Buffaloes are closer to wild ruminants than their bovine counterparts. The fact that only a very small percentage of buffaloes worldwide are artificially inseminated is evidence to the fact that genetic progress in this species is limited when compared to dairy cows. However the increase in demand for buffalo milk and milk products has led to several large dairy farms being set up in different parts of the world. Today there are several large buffalo farms with herd sizes ranging from 500 to 5,000 buffaloes in India, Pakistan, Egypt, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Italy and the UK. Among the buffaloes, it is predominantly the riverine type that is used for large scale milk production.

In terms of productive and reproductive traits as well as natural behaviour, buffaloes are quite different from dairy cows. Like cows, buffaloes can be selected for high milk production and we have several examples of buffaloes producing close to 5,000 litres of milk in 270 to 300 days in India, Pakistan and Italy. However, to treat the buffalo with the same conditions of housing, feeding, reproduction and management like a Holstein or Jersey cow may not produce optimum results.

Milking buffaloes in intensive production conditions exposes them to stress by way of calf separation, bad hand milking routines and poorly maintained milking machines. The bad milking routines with milking machine could lead to higher somatic cell counts as well as impaired udder health. A study done in India, where different management systems were compared, shows that irrespective of whether the buffaloes are hand milked or machine milked, higher incidence of udder infections and higher somatic cell counts are noticed in large intensive production farms. It has been reported that depriving buffaloes from their natural wallowing behaviour will lead to reduced fertility, especially in warmer parts of the world.



Buffaloes prefer to be in groups than in isolated conditions since they communicate via different visual signals, scent, sounds and touch. Although a lot of information is genetically passed on which is interpreted as instinct, there are important phases of an individual’s life that learning’s and social interactions are important especially in the early life.


Effects of different temperament of buffaloes have been seen on various aspects, such as on concentrate intake, milking behaviour, milk production and composition. It has been reported that the temperament of lactating Murrah buffaloes has a significant effect on their feeding behaviour. Docile buffaloes are preferred over nervous and aggressive animals, as they are easier to milk, handle, manage, and they produce more milk of relatively better quality than aggressive ones. In a comparison between docile, restless, nervous and aggressive buffaloes of Murrah breed, it was found that the docile individuals had a higher rate of concentrate intake, shorter let-down time, slightly longer milking time, higher daily milk yield, higher milk flow rate and a higher percentage of milk fat than the other groups of buffaloes.

Ranking and Hierarchy

Social ranking and hierarchy is very evident in buffaloes and the fact that most buffalo farmers like to retain the horns make it necessary to consider the influence of ranking buffaloes. Like in dairy cows, the ranking of each animal depends upon different factors like age, body weight, temperament and possession of horns.

The rank order or hierarchy is usually stable and each individual adjusts to its position quite well. In cases where buffaloes are housed in loose housing systems and free stall barns it is very important not to change the buffaloes in the group frequently as this disturbs the harmony in the herd. In a loose housing system if the animals have to be changed, always do it in a group. The newly introduced buffaloes in a herd will always have a low ranking and these animals will be stressed due to continuous harassment and usually they will have low production. Buffaloes are much more aggressive to newcomers than dairy cattle and since they have horns in a loose housing situation it could lead to injuries, abortions, traumatic mastitis and even high mortality in the new animals. There is no information on the optimal group size for buffaloes but usually in most farms with loose housing in Italy and India it is limited to about 70 to 80 buffaloes.

Circadian Rhythm

Buffaloes like other gregarious animals have a distinct circadian rhythm whereby they carry out most of their maintenance activities like feeding, resting, rumination and movement in day-time. Both river and swamp buffaloes found in the wild are observed to carry out most of their maintenance behaviour in the day time however in the summer they are found to be grazing more in the early mornings and the late evenings, nocturnal grazing is also quite common in wild buffaloes. Although it is not documented well it is reported that in buffaloes diurnal oestrous behaviour is common and a majority breed in the cooler hours of the morning and evening and sometimes during night.



