Calf rearing for buffalo is not as easy as with cattle calves. The sucking reflex in a new-born buffalo calf is not as strong and the calf is more likely to fret the loss of the dam and be less interested in food from other sources. This is particularly so if the calf and dam have been together for more than a month.
Generally, if more than 100–120 kg liveweight, buffalo calves can survive an early weaning and more so if they have company of another buffalo or group of calves and preferably one that is older and able to pass on eating and drinking education.
It is recommended that all calves are fed colostrum for the first feeds or for longer if it is readily available. Suitable milk replacer can then be substituted gradually over a period of 3–4 days.
Difficult feeders could be fed buffalo milk for longer until a routine is firmly established with gradual substitution with milk replacