Proper pasture management plays a vital role in higher productivity from and profitability of buffaloes

By Ma. Cecilia C. Irang

Pasture managers consider the feeding of sufficient forage to livestock—specifically dairy buffaloes—to be an important factor in attaining healthier animals that perform better.

They correctly discern that implementing good pasture management practices and grazing principles increases forage quality and yield, provides a more wholesome place for the grazing of buffaloes, and improves their performance. They also know that these help prevent the occurrence of nutritional problems in the animals that eventually affect their
productivity.

Moreover, according to experts, healthy pastures are beneficial to the owners, animals, and the environment. They prevent erosion and water loss that lead to land degradation. In maintaining a good, healthy pasture, soil nutrients and pH are managed well, and forage growth and the animals’ consumption are closely monitored.

In light of this, pasture managers of two regional centers of the Philippine Carabao Center hosted by Visayas State University (PCC at VSU) in Leyte and Central Mindanao University (PCC at CMU) in Bukidnon have their corresponding ways of managing their respective pasture areas to maintain good production in the buffaloes of their institutional herds.

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The Philippine Carabao Center at Visayas State University (PCC-VSU) in Baybay City, Leyte maintains a 15-hectare pasture development area for grazing of buffaloes and growing of forages.

Pasture Area

PCC at VSU utilizes some 12 hectares of land for the grazing of buffaloes and another three hectares for the growing of grasses that are cut and carried to the animals. The area has a rolling topography.

According to Prof. Francisco Gabunada Jr., former center director of PCC at VSU and currently a consultant of PCC on forage development, pasture feeding or forage are the cheapest and most stable (can be available year-round) sources of feed for ruminants. Ruminant production based on forage is not only economical but can also lead to safe and healthy products.

Forage, says Gabunada, can supply all the nutrients required by the animal at a relatively low cost, leading to good production with increased profits. The existing forage in their pasture area are comprised of guinea grass, humidicola, napier, shrubs, rensonii, flemingia, ipil-ipil, and legumes. Grasses that cannot be fed to buffaloes are uprooted, he added.

On the other hand, PCC at CMU has 45 hectares of pasture area but soon, through a memorandum of agreement between the regional center and the university, this will be expanded to 70 hectares. It has a flat land area of which some parts are surrounded by trees.

The predominant pasture grasses present in the area are Brachiaria decumbens or signal grass, Brachiaria brizantha, and Brachiaria humidicola. At least three hectares are now planted to napier grass, according to Dr. Lowell Paraguas, PCC at CMU center director.

Grazing Rotation

One management option to promote a healthy pasture and good forage for grazing buffaloes is to implement rotational grazing, said Prof. Gabunada. This involves using cross fences to divide the pasture into separate units which are called paddocks.

Rotational grazing involves periodically moving livestock to fresh paddocks to allow pastures to regrow. Animals are allowed to graze on a paddock then are moved to the next paddock.

As one paddock is being grazed, the other paddocks have the opportunity to recover and grasses can reestablish.

It requires skillful decisions and close monitoring of the consequences. Feed costs decline, and the animal’s health is improved when they are allowed to feed by way of a wellmanaged rotational grazing system.

Another benefit to rotational grazing is that new growth will be much more nutritious and digestible for grazing animals, the experts said.

“The pastures in PCC at VSU were established vegetatively using manual labor. The species we selected was one that was commonly growing well in the surrounding areas. We used relatively small paddocks to assure high utilization rates. After grazing, we cut back the grass as a strategy for the fast regrowth of the forage, and fertilization is done; both will assure adequate regrowth. A pasture that has been grazed will be given adequate time to recover by [being left] undisturbed for 30-45 days,” Prof. Gabunada explained.