Recently, the maintenance behaviour of buffaloes was studied in a mechanised farm with in parlour and out of parlour automatic concentrate feeding systems (AFS), hydraulic manure scrapers and automated milking parlours. On an average buffaloes spent about 33 per cent of a 24 hour period lying, 6 per cent sleeping and 23 per cent of the time eating roughage and concentrates from the AFS. The rest of the time (38 per cent) was spent on other activities like standing, walking, visiting the concentrate feeder or drinking water (Figure 1). Maintenance behaviour of buffaloes and its diurnal variation in this study was similar to what was reported in loose housing systems without mechanisation, and also to findings regarding cattle. Eating and resting behaviour (lying and sleeping) of buffaloes was also similar to earlier findings in cattle. Thus, mechanised management system did not alter the maintenance behaviour of buffaloes.

Figure 1. Average time (percentage) spent on rumination, resting, standing and walking and eating in a loose housing barn.

There is very little information on the responses of tied up buffaloes. Using a feeding regime consisting mainly of chopped green Panicum maximum it was reported that buffaloes spent 27 per cent of their time feeding, 39 per cent ruminating and 34 per cent resting, either in standing or lying position.

Wallowing behaviour and heat stress

Buffaloes are a semi aquatic species and this is why they are able to withstand the harsh hot and humid conditions as most of them are located in the warmest parts of the world. The buffalo has developed its own mechanism to cope up with the natural environmental conditions it lives in. The black skin of buffaloes attracts solar radiations easily. The black colour of the skin is due to the melanin pigmentation that protects it from UV radiation. Buffalo skin is thicker than cattle, which limits heat loss. The density of hair on the body surface is much lower than in cattle (100 to 200/cm2 in buffaloes compared to 1000/cm2 in dairy cattle) and thus the number sweat glands per centimeter of body surface is lower than in cattle. This limits heat dissipation by sweat evaporation.

Sebum secretion in buffaloes is also three times of that in cattle thus providing an effective protection to the skin while they role in mud ponds. Thus when buffaloes are exposed to solar radiations for a log period of time their rectal and skin temperatures increase rapidly. Buffaloes seek water to immerse its body in it or roles in a mud pool so that it is covered with wet mud. Thus in buffaloes, unlike in dairy cattle, heat dissipation is via conduction (direct contact of the skin with the water/mud) and water evaporation. Heat stress due to over exposure to sun influences feed intake, growth rate, milk production and fertility negatively. Buffaloes also have higher water turn over rate than dairy cattle. Buffaloes are also reported to be less efficient users of water as they have a higher water intake per unit dry matter intake. They also have higher urine output and lower percentage of kidney re-absorption.

Permitting animals to wallow has a good influence on milk production. In a study, two groups of animals with comparative nutrition and management conditions were compared. One group had no access to a pool (NP) while another had accesses to a pool. The results showed higher yield in the NP animals especially in the warmest parts of the year. It was also demonstrated that the NP animals had a significantly higher number of pregnant animals. However, wallowing comes with the risk of hazardous consequences especially if the water is not flowing. Buffaloes tend to defecate and urinate in the water and this water could become a source of contagious diseases like tuberculosis and brucellosis.

A study on the effect of certain summer management practices on lactating Murrah buffaloes indicated that there is a definite increase in milk yield of about 20 to 25 per cent when cool drinking water was provided and the animals were showered during the afternoon. A distinct improvement in the summer breeding of buffalo following managerial changes in farm practices has been reported. A higher conception rate, of 80 per cent was obtained in animals given showers in addition to wallowing facilities. Showers may prevent early embryonic mortality. Buffaloes seem to tolerate cold better than is commonly supposed. However, cold winds and rapid drops in temperature appear to have caused illness, pneumonia and even death.

Lying and resting

Lactating buffaloes spend about 9 to 11 hours a day lying and resting while they may spend only about 1 to 1½ hours a day sleeping with their eyes closed. Buffaloes also dose of or close their eyes while standing and ruminating. Buffaloes lie down 40 to 50 times a day. In the loose housing system most of the animals choose to lie down in the resting cubicles and not in the walking alleys or resting alleys.

It is common that most buffaloes rest within a short while after feeding. The resting period ranges from fifteen minutes to around three hours and longer sleeping time was observed in the nights and mid day when the temperature was warmer.

The resting place should accommodate the lunging movement while sitting down and a stride forward while rising up that is similar to cows. Like cows, buffaloes make use of about 3 to 3.20 meters while rising and sitting down whereas cows while sitting down will be about 2.25 to 2.35 meters. Too narrow stalling will produce stress for the animals and can lead to complications like mastitis.

