A Water Buffalo Journey

[imgbelt img=Wallow528.jpg]Ranchers will try anything. So when Joe Marchbanks laid his eyes on some Arkansas water buffalo, you knew he was going to start his own herd.


Turkey Creek Ranch, a 650 acre ranch snuggled comfortably in the hills of Arkansas just outside of Texarkana.  It was a nice day for a road trip and we all settled in for the drive to Arkansas. The men talked about the farm. I spent most of my time on my BlackBerry sending text messages and emails, much to the greater consternation of my husband. 

Arriving at our destination we turned through its wide gate and drove down a windy road. The anticipation starting to build. We peered through the trees as we drove by looking for any sign of what we had come to see: 

Water buffalo

Toronto Star

Most people on this continent raise water buffalo for their milk.

He explained to us that the first water buffalo for commercial use in this country were imported mostly from Trinidad and Guam, and some were purchased from zoos. In addition to the Trinidad and Guam lines, there is also a foundation line out India, the Murrah, but these days stock imported from Italy have really gained in popularity.  Each line has its own particular characteristics, but most water buffalo in this country probably have elements of all these lines somewhere in their DNA. 

Tom largely keeps crossbreeds between the two major types of water buffalo, the river and the swamp buffalo. 

He described the swamp buffalo as short and round, being “not as tall as the river buffalo, but twice as wide.” The swamp buffalo tend to be a little slower going, lighter in color than their river brethren, and typically marked by a chevron on their chests.

He compared the swamp buffalo to the “old time Angus,” whereas the river buffalo he said are more of a “Holstein like animal.”

By looking at the buffalo you can pretty much size up what line they come out of. If they have blues eyes, that’s a river trait. If they are somewhat blonde in appearance, they are out of the Trinidad and Guam lines. If they are small, comparatively speaking, that’s a Murrah trait. 

Smart and Wary

Water buffalo have a reputation for being smart. According to Tom, “They know who doesn’t belong and don’t particularly like strangers.”

They are also creatures of habit and don’t like having their routines interrupted. WBs find it disconcerting when something changes in their pasture. As far as disposition goes, their reputation is somewhat split. They are known for being large, gentle animals, but require handling to get them that way: they don’t necessarily come that way straight out of the box.

We watched Tom’s ranch hand work the buffalo and noticed that he moved very slowly, talked to them continuously in low soothing tones, and never raised his hands above his waist. You have to take your time with water buffalo and don’t want to panic or upset them. Unlike many of our domestic breeds of cattle, water buffalo come with a working set of horns and can move surprisingly fast.

Perhaps the best demonstration of this somewhat split personality comes out of Indonesia. A few months ago the president of Indonesia was compared to a water buffalo. Apparently people didn’t much like what he was doing or not doing, and protests were held where many brought their water buffalo (the symbol of the opposition party in Indonesia) to drive their point home.

The president took exception to being compared to a water buffalo, implying that he was slow and plodding. He proceeded to outlaw the presence of the animals at protests, arguing that water buffalo could be dangerous and a threat to public safety. 

What political statement he might have been trying to make at this point to his detractors is beyond me. Perhaps he was implying that he, too, could be somewhat unpredictable and therefore should be handled with care.

Don’t Forget the Wallow

As both Bob and Mr. Marchbanks were considering purchasing animals, we wanted to know about their care and feeding. Water buffalo have the same requirements as cattle as far as vaccinations go and eat the same food.

We had heard that they were less likely to attract horn flies, those nasty little devils that plague cattle starting in the spring. Tom explained that he hadn’t noticed that his animals were more resistant to flies, but maybe they had fewer of them because of their tendency to wallow.