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by Danny O. Calleja (Correspondent)
24-March-2009 BusinessMirror
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MANDAON, Masbate—The role of the carabao, the Filipino beast of burden, has been overtaken by machine and modern framing methods, but its breed is getting an “upgrade” at a breeding center here.

“We still recognize the importance of this lowly animal as a farmer’s friend even if farming mechanization has sidetracked them,” Hermilo Azanza, superintendent of the Carabao Breeding Center (CBC) told the BusinessMirror.

Carabaos remain a big help to farmers. The animal still pulls the plow, transports people and haul cargo on carts and sledges in places where roads are bad, Azanza said.

Established in 1994 and supervised by the Department of Agriculture (DA), the breeding center sits on a 187-hectare pasture in barangay Mabato-bato in this far-flung cattle-rich town over 50 kilometers from the provincial capital Masbate City.

The facility upgrades and distributes the carabao into “caracow,” and serves as demonstration farm for the breeding and proper care of the animal. It also serves as a source of upgraded species to interested farmers in the province.

The upgrade and propagation of the carabao involves a process of mass crossbreeding of native carabao species with high-breed cows where the genes of the former are dominant and retain its genetic character over the later.

As a demonstration farm, CBC showcases an ideal pasture with the right type of grass for feeds and well-managed reproduction facilities. It also has the right people and facilities for taking care of the animals.

The breeding center is the source of caracow that some local government units across the Bicol region acquire for their agriculture productivity initiatives through farm animal dispersal programs.

Carabaos at the center thrive on grass varieties like the Napier, humidicola and signal that have been planted to center grazing land by out-of-school youths in the village.

Azanza said the secret to a healthy carabao is regular deworming that starts when the calf is a month old. The animals are also given urea mineral block as appetizer at least once a month.

Shade for the animals are also important particularly during the summer. Azanza said mango and star-apple trees have been planted in the grazing land for this purpose.

“During the fruiting season, these fruit trees give additional income to the CBC,” Azanza said.

According to Azanza, the center started with 50 heads of caracows from the Philippine Carabao Center. It has a current stock of over 120 heads upgraded by crossbreeding with the murrah buffalo and Bulgarian bulls.

Since its establishment, he said the CBC was able to produce over 300 heads of these species. The buyers are mostly farmers who are also breeders who want to maintain a good number of stocks for conventional farming.

The mature, upgraded animals have live weights of 600 to 700 kilograms. Unlike the pure native breed, the upgraded stocks have jet-black skin, spiral horns, are stocky and have shorter limbs, Azanza said.

Reproduction is yearly with the breeding season taking place from January to February and calving season between October and December.

Azanza said a caracow could deliver five to seven calves in 10 years since the gestation period lasts for 10 months. A carabull is assigned to every 15 to 20 female animals. The life span of these animals is 18 to 20 years.

Since the center operates as a ranch, Azanza said calves are allowed to go with their dams from birth to weaning the age of eight to 12 months.

Caracalf management is one important function of the center and includes branding, deworming and vaccination that could all be performed the same time when calves are about five months old or right after weaning. These activities are done in good weather condition to prevent infections, he said.

According to Azanza, the people at the center separate pregnant caracows and heifers from the rest of the herd especially in the last two months of pregnancy. They also give the animals maintenance doses of vitamins and minerals to ensure the calves are healthy.

Azanza said a carabao is “a low maintenance” animal compared with other cattle or livestock. It does not require housing. It only needs pasture grass and water to thrive.

As the animal has no sweat glands, the carabao wallows in mud, creek or stream. The mud cake on its body protects the carabao from flea and other insect infection, he said.

Carabaos remain the best alternative to farm machines, considering prices of fuel remain volatile and machines are expensive. A mature caracow costs slightly lower than that of an ordinary hand tractor and the life span of the animal is three folds longer than the machine, Azanza said.

“While farm machineries depreciate with the time of its usage, an animal appreciates [in price] as it grows older. While in service, the later multiplies through reproduction and when its serviceability ends, it could be slaughtered for food. The former always ends up in junk yards after its limited period of serviceability” he added.

The carabao meat is as good as beef when the animal is fed, managed and slaughtered at the right age, Azanza explained and noted that no matter how modern the times are, carabaos will produce milk, meat and live as a friend of the farmer.

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