Livestock Research for Rural Development 9 (4) 1997

Citation of this paper

Milking swamp buffaloes in villages in the Mekong delta of Vietnam


Nguyen van Thu

Department of Animal Husbandry , Faulty of Agriculture, Cantho University, Cantho city, Vietnam


Two pilot trials were carried out, in the period February to June 1996, to assess the feasibility of milking swamp buffaloes in villages in the Mekong delta, . Measurements were made of milk yield and composition and of the impact of the technology on the village society. The buffaloes selected for the trial were studied from the first to the fifth month of lactation. The calves sucked each teat for a few minutes and then two teats were milked by hand. Teats to be milked were rotated every two days. After milking the calf sucked the residual milk including the two teats milked out by hand. After sucking was finished, the calf was separated from the cow until the next milking. Daily milk yield was calculated as the yield from 4 teats by adding the mean of milk on days 1 and 2 (teats 1 and 2) with the mean of milk on days 3 and 4 (teats 3 and 4), and so on.

In trial 1, the average milk yield (mean±SE) was 1.50±0.48 kg/day. The contents of fat and protein were 9.1 and 4.40%, respectively. In trial 2, the milk yield was 1.55±0.11 kg/day, and milk fat and protein were 8.68% and 4.86%, respectively. The period required to train the buffaloes for milking ranged from 15 to 32 days. The milk was readily consumed by children and old people. It is concluded that the milking of swamp buffaloes in villages in Vietnam has a promising potential to solve the problem of child malnutrition and to make more sustainable the farming systems.

Key words: Swamp buffalo, milk yield, milk composition, target groups



The swamp buffalo in the Mekong delta of Vietnam has played a very important role in food production. In the Mekong delta, the swamp buffaloes have thrived well, in contrast with the local cattle that could not be developed due to wet and muddy conditions (eg: in Minh Hai and Kien Giang provinces). Traditionally, buffaloes are used for work. There is no tradition of milking cattle or buffaloes nor of consuming fresh milk.

In recent years, the buffalo population in the Mekong delta has declined markedly mainly as a result of the introduction of mechanization. Meat production from buffaloes is poorly developed and comes mainly from animals slaughtered at the end of their working lives. An alternative to increase farmer's profit from buffaloes would be to manage them as multi-purpose animals (Nguyen Van Thu et al 1996). Tang GongZheng (1995) reported that from 1987 to 1990, the number of buffaloes that were used for milk production in the Guanxi province of China was more than 2000 heads, and that 90% of the animals were of the swamp type.

The present study was designed as a first attempt to assess the milk production potential of the swamp buffaloes in the Mekong delta and to measure the farmers' reaction to the innovation.

Materials and methods

Milking management and feeding

At the beginning of the study, thirty farmers and local technicians in Vinh Vien and Vinh Loi villages were invited to take a three-day training course on managing swamp buffaloes for milking. Then two students were sent to the villages to help the farmers with the trials. Four buffaloes were used in the first trial and ten buffaloes in the second one. The study took place over the first five months of lactation and took place during the normal working season.

Milking was initiated between 15 and 20 days following parturition. The calf was allowed to suck all four teats for a few seconds to stimulate the letdown of the milk. Milk was then drawn by hand from two of the teats. The other two teats were left for the calf to suck. The teats selected for milking were rotated every two days in accordance with the sampling of the milk to assess composition.. Milk yield was calculated as the sum of the milk obtained from all four teats using the following calculation:

Daily yield = [(milk on day 1 + milk on day 2)/2]+[(milk on day 3 + milk on day 4)/2].......etc

On days 1 and 2, teats 1 and 2 were milked. On days 3 and 4 teats 3 and 4 were milked and so on. Once the milking was finished the calf was left for 15-20 minutes to suck the residual milk including that from the teats that had not been milked. The calf was then kept apart from the mother until the next milking. Milking was done twice a day by men and children (over ten years old): very early in the morning at between 5:30 and 6:00 am and again in the afternoon between 5:30 and 6:00 pm. The animals worked normally in the fields for part of the time in the period between morning and evening milking.

The feed for the animals was based on locally available resources. During the daytime when they were not working they grazed the natural grasses in the acid soil areas such as Eleocharis dulcis and Sacciolepis indica. During the night they were fed rice straw supplemented with a urea-molasses cake (700 g/day). The calves were fed some rice bran, grasses and straw as well as the milk taken by suckling.


Records were kept daily of milk production. Every two days samples of the drawn milk were taken for analysis. Calves were weighed every month. Observations were made of the time taken to train the animals and of the opinions of the farmers.

Results and discussion

The period of time to accustom the buffaloes to the milking procedure was from 15 to 32 days. The data for milk yield and composition and calf growth rate are in Table 1.

