP, Patel, RK and Joshi, HD (1998d). Initial chromosomal analysis of indigenous buffaloes in the Western Hills of Nepal. Veterinary Review (Nepal), 13:30-34.

Shrestha, NP, Oli, KP and Gatenby, RM (1988). Milk production of local and Murrah crossbred buffaloes and local and Jersey crossbred cows in the hills of Eastern Nepal. PAC Technical Paper No. 97 (Nepal).

Shrestha, SK and Shrestha, NP (1998). Genetic improvement of buffalo. In: Proc. First Nat. Workshop on Anim. Genet. Resources Conserv. Genet. Improvement of Domest. Anim. in Nepal. (Ed. JNB. Shrestha),  pp.98-102.

Drona P. Rasali

Department of Animal Science

University of Manitoba

Winnipeg, MB R3T 3M2


email: umrasali@cc.UManitoba.CA




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FAO/ILRI/ICIMOD/CIP Livestock in Mountain/Highland Production Systems


Thu, 28 Oct 1999 06:22:11 –0700


Comments from Krishna Gautam on Rasali and Crow's paper sent to Highlands-L@mailserv.fao.org:

This paper deals with issues that are very relevant to the highland production systems of Nepal. The understanding of these systems is vital in the formulation of any future policy on livestock development. I would, however, like to make a couple of comments that may help to understand the situation in the region better. I also have to explain that this is not my field of expertise. My comments are based on impressions and observations from the field, and on contacts with farmers and/or professionals while working in various districts in Nepal. 

Disposal of calves

Female calves (padi) are not normally sold, although male calves(pado) are generally sold at an early age. Female calves are seen as capital investments. Furthermore, if the animal is of a known better local breed, there is always a high demand for the female calves in the village/community. This is particularly the case with goats and buffaloes. Sometimes, people book the female calves of a better animal (mainly for goats, but also for buffaloes) before they are actually born. Bookings are also made occasionally, to present such calves as a gift (pewa) to daughters or sisters.

Thus, local interest and skill create a high potential for future breeding through the utilisation of the genetic variability of the local population. This should not be overlooked in the elaboration of any livestock development programme for the region.

Risky investment

Inadequate feed, lack of veterinary services, lack of markets, etc. are just some of the factors that play a role when people decide whether or not to acquire additional animals. The procurement of a buffalo requires a relatively large investment. For many smallholders their situation may not allow taking such risks. Unless there is enough feed, reliable veterinary services and/or a good insurance system, these farmers will still be afraid to invest more money into livestock, especially buffaloes.

Krishna H Gautam

PhD Candidate

School of Forestry

University of Canterbury

Private Bag 4800

Christchurch, New Zealand

Fax 64 3 364 2124

Email: khg13@student.canterbury.ac.nz



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FAO/ILRI/ICIMOD/CIP Livestock in Mountain/Highland Production Sys tems


Sun, 31 Oct 1999 21:31:16 –0800


Comments from Drona P. Rasali sent to Highlands-L@mailserv.fao.org:

I am grateful for Mr. Krishna Gautam's comments on our paper, and I would like to respond to his points of view.

On the issue of disposal of calves:

Across the hills of Nepal, most of the male buffalo calves are disposed off within a week of their birth. Usually, as Mr. Gautam also experienced, female calves are kept by the farmers. However, we have found, to our dismay, that in some areas of the western hills, where milk can be readily sold, some farmers also sell their female calves. These practices have many consequences.

Firstly, efforts to improve reproduction in buffalo cows (with long calving intervals) are undermined for a short-term financial gain from the sale of milk. 

Secondly, in the development of a proper breeding programme for buffalo, males are the most important resource, as each of them have the potential to pass on half their genetic information to hundreds of offspring. If most of the male calves are removed from the population before their future breeding potential has been determined, there will be serious difficulties to make genetic advances within the population.

Thirdly, male calves are not used as a potential source of buffalo meat. The demand for buffalo meat in Kathmandu is high and currently met by an annual import of some 120 thousand cull buffaloes from India (data cited by Shrestha et al., 1998).

On issue of high-risk investments:

Traditionally, for most Nepalese hill and mountain farmers, livestock and land are the main areas of investment. Even farmers with small landholdings do invest in livestock in one way or the other. This is also clear from Mr. Gautam's own paper, which showed that 47.9 % of farmers invested in livestock in preference to other needs. However, as Mr. Gautam's stated, an integrated approach incorporating all aspects of buffalo husbandry - adequate feeds and veterinary care, a good breeding programme, good marketing channel, etc. - is required for the sustainable improvement of buffalo production in the hills and mountains of Nepal. This is precisely the point we were trying to make in our paper.

In addition, we are not suggesting any imports of exotic animals, which would involve high-risk investments particularly in the higher hills and mountains, but we are advocating a strategy of development and selection within the existing buffalo population. This could be organised through a cooperative group breeding scheme which would minimize the risks to the individual farmer and allow farmers to collaborate on the improvement of the buffalo population in the area.

I would also like to add the following general remarks to our paper:

Buffaloes serve smallholder farmers as their "living bank", in addition to their production of milk, meat, manure, bone and hides, and draught power (only in Terai and Inner Terai). This true multipurpose use makes the species one of the most economically important livestock in the country, particularly in the hills and mountains. Official statistics (Agricultural Perspective Plan) estimate that buffalo contribute 53% of livestock's share to the Gross National Domestic Product. I wonder if similar situations exist in other countries across the HK region?

Despite the economic importance of buffalo and the vast potential for their further improvement, there is a lack of systematic work to evaluate and explore this potential. To remedy this situation, our team at Lumle Agricultural Research Station has initiated a pilot research programme under its Bovine Research Strategy, which has come up with encouraging initial results. However, due to a lack of funds and inadequate national interest, the programme has been limited in terms of its magnitude and multi-disciplinary coverage. I strongly feel that the support and collaboration of international agencies such as FAO, ILRI and ICIMOD are needed to improve this situation.


Shrestha, HR, Kunwar, BS, Mandal, P, Thapa, MS and Pandey, SB (1998). Effects of feeding urea and molasses treated rice and wheat straw diet on the body weight gain and carcass characteristics of male buffalo calves. Proc. 8th World Conf. Anim. Prod., Seol, Korea. pp 70-71.

Drona P. Rasali

Senior Scientist, Nepal Agricultural Research Council

Present address: Department of Animal Science

University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2

Canada. http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~umrasali