The grazing hours for the buffaloes in PCC at VSU are from 6 a.m. to 10 a. m. It has a total of 66 paddocks. After foraging in the first paddock for 4 hours, the animals are scheduled to feed in another paddock the next day. Only the growing, lactating, and pregnant animals are allowed to graze as they need to be fed with fresh grasses. Bulls and dry buffaloes are confined and fed with rice straw and concentrates.

Andres Amihan Jr., PCC at VSU science research analyst and farm manager, said that after four hours of grazing, the buffaloes are brought down to the barn for wallowing and bathing. In the afternoon, they are given concentrates and napier grasses through the cut-and-carry system.

“We have a grazing rotation for more than one month. Grasses like guinea, humidicola, and napier regrow within 45 days, so we have 45 days of grazing rotation, but we have a total of 66 paddocks; therefore, we still have 21 paddocks as our back-up for this practice,” Amihan explained.

“Proper feeding management [plays] a very important role in the milk production and performance of buffaloes. If we want positive outcomes, we should do proper feeding and pasture management.” Forage rich in protein and fiber are the best feedstuff for buffaloes. The average milk production of each buffalo in their herd is about six liters, reaching 12-15 liters at peak lactation periods.

Extensive Management System

The PCC at CMU implements a full-time grazing system for its more than 40 milking cows with an average milk production of six liters a day or 19 liters at peak lactation periods. The only time the animals are returned to total confinement is when they reach their dry-off period. Currently, the center has a total herd inventory of 330 buffaloes.

“The milking cows are fed [a] very minimal amount of concentrates at the time of milking. After each milking session, they rest for a while before [being herded] back to the paddocks to allow [for] the closing of their teats’ orifice. This prevents the udders from being infected,” Dr. Paraguas said.

The center has 40 hectares of grazing area with 30 paddocks. Each paddock is one hectare wide and is planted to 1-3 varieties of grasses like signal grass, Brizantha, and Arachis pintoi that can feed 40 dairy cows in a day.

“We are set to establish 30 hectares of napier grass plantation as additional forage and I…recently acquired five 25-kg bags of signal grass from Australia for our planting material. The seeding rate of one hectare is 6-8 kg of signal grass. One bag of it can be planted to five hectares of land,” Dr. Paraguas said.

The center also plans to develop a forage garden along the highway. “We will plant [different] giving them access to new varieties] of grasses,” he added. A part of their pasture development is the planting of legumes like Arachis pintoi and the utilization of animal manure as fertilizer.

“You can [discern the animals’ needs just by] looking at its body. You will know there is something wrong with the feeding in terms of its body condition score (BCS). For me, if you don’t have a good pasture area, you will encounter a lot of problems [with] the animal’s reproductive performance and milk production,” Dr. Paraguas declared.

Proper feed resources should meet the nutritive values necessary for the animals’ maintenance, lactation, reproduction, growth, and good health condition. Dairy animals need important nutrients such as energy (through carbohydrates), protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, and vitamin A. Thus, the center is focusing on mineral supplementation, especially for milking cows.

“We are supplementing [their diets using] concentrates but we are also planning to reduce [the] cost [of these] so we are establishing a good pasture. We will now invest more on pasture development.”

The improvement of feeding management practices, Dr. Paraguas reiterated, is very crucial, especially if the buffaloes are pregnant and the feeding system is inadequate. The calves produced under this inferior system might have poor BCSs and be susceptible to diseases.

The center also is facing some challenges in the establishment of pasture areas, according to Dr. Paraguas. They need to acquire certain equipment and machines for spreading fertilizers, like a manure spreader and loader. They are also planning to irrigate the pasture area.

For the farmers, Dr. Paraguas has this reminder: “They cannot adopt this kind of grazing system for now because they only have…small pasture [areas] but they can adopt the cut-and-carry system. They will plant napier grass and [the] new accession of grasses. They need to learn how to plant forage for their animals and how to maintain the year round
forage supply, so we need to teach them [about these]. They also need to develop their observation scale, such
that [with] just…one look, they will immediately know the problem with their feeding system.”

