From pigs to carabaos: The shift that pays

A thunderous applause met him as he made his way to the stage. A mix of emotions assaulted him, but happiness stood out. Why not when one of his dreams has just been realized?

On that particular day, March 27, 2014, Arnold Cunanan, 38, received a plaque of recognition for being “Outstanding Dairy Buffalo Farmer” for the Family Module category during the celebration of the 21st founding anniversary of the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC).

This is one of the awards annually given by the PCC to selected dairy farmers who have excelled in carabao-raising during the agency’s anniversary every March.

For two years, the award has been elusive to Arnold, who always placed runner-up during the selection process. On the third try though, his efforts finally paid off.

“I wanted to shout for joy because I have been hoping to win this award for so long,” Arnold said. His wife, Angelita, 35, and one of their two kids accompanied him in receiving the honor.

Arnold, who used to have a piggery, became interested in dairying because of the encouragement from his friend, Allan Benitez, the current chairman of Simula ng Panibagong Bukas Producers Cooperative (SIPBUPCO) in their place in Porais, San Jose City, Nueva Ecija.

“He was always telling me that carabaos can be of great help to a family especially when they are already producing milk,” he stated. Although he already had a native carabao and a crossbred, he only used them as draft animals.

Arnold joined SIPBUPCO in 2009 and was grateful that he was one of those who were loaned with Brazilian Murrah buffaloes under the 25-dairy cow module of the PCC in the same year.
As a start, he converted his piggery into a corral for his carabaos. He also planted a portion of his farm with napier grass.

Although it was only in 2011 that some of Arnold’s animals started getting pregnant, he did not lose hope. He planted his farm with onions and rice during the dry and wet seasons, respectively, as he patiently raised his buffalo herd.

“I was very determined to get my herd impregnated and milk them,” Arnold said.

After subjecting his animals to artificial insemination or to natural mating with bulls in the morning, he would repeat the whole process in the afternoon to ensure that they would get pregnant. He also made sure that they were not subjected to extreme heat in the pasture area. Further, he administered vaccines and vitamins to his herd when needed.

He provided his buffaloes with enough sustenance, such as napier grass and rice bran. When his supplies were scarce, he would buy sakate (forage) worth Php20 per bundle from the neighboring village.

Milk started flowing from his carabaos that gave birth in 2012. He would collect about four liters from each of his lactating animals. He would then sell the milk produce at PhP50 per liter to the Nueva Ecija Federation of Dairy Carabao Cooperatives (NEFEDCCO), the processing and marketing arm of the PCC-assisted dairy cooperatives in Nueva Ecija.

To ensure the quality of his milk, Arnold regularly attended the PCC-supervised monthly milk test day conducted by their cooperative.

“Participating in the milk test is time-consuming but through this activity, I would know if my buffaloes are suffering any diseases so I would be able to administer the right veterinary medicine. I would also know if the milk is safe for consumption,” he explained.

Through all of these, Arnold has his family to count on. His wife and kids would deliver the milk to the collection center of their cooperative. They also help in cleaning the stall housing the carabaos and in feeding them.

“Our life is now more comfortable. We no longer run out of money for food and we already have enough for our daily expenses,” Angelita, Arnold’s wife, happily shared.

Since their income from milk sales is enough to cover their daily needs, they were able to save what they earn from selling onions. They were also able to transfer their first child to a private school because they could already afford it.

After being awarded as an outstanding dairy buffalo farmer, Arnold was all the more encouraged to further improve his dairy business and expand the number of his herd. Now, he has 15 dairy buffaloes, two of which are already lactating while seven are these are pregnant.

He said he is more than willing to share his knowledge and experiences in buffalo dairying with his fellow dairy farmers who seek his advice.

“I always tell them to maintain the body of their buffaloes and stay alert for the start of the estrous cycle. If the body score is very low or very high, it will be difficult to get the animals pregnant,” Arnold revealed

“The ideal body score is from 3 to 4.5. This was taught by the PCC and I have personally observed it to be effective,” he added.

It is also important, he said, to keep proper records of the vital data about the buffaloes.

“Above all, a dairy farmer needs to be industrious and diligent,” he emphasized.

He is now improving and expanding the housing for his buffaloes using the cash prize he received from PCC as part of his award. He also has set his sights on increasing his herd, like another dairy farmer whom he looks up to, Marcelino Mislang, one of the highly successful dairy farmers in San Jose.

With the hard work and determination, Arnold Cunanan is well on his way toward attaining greater success.