In tied up systems, it is good to provide partitions between buffaloes at a distance of at least 1.2 meters between them. Head to head systems with a central feeding alley is more convenient for handling activities like feeding, manure handling and animals as well. In tied up systems, it is also convenient to give some kind of a feed rack, restricting the animal from stealing food from its adjacent animal.


Like cattle, buffaloes also need exercise for proper functioning of their systems. In villages, buffaloes easily walk 2 to 3 km every day. Buffaloes spend between 2 to 5 per cent of their time walking in confined conditions. However they spend about 10 to 12 per cent of their time walking and probably searching for food while they are free to roam on pasture. However buffaloes have much larger hoof and have relatively fewer hoof problems when compared cows under the same conditions. Since their body structure is slightly different as compared to cows, they are known to be slow movers. This needs to be considered while designing the milking parlours and free stall housing systems. It is however important to have anti-skid flooring if concrete floors are used. In free stall barns the cross over channels should be wide enough to occupy at least two buffaloes and should never be less than three meters. Considering that buffaloes have horns and that they are slightly more aggressive in comparison to dairy cattle it is good to make the walking and feeding alley 8 to 10 per cent wider than what is usual for cows.


The eating rate in buffaloes is significantly influenced by the quality of the feed. In tied up conditions if buffaloes are given two meals a day (morning and evening) they consume 63 per cent of forenoon meal within 30 minutes of offering. About 23 per cent is eaten during the next hour and the remaining 14 per cent is slowly eaten in another 1.5 hours. The rate of eating is lower in the evening. During restricted feeding, buffaloes consume 75 per cent of their feeds in the first 1.5 hour. When ad lib feeding is available, buffaloes consume 63 per cent of the feed in the first 6 hours and remaining 37 per cent is eaten slowly during the remaining 18 hours. The rate is fast in the beginning but decreases sharply 3 hours after feed is offered.

In loose housing conditions if a feed mixer wagon is used for feeding or feed is deposited on the feeding table once or twice a day there is severe competition for feeds and the new and lower ranked animals will be deprived. It is therefore important to provide enough space per animal and also enough standing places as per the number of animals. In a loose housing system, the lower ranked buffaloes ate much after the higher ranked ones even if there was feed on the feeding table. The lower ranked buffaloes were chased away by the higher ranked when they approached the feeding table. Primiparopus animals and low ranking animal should be removed from groups where they have problems as these animals will otherwise be prone to frequent problems of skin lesions and injuries to the udder.

Restricting feeding increases competition and this leads to further stress for lower ranked animals. When feeding is restricted animals are found to be standing for longer periods of time and also searching for food. Whereas when larger quantities feed are made available or buffaloes rested longer clearly indicating that this reduces the stress and competition. Therefore ad lib feeding should be more suitable for buffaloes with horns in confined conditions.

Figure 2. Consumption of water for animals with free access to water distributed over a 24-hour period.

Water intake

The type of feed, the environmental temperature and physiological functions effect water intake in buffaloes. It reported that water consumption in buffaloes is higher than in dairy cows. Buffaloes are less efficient users of water as they have a higher water intake per unit dry matter intake. Buffalo calves weighing about 270 kg were reported to consume approximately 20 liters/day of water during winter and 36 litres/day during the heat of summer.

In a recent study, animals were fed the same ration but had restricted access twice a day or free access for 24 hours to water (Figure 2). Buffaloes with free access to water had an average water intake of 53 to 60 litres per day. They consumed most water between 10 to 14 hours (Figure 2). Animals that drank from buckets twice a day (restricted access) consumed between 56 and 59 litres of water per day.



Much work has been done on the milking management of dairy cattle, sheep and goat, but comparatively little research data is available on the milking management of buffaloes. In general buffaloes are known to be difficult to milk. A number of researchers from different parts of the world have reported the problem of disturbed milk ejection and rapid termination of lactation in cases where the calves die or the regular milker is replaced. It is well known from practice that in large buffalo herds, oxytocin injection is frequently used to achieve milk let down. The disadvantages with this have been reported recently where it is evident that continuous oxytocin treatment could lead to addiction. To avoid unnecessary side-effects of these treatments, it is necessary to understand the factors that influence the efficient removal of milk in buffaloes, such as milk accumulation, storage of milk, and milk ejection.

