PCC improving native carabao breed for greater productivity

For centuries, the Philippine Carabao, which is a swamp-type water buffalo, has been the ideal ally of farmers in their farm works. This animal, due to its draft power abilities aside from its being tractable and friendly, is the farmers’ reliable partner in their farming chores that without it they feel they’re less of an effective and efficient farmer.

But times have changed. With the advent of farm mechanization, the carabao’s role has been diminished and it is now underutilized, especially with the presence of an increasing number of its cousin – the riverine or dairy type carabaos.

All is not lost for the Philippine carabao.

True to its mandate under Republic Act No. 7307 to conserve, propagate and promote the carabao as a source of milk, meat, draft power and hide to benefit rural farming families, the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) is pursuing the noble and challenging undertaking of improving the breed of the native carabao. It is committed to the task of establishing a gene pool for Philippine Carabao in which the selection for economically important traits of this animal is to be done. These traits include growth, carcass quality and reproductive abilities.

Under this program, foremost in the list of must-do for this animal is to improve its size, weight and capabilities to yield more draft power, meat, milk and other benefits that can be derived from it.

In the genetic improvement program (GIP) of the Philippine carabao, the conservation efforts will underscore the maintenance of a viable herd and long-term storage of germplasm in the form of frozen semen, and perhaps frozen embryos.

“We are focusing on improving the meat production potential of the native or swamp buffaloes, increasing more of its growth rate and improving some of the specific muscle areas that are of high value,” Dr. Ester B. Flores, PCC national GIP coordinator, revealed.

She said the breeding program is meant to increase the productivity of the Philippine carabao for meat because it already has good structure and form for draft power.

“If it will be sold for meat, then why not increase its dressing percentage?” she asked.

Improving growth potential

According to Flores, in terms of economic benefits, the changes in the potential growth rate of the native carabao can be translated into economic value with less efforts and just involves the use of improved genetics of the swamp buffaloes.

“Through the fast growth rate of swamp buffaloes, the farmers can sell these at a younger age with market weight of 400 kg,” she said.

A write-up on “Updates on Philippine Swamp Buffalo Gene Pool and Breeding Program” conducted by the GIP team of Flores indicated that, to date, there are 1,266 growth records available for analysis. In recent years, a general improvement in weight and ADG (average daily gain), especially among the younger calves, was noted. This validates the selection of replacement bulls for breeding.

Growth trend indicates linear growth up to 24 months of age. ADG at 12months had the most consistent steady increase as there was a 153% increase in 2014 relative to 2004. This was followed by ADG at 18 months.

This is translated to a slightly higher body weight at 12 and 18 months compared to 2004 prior to the start of the breeding program.

By making the native carabao grow faster, she said, it will provide farmers additional income as the animal will attain market weight faster.

“If the native carabao will have more meat, the farmers can get bigger income,” Flores pointed out.

The study also indicated that there is a potential for the PC to increase its meat-type breed with a more formal genetic evaluation and selection program. Thus, genetic evaluation to estimate breeding values for growth rate, carcass and maternal traits should be given more emphasis as well as genetic correlations among these traits.

“We should select bulls or breeders that are fast growers to improve the whole population. In the next round, you have to match up your breeder with a female swamp buffalo then the calf will be used for breeding for the next generation. That is why the improvement is quite visible from 240g of ADG to 400g. That is the effort of the selection and breeding program,” Flores said.

She added: “If a farmer wants to get the semen, we have good quality semen for native carabaos with excellent conformation, faster growth rate and is definitely pure. You will see here the effort of PCC to help increase the income of farmers if ever they will sell their animals for meat. We are not developing a new breed but we are actually improving the potential of our Philippine carabao, which we call our own swamp buffaloes.”

Meanwhile, Flores believes that the program won’t affect the population of swamp buffaloes for the farmers won’t sell all his animals but instead will keep the females for reproduction purposes.

“They won’t definitely sell their source of income. A good reason for the conservation of a species is for it to have an economic value. If it provides much benefits, it will be taken care of and make it reproduce,” she said.

Genetic conservation

Now that climate change is becoming an issue that might cause some animal species to disappear, PCC is exerting more active efforts to identify sanctuaries and increase village-based gene pools for swamp buffaloes and with cryopreservation of germplasm for future generations.

These village-based gene pools are areas identified by PCC where the native carabao population will be conserved and become carabao sanctuaries. Introduction of foreign breeds of buffaloes, such as the Murrah breed, will be avoided in coordination with concerned local government units in areas where these carabao sanctuaries are located.

“We have active conservation efforts and we are actually cryobanking germplasms, so that is the insurance to our mandate to conserve and propagate. We have two ways of doing it: conservation by improving its economic value, and conservation by preserving, cryobanking and maintaining the good genes,” Dr. Flores said.

Continuous backcrossing

Crossbreeding is another way to improve its breed in areas that are of dairy source. The desired end-result is the production of crossbreds, from the crossing of purebred Murrah bulls and female Philippine Carabaos, with 50% exotic blood and 50% Philippine Carabao blood.

Increasing the riverine blood in the crossbred buffalo population is intended for higher milk production. This is done by repeated backcrossing to different riverine bulls up to fourth generation. Continuous backcrossing will result to a 93.75% riverine blood with higher milk production.

“We are developing our own Philippine Dairy through backcrossing because we only have few purebreds imported from other countries that serve as our genetic resource. These are what we use in the selection for genetic improvement. They will reproduce through continuous backcrossing of the native and riverine breed. If it reaches 93% that is almost pure and we can call it our own Philippine dairy buffalo breed,” Flores explained.

An example of this successful continuous backcrossing activity is the herd of crossbred dairy buffaloes owned by Robert Garbino of Barangay Dalid in Calinog, Iloilo. Garbino is a member of the Calinog-Lambunao-Bingawan Carabao Raisers Association (CLB-CARA) and a farmer-partner of PCC at Western Visayas State University (WVSU).

One of the crossbreds, named “Julia” with ID number 6WVC080163, has a 75% riverine blood having been a product of a successful artificial insemination by Anjo Palmes, a PCC-trained village-based AI technician (VBAIT). The animal gave birth to a female calf with 87% riverine blood in 2014 out of AI process and was named “Krissy”.

“Julia” was recorded to have an average of 5.7 liters of milk production per day at 181 days of lactation and calvings in February 2012, February 2013 and February 2014 with 12 months of calving interval. “Krissy”, on the other hand, recorded an average of eight liters of milk per day for 45 days and has just calved in early January 2015.

“We are very grateful that we have these crossbreds because of the income they are providing us. I was a construction worker before and only earned P350 for a day’s work, but now that I have my crossbreds, I earn thousands of pesos from milk sales in just a half-day of work,” Garbino proudly stated.

The two crossbreds were awarded as “Best Senior Crossbred Dairy Cow” and “Best Junior Crossbred Dairy Cow”, respectively, during the PCC 22nd founding anniversary last March 27.

These crossbreds are certainly proof enough that given the necessary attention and care, these animals can be at par with the imported dairy breed.