He added, “They should also know the needed level of dry matter (DM) content [so that] the animal [will] not be drained during milking. The recommended dry matter content is 4-6% of the animal’s body weight for maintenance but if they want to add DM, [this amount] should be based on the animal’s milk yield.”

He added that before raising buffaloes, farmers should also have an established pasture area to serve as a source of forage and that the supply of grasses should be available year round. Utilization of new varieties of grasses, and not settling for just one variant, is also important.

“We planted one hectare of napier as source of planting materials for our dairy farmers,” he said.

New Variety of Pasture Grass

As part of the pasture development program of PCC at CMU, Dr. Paraguas acquired new varieties of pasture grasses, namely:Brachiaria Cultivar (Cv.) Mulato II and Panicum maximum Mombasa (improved guinea grass) from the smallhold dairy cattle farmers of the National Dairy Authority. The center started planting them last November.

“I took part in some focus group discussions with the farmers since they have concerns on animal nutrition; [during these sessions], I contributed ideas. I acquired the new varieties of pasture grasses from them because they have this RP-New Zealand Dairy Project, a support program of the New Zealand government for [smallholder] dairy cattle farmers. They brought…this new variety of grasses [with them to the sessions] and identified focus farmers [and their smallholdings as the places where they could plant] the new variety so that other dairy farmers [would] see its nutritional value. I asked for some planting materials and planted [these] on a certain portion of our pasture area,”
he explained.

Currently, the new variety is not being fed to the buffaloes yet as it is intended for the forage nursery. It is still under the multiplication process, but it will be soon planted to a larger area.

The farmers experimented with feeding the grass to weanlings 6 to 18 months of age and found that these were the most palatable grasses for the animals, whom they said immediately consumed all of what was available. The farmers also noted that the animals have higher dry matter intake with the new variety compared with other grasses.

“They provide a lot of nutritional value to the buffaloes since they are already the improved variety of [grass]. They have high crude protein (CP) and dry matter [content],” Dr. Paraguas said.

Cv. Mulato II, according to the Hancock Seed Company, has excellent nutritional characteristics in terms of CP content and digestibility. It was developed from three generations of hybridization and selection initiated in 1989 by the Forage Project of the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), in Cali, Colombia, commencing with the original B. ruziziensis x B. decumbens cross prior to being commercially released by Grupo Papalotla in 2004. It is reported to be highly palatable to grazing ruminants.

Although both parameters vary depending on the age of the grass and the time of the year, in general, this grass yields 14-21% CP and its in vitro dry matter digestibility in regrowths of 25-35 days is 55-66%.

Because of its superior quality and excellent production, Mulato II is suitable for intensive rotational management. Voluntary intake of the grass is high, which results in significantly greater milk production compared with other brachiaria cultivars. The recovery capacity of this grass is high, requiring rest periods of just 21-28 days during the rainy season.

On the other hand, according to the Tropical Seed Company, Mombasa guinea grass is a tall grass, similar to hybrid Napier grass in habit, but far more leafy and very suitable for the cut-and-carry practice. It was introduced to Brazil from Tanzania in 1993. It is a very productive leafy grass, producing between 20 and 40 tons per hectare (t/ha) of dry matter per year. In Thailand, it has 8% to 12% crude protein on poor soils and 12% to 14% crude protein on better soils. It can be either rotationally grazed or set-stocked or used on a cut-and-carry basis.

“I am one of the witnesses [as to the benefits that] these new varieties can bring. I observed the improvement in the milk yield of the cattle of the farmers [as a result of having been fed] these improved pasture grasses. From 5-6 liters, [their milk production went] up to 10-12 liters,” Dr. Paraguas said.

This rainy season, he said, he is planning to buy sacks of these varieties from the farmers to plant these at PCC at CMU’s pasture area. He added that the developed pasture area can result in improved milk production and
performance of the buffaloes.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s February 2016 issue.