Milk accumulation and storage

Among the prominent dairy species, like cattle, goats and sheep, as milk secretes it is transferred within the gland via the ducts into a large cistern that drains out from a single orifice for each lobule (cluster of alveoli). As a consequence, a relatively large portion of the secreted milk is stored as the cisternal fraction of milk in these species. The cisternal area of the mammary gland in the dairy species is referred to as two separate cavities, the teat and gland cistern. Of the total milk secreted in 10 to 12 hours in cows, the cisternal fraction has been reported to be between 20 to 40 per cent while in goats and sheep the cisternal cavities are relatively larger than in cows. However recent studies on buffaloes, where the cisternal and alveolar fractions were measured separately revealed that in buffaloes 95 per cent of the milk secreted between milking is stored in the secretory tissue.

The rate of milk secretion and the process of milk removal are both influenced by the size of the cistern. In both sheep and cattle, it is established that animals with large cisterns are better producers of milk and are adapted to milking routines with longer milking intervals and short stimulation. It is also reported that animals with small cisterns are more susceptible to the short-term autocrine inhibition of milk secretion where the presence of milk in large quantities in the secretory tissue leads to reduced milk secretion. This effect is less intense if the milk is accumulated in the cisternal area and not in close proximity to the secretory tissue. In buffaloes the cisternal area is relatively much smaller compared to cattle, sheep and goat, so if large portions of milk are left unremoved in the secreatory tissue it could lead to immediate drop in milk yield. Therefore, it is crucial to empty the udder of buffaloes efficiently during milking. 

Milk ejection and milk removal

Buffaloes have not been selectively bred to the extent the dairy cattle have been, hence the maternal instinct is prominent in them and similarly they can easily be disturbed by even small changes in milking routines. As buffaloes have very little milk in their cisterns prior to milk ejection if they are disturbed and milk ejection is inhibited it results in more than 95 per cent of the secreted milk remaining in the secretory tissue. Thus it is possible if the buffaloes are repeatedly disturbed during milking, the milk secretion could be retarded through the short-term autocrine inhibition of milk secretion.

It is therefore crucial to introduce machine milking gradually along with good milking procedures to buffaloes who have not been machine milked before. Studies have been done on developing techniques for conditioning buffaloes to machine milking and it is observed that it takes about five to seven days to completely accustom buffaloes to machine milking and to obtain normal milk yields.

Efficient milking of buffaloes

Buffaloes have longer teats and long teat canals as compared to dairy cows, which is important to consider when machine milking them. This is one of the reasons why a different vacuum level has to be used while machine milking buffaloes. In the absence of cisternal fraction of milk, the teats of buffaloes would be empty, and thus while machine milking they could be similar to the teats of dairy cattle towards the end of milking. In the absence of the cisternal fraction if the milking unit is applied prior to milk ejection, the teats are exposed to vacuum and the vacuum enters the teat canal and milk ducts, causing it to collapse and preventing further milk flow. This is also painful for the animal and could lead to inhibition of milk ejection.

It is more economical to machine milk buffaloes in commercial dairy herds. It is estimated that in a small herd of 30 milking buffaloes a farmer could save about `4/day/buffalo when machine milking in comparison to traditional hand milking. In a larger commercial herd with about 150 milking buffaloes, the savings could be more than `10/buffalo/day. Apart from the economical benefit, there are several other benefits such as ease of operation (ergonomics) as the milker does not have to sit crouched under buffaloes, improved milking hygiene, improved milk quality, etc.

Flow controlled milking and tactile stimulation are suggested by some companies as solutions to delayed milk ejection in buffaloes but studies have shown that the best milk ejection is when calves are permitted to suckle prior to milking following by manual prestimulation.

In most developed dairy countries where buffalo milk production exists, machine milking has been successfully practised for more than 40 years successfully. In India more and more buffalo farms are using machines to milk their herds. There are many instances where herd sizes of 300 to 500 buffaloes are now machine milked. In the coming days, there will be a major shift towards machine milking in large and small buffalo farms owing to the advantages and convenience of machine milking.