Tranquil Water Buffaloes
Our village buffaloes
Our Village Buffaloes
The Asian water buffalo (Bubalius bubalis) is the most tranquil of creatures, meandering their way from their watering holes to the fields each day with never a care in the world it seems.
In our village we have two such gentle creatures, mother and daughter and they have won our hearts completely with their gentle brown eyes, twitching ears and rotund appearance. Of course, we've given them names, much to the amusement of the Thai villagers. They have no 'pet' names for their domestic animals, and the word 'buffalo' in Thai - 'kwai' is used as an insult or a term of derision. That's so sad for such a delightful animal. Our 'girls' are Daisy, the mother and Blossom, her daughter of 17 months.
We've lived in our 'Moo Baan' (village) now for nearly three years and are the only foreign family amongst approximately thirty or so Thai families. We've been accepted into their community with grave dignity and over a long period of time. The very fact that we are farming people and understand the land and its needs has certainly helped. We have a shared common base from which to start and this includes the Bovidae family of which Daisy and Blossom are part.
These warm-hearted people are very much a part of rural Thailand and only vaguely aware of the cities and towns within a few kilometres of their village. Some never venture further than the next village, rather like the villagers of England up until the mid '50s. The community is made up of an aging population, with a sprinkling of children (often being cared for by Grand-parents), some young people and a good proportion of the middle aged. For the older folk their world revolves around the village and its activities. Many of the younger people work in the nearby towns of Sattahip, Ban Chang, Bang Sare or Ban Amphur, providing a much needed income for the rest of the family. We can boast a village school, and this takes children from many surrounding villages. Our revered head master actually lives in the village with his grown-up family and hard working wife.
Our house is one of three new houses built over a period of years by a wealthy Thai lady , now residing in England. The several acres of land is divided into 10 plots and as the building process here is as slow as the buffalo's gait, the seven unoccupied plots provide ample pasture for the many village cows and the two buffaloes. Hence our untimely introduction shortly after our arrival here three years ago. The sight of a large buffalo cow grazing quietly outside my gate was disconcerting to say the least. It prompted a torrent of mixed emotions, not least that this was a beautiful animal and that they were renown for their unpredictable aggression. Thankfully, the tales were of the much larger African buffalo, as my husband kindly pointed out once he'd gained controlled of his laughter!
Over the months and years that have passed since our first meeting, Daisy, and later her offspring Blossom, have caused much amusement, panic, astonishment, awe and wonder. One instance of panic was in our first wet season , that much treasured and life-giving monsoon. Daisy's pen lies on a mound close by her owner, Khun Whim's house. The pen and byre are crude affairs made mainly from old corrugated tin sheets and boughs off various fallen trees from around the village, which Whim gathers and stacks for just such an occasion. His position as 'Village Elder' enables him to do this without too much interference from his neighbours of course. The mound is several feet above a tiny stream which is negligible or non-existent in the dry season, but come the rains and that rivulet becomes a raging torrent flowing straight into the lake on the opposite side of the road. The road is often under a foot or so of water making the road impassible until the waters subside. This of course, is great fun for the local fishermen, who gather there in great numbers to catch the fish being flushed from upstream. But a cause of some concern to us as we drove past and saw the surge of water lapping at Daisy's doorway.
We'd come upon this scene of devastation on our return from a shopping trip to nearby Sattahip. We stopped and searched frantically for signs of the missing buffalo amidst this scene of chaos, then within feet of us we saw the flap of a large bovine ear, the only thing visible of this placid creature. She lifted her head slightly and the languid eyes, broad flat horns and nostrils appeared slowly from their obviously much appreciate bath. We could only guess at the flow-rate of this now raging river, but it must have been at least 5 knots. We mused at where her broad flat feet might be, and what would happen should she get stuck in the storm drain under the road. But the old girl wasn't moving an inch (apart from the twitching ears and nostrils). We watched her with curiosity for some time but realized that this water buffalo didn't have 'water' in her title for nothing. She was totally in her element and wasn't about to move soon, for us or anyone else.
Daisy is quite a young buffalo, we've not established quite exactly how old she is as Khun Whim always seems a bit vague on the subject, but she has an ear-tag and so must be registered somewhere. When she produced her first calf last March, we thought that maybe we were in for a village treat with buffalo milk, curd, cheese and yoghurt such as we'd eaten on our journeys to Sri Lanka many times, covered liberally with wild honey or Toddy Palm nectar. Oh the anticipation! But we waited and asked in vain, They just do not eat dairy products in Thailand and I guess this reflects in their very suppleness - just watch a traditional Thai dancer - they have limbs that seem to bend in impossible positions. And we in the West are told we 'must' have the calcium from dairy products in our diet. Why? The answer to that conundrum will come in another article yet to be fully researched.
Curiously, buffalo meat is of high dietary value in that it is leaner and contains lower saturated fats than beef, lamb or pork. The buffalo is an efficient converter of low quality foodstuffs and can digest these more efficiently than other cattle, thus making them easy to maintain using locally available roughage and crop residue. Forget that Thailand is a Buddhist country and should be vegetarian, they love their meat, but not that of the buffalo it seems.
So, our dear bovine neighbours plod on tranquilly, consuming acres of grass, roughage and herbage, yet producing nothing of value for the family that owns them. The only thing of value is to the farmers around - namely the enrichment of the soil with their dung. Each animal can produce from 4 to 6 tonnes of wet manure, plus additional urine as a bio-fertilizer, annually. Not to mention the provision of valuable soil humus which chemicals cannot provide.
But the one provision that Daisy and Blossom may well provide for Khun Whim and his very large extended family, is cash should the need arise. Buffalo are often used as a cash savings because they can be sold on. The purchase of a young buffalo is just a few hundred Thai baht, but once mature, the beast can be sold on for 700 to 1200 Thai baht. The advent of a calf (or several calves over a period of years) increases the investment several fold.
Our small village with its aging population then, is well suited to this old system of socio-economic security and we have taken on a new admiration for Daisy's owner in his forethought. We loved her from the start, but did ponder her use to the family that owned her. With further developing understanding fot the economic situation fo poor villages such as ours, and a bit of research, we now see fully why rural farmers and villagers tie up their time with the dear old buffaloes. Good, sound common sense!
And are we now considering investing in a buffalo or two? Well, who knows? We could do far worse in these hard economic times and caring for a few buffalo in our dotage may well prove an antidote to ill health and an over-zealous tax man!
The Buffalo at Work and Play
The Asian buffalo has many and varied roles in society, one of them being its ability to go from the tranquil grazer to the focused racer!
Chon Buri has a racing festival annually in October and thousands of people flock to the entertainment. About 300 buffalo race in groups of five or six, each under the guidance of a jockey.
The festival is over one hundred years old and was said to have been started when 2 farmers argued who's buffalo was the fastest. The only solution was to have a race, and thus started the annual festival.
Sadly the Asian buffalo is in decline as machinery takes their place in farming.
But their great assets are that they increase in value daily as they grow, and that they need no costly fuel, they never rust and they reproduce!
Can the same be said of a tractor?