In San Agustin, Isabela
Excellence in carabao crossbreeding

Hallmarks in carabao upgrading can also bring prominence and significance to a town. Take the case of San Agustin town in Isabela province.

This town has made high marks in carabao crossbreeding that no other town can approximate it. That’s why this town is often called as the “Crossbred Carabao Capital of the Philippines” by the officials and farmers in this town.

San Agustin is at the foot of the Sierra Madre Mountains and a crossroad of the provinces of Quirino, Aurora and Isabela.

Carabao is the number one ally of farmers for land cultivation up to the hauling of harvested crops and a real partner in many ways in agricultural endeavors and as such has fitted the aphorism that says “without the carabao, a farmer is only half a farmer”.

Furthermore, female carabaos have added meaning for them for they produce volume milk which can readily be turned into cash or food for the nutritional needs of their family. This is especially true for the dairy type of carabaos, like the Murrah buffaloes, Italian Mediterranean buffaloes, Brazilian buffaloes, and the crossbreds which yield higher milk quantity than that of the native or swamp buffaloes.

Crossbreeding introduced

Crossbreeding of the native-type (female) with the milk-type (male) carabaos was introduced in the spirit of the Philippine Carabao Act of 1992. The result is a crossbred carabao which, at its first generation, carries the 50% riverine blood and 50% Philippine carabao blood and zooms up to almost the purebred state after four generations of backcrossing.

According to studies, crossbred carabaos have the potentials for higher growth rate and milk production than the native carabaos. It can produce an average of 4-6 liters of milk a day or higher as their upgrading continues, while the native yielding an average of 1.5 liters daily.

San Agustin is a third class municipality with 23 barangays. Its total land area is 27,840 hectares characterized mostly of rolling hills terrain.

The town has a big number of native carabaos which the farmers use in their farm works. Its mountainous profile, which is rich in grasses, provides assurance to the farmers of the abundance of feed and its prevailing peace and order condition guarantees that the animal can be left grazing the whole day in the open field only to be retrieved the next morning for bathing.

In 1992, San Agustin was one of the areas identified, thru a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the then Philippine Carabao Research and Development Center (PCRDC) at Cagayan State University (now Philippine Carabao Center at CSU) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in Region II for the conduct of the Carabao Crossbreeding Program.

In September 1993, PCC@CSU center director Franklin Rellin together with then provincial veterinarian Dr. Angelo Naui, met with all the municipal agriculturists to inform them about the newly launched Carabao Upgrading Program (CUP) and how it can be carried out for the carabaos in different localities.

Julio Lamug, then municipal agriculturist of San Agustin, attended the gathering and informed and discussed with then Mayor Jesus Silorio how the CUP would impact on their town and farmers. Mayor Silorio eventually acquiesced to earmark Php25,000 for the expenses in implementing the program.

The first artificial insemination (AI) project in San Agustin was undertaken at the latter part of October 1993.

The farmers of the town, at first, hesitantly embraced the program to improve the breed of their carabaos. But as they witnessed the success of the 10 farmers who became the “forerunners” of the other hundreds of crossbred carabao owners in San Agustin, a big number of farmers registered their intention to submit their female carabaos for AI a year after.

Parallel to the AI program was the PCC’s bull loan program wherein imported and island-born superior quality bulls were loaned out to qualified farmer-partners for use in carabao upgrading in their respective places. San Agustin received a total of 15 bulls under the program which were given to different farmers under a MOA inked by the PCC and the respective farmers.

Later, in 1995, then Mayor Virgilio Padilla declared the CUP in San Agustin as the town’s banner program.

Thru the commitment and unwavering support of the previous mayors and the current Mayor Cesar Mondala as well as the participation of adherents and believers of the program, San Agustin’s CUP has grown very strong.

Population of crossbreds

San Agustin town is also known for its assiduous celebration of its “Nuang Festival”. “Nuang” is an Ilocano term for carabao. This festival is a much-anticipated occasion for carabao-owners as their beloved crossbreds are at the center stage of the festival and accorded public recognition of their significant achievement in participating and sustaining a program designed for the improvement of the breed of native carabaos.

The municipality of San Agustin, in its strong drive to continue and gain more grounds in crossbreeding, has trained several Village-Based AI Technicians (VBAITs) in PCC at CSU for the upscaling of growth in number of the crossbreds in the town.

Aside from the individual AI activity of VBAITs who were trained in PCC and the technicians from the Department of Agriculture (DA), they also conducted massive AI activities twice a year in the different barangays for the sustainable success of the program. All biologics used for vaccine and deworming were provided by the LGU and Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD).

No doubt, the crossbreeding efforts in this town have already paid off as evidenced by the more than 2,068 head based on the inventory conducted by the research team of PCAARRD.  Over and above this achievement, during the celebration of San Agustin’s 13th Nuang Festival last September, three farmers were entrusted with buffalo bulls that will be used for natural mating with crossbred female carabaos to sire what could be the birth of calves, which after further diligent selection and testing, from among of which can be declared as the “Philippine Buffalo”.

Currently, the municipality has a total of 13 dairy associations. These associations are under the umbrella of the San Agustin Dairy Cooperative (SADACO).

SADACO’s total milk production grew higher from 2,803.25 liters in 2010 when they started milking their crossbreds to 39,283.54 liters in 2017. They process some of the milk yield into different milk products such as flavored milk drinks and pastillas and the rest for other purposes.

To sustain the CUP, the PCC experts recommended to San Agustin the implementation of strategies such as development of a roadmap and municipal livestock development plan, increased availment of the bull loan program, strengthening of the AI program, provision of post-production support, provision of technical training, community organizing, social preparation and marketing support, and establishment of collaboration and linkages.

San Agustin, thru the collaborative efforts of the LGU, PCC and other partners and supporters, hopes to be invigorated some more in its move forward with higher marks not only in carabao upgrading but also in dairy enterprise development.

Will someone now officially move for the declaration of San Agustin by a competent body as the “Crossbred Carabao Capital of the Philippines”?