The average growth rate of the calves was similar to what has been observed in the Mekong delta for swamp buffalo calves reared traditionally with no milking of the dam. The average milk yield of 1.5 kg/day during 150 day under heavy working conditions was less than was reported from Thailand where the yield was 1.94 kg/day during a lactation of 236 days (Khajarern and Khajarern 1990) under partly working condition. For Murrah x Swamp buffaloes the yield was 3.73 kg/day per day during 277 days. In Nanning city, with 300 heads of swamp buffaloes used for milking the daily milk yield was 2.15 kg (Tang Gongzhen 1995).

The milk quality was high in terms of total solids and fat content. Thac and Vuc (1979) reported values for milk composition in Vietnamese swamp buffaloes of fat 9.1%, crude protein 7.1%, lactose 4.90% and ash 0.89%. Similarly, Tang Gongzhen (1995) indicated that the milk fat of swamp buffaloes was as high as 10.5%. In the present study milk composition from buffaloes in trial 1 was higher than from buffaloes in trial 2. This could be caused by the quality of the staple feed. Buffaloes in trial 2 consumed mainly Eleocharis dulcis and rice straw, while in trial 1 the main feed was Sacciolepis indica.

An observation was made in Trial 2 comparing milk yield on working and resting days by milking and weighing the calves before and after suckling. The results (Table 2) indicated that the milk yield was lower during working days as compared to resting days. Milk taken by suckling was higher than by hand milking, and by weighing calves the milk yield was also higher than milking. Similar findings were reported by Nguyen Van Thu et al (1996). The difference between suckled and drawn milk of 0.28 and 0.59 kg /day, for working and resting days, presumably is an indication of the amount taken by the calves when they suck the residual milk. It is to be expected that, as happens with cattle, the residual milk would have a much higher concentration of fat (50% higher in the data reported by Sahn et al 1997) which would mean a fat content of the order of 15%. In this case 0.5 litres suckled buffalo milk would be equal in energy content to some 2 litres of cow's milk.

The milk from the Swamp buffalo in this study was readily consumed by the children and old people. This caused a good impact in the villages. The farmers who participated in the project were ready to continue to milk buffaloes for feeding their children. They also gave the animals better diets. Tang Gongzhen (1995) stated that the policy in Guangxi province in China is to develop milk production using both the indigenous swamp buffaloes and crosses with the Riverine (Murrah) strains. It is recognised that Swamp buffaloes are poor milkers compared with the Riverine strains but they are superior for draught purposes and could be the basis for development of triple purpose animals with potential for meat, milk and draught purposes (Khajarern and Khajarern 1990). Chantalakhana (1993) proposed that the goals for genetic improvement of swamp buffaloes could be selection for better draught power, meat production and milk production. Animal could be selected for any one, any two or all three goals, depending on the needs of the farming systems in a particular area.


It is concluded that swamp buffaloes could be used for milking as well as for work and that the growth of the calf is not impaired by partial milking of the dam. The milk was appreciated by the farmers in the villages.


Chatalakhana C 1993 Breeding potential of swamp buffaloes. Genetics and and breeding of swamp buffaloes. Buffalo Production. World Animal Science Chapter 6. (Editors: N M Tulloh and J H G Holmes): pp102-109.

Khajarern S and Khajarern J M 1990 Feeding swamp buffalo for milk production. Feeding dairy cows in the tropics. FAO Animal Production and Health paper 86: 115-126.

Mai Van Sanh, Preston T R and Le Viet Ly 1997 Effects of restricted suckling versus artificial rearing on performance and fertility of crossbreed F1(Holstein Friesian x Local) cows and calves in Vietnam. Livestock Research for Rural Development (9) 4:1-8

Nguyen van Thu, Nguyen Thi Kim Dong, Vo ai Quac and Nguyen van Hon 1993 Effect of molasses-urea cake on performance of growing and working local buffaloes and cattle fed low nutritive value diets. Livestock Research for Rural Development (5) 1:46-53

Nguyen Van Thu, Pearson R.A and Preston T R 1996 Effect of work and supplementation on performance of lactating buffaloes in Vietnam. In: Proceedings of the 2nd Asian Buffalo Congress held in Philippines, Oct.9-12, 1996: pp104-116.

Tang Gongzhen 1995 The performance of cattle and buffaloes feeding forage and straw for milk, meat production and draft in Guangxi, China. In: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Increasing Animal Production with Local Resources. (Editor: Guo Tingshuang). China Forestry Publishing House, China pp: 26-33.

Thac N D and Vuc N V 1979 A study of milk production of native buffaloes in Vietnam (in Vietnamese). Results of research in Science and Technology (1969-1979). National Institute for Animal Husbandry. Agricultural publishing house: pp. 150-154.

Received 1 July 1997

Return to top