The Srivilliputhur pal kova, which is famous for its high quality and long-lasting quality, is made primarily from buffalo milk. The pure white pal kova is due to the concentrated buffalo milk, but when cow’s milk is mixed into it, the pal kova off-white or yellowish in colour,” explains Professor D Bhaskar, a specialist in dairy science and food processing.
The reason for this observation is tied with statistics that reveal that Tamil Nadu has an alarming 70 per cent dip in its buffalo population, especially in the native breeds that include Murrah, Toda and Sruti.
According to the state livestock census data, Tamil Nadu in 1997 had 27 lakh buffalo, which decreased to 16.58 lakh in 2004. During the 18th (2012-13) and 19th quinquennial livestock census, the bovine population saw a sharp to 7.81 lakh (2017-18). “With back-to-back calamities like drought and cyclone Gaja adversely affecting the livestock population in TN, the numbers could further decline for both buffaloes and cows,” said a senior veterinarian attached to the state animal husbandry department.
Professor R Prabakaran, former vice chancellor of Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, said, “The buffalo population in the entire south India has been alarmingly low for the past 10 years, but the situation is better in north India. The demand for buffalo milk is high in the north owing to the demand from the sweet industry and this helps them to sustain the bovine population.”
Photo: Manivasagan N
Unlike cows, buffaloes do not show signs of reproductive cycle visible to its owner and veterinarians. This makes their artificial breeding programme tough for stakeholders. There is a need for more awareness to conserve the buffalo population since the high content of fat in buffalo milk helps fighting malnutrition, Prabakaran added.
In fact, the drop in buffalo milk production has also hit some pizza and Italian food chains that in Tamil Nadu that source locally produced mozzarella cheese, that made with buffalo milk. Only thick buffalo milk can produce the unique elastic texture of the cheese that makes pizzas gooey and delicious. “Cheese made from quality buffalo milk is also be exported to foreign countries,” added Professor Bhaskar.
Vanishing waterbodies pose breeding challenges
The Murrah buffalo breeding programme taken up by the state government has not created any major impact as the buffaloes do not have enough water bodies to wallow in. Wallowing refers a habit that some mammals have of rolling or lying in mud or water, especially to keep cool or avoid biting insects. Experts share a little-known fact that when buffalos don’t have enough water to wallow, it affects their biological system and breeding process.
“The programme was undertaken to upgrade the local buffaloes with Murrah and pure-bred Toda buffaloes, but the depleting lakes and ponds are an issue for buffaloes. Lack of wallowing space affects their biological system and breeding process,” said another professor who has served with the Madras Veterinary College. Artificial insemination enjoys success rates up to 80 per cent in cows but for buffaloes, the success rate is only 30 to 50 per cent, the veterinarian explained.
“To ensure economic upliftment of rural women, a buffalo rearing scheme was launched in 2013-14 where 250 beneficiaries were given 500 buffaloes at subsidised rates, but after that, there were no dedicated programmes for buffalos,” the official said.
How ‘buffalo wallow’ helps water bodies
While many have seen buffalos cool off in shallow ponds and near lake shores, not many are aware of how their habit of rolling in water helps the environment. Buffaloes act as a natural desilting agent helping to displace the mud and silt that accumulates in the water bodies. The location where buffaloes regularly gather at the pond or lake deepens and this point is called ‘buffalo wallow’. A buffalo wallow is defined as a natural topographical depression in flat lands that holds rainwater and runoff.
State Loses 2Nd Rank, Slips To 14
- A decade ago TN had a buffalo density of 13 animals in square kilometre but it has reduced to less than 6 and with the depleting water bodies, the living condition of buffalo is under strain
- During 17th livestock census, buffalo population decreased from 27.41 lakh in 1997 to 16.58 lakh in 2004
- In 2012, Tamil Nadu ranked 2nd in poultry, 4th in sheep, 7th in goats, 13th in cattle and 14th in buffalo population in the country
- In 2014-15, Tamil Nadu ranked 2nd in poultry, 4th in sheep, 7th in goats, 9th in Cattle and 10th in buffalo population in the country
- Currently, Tamil Nadu ranks 1st in poultry, fourth in sheep, 7th in goats, 13th in Cattle and 14th in buffalo population in the country
- Buffaloes are an important source of milk in the country today as they yield nearly three times milk as cows
- Buffaloes are believed to have domesticated around 5,000 years ago and thrive best in the areas of moderate rainfall as they require plenty of water for their daily bath
- Whereas, 57 million cows contribute only 45 percent of the total milk yield
- 47.22 mn milch buffaloes produce 55 per cent milk which is more than half of the total milk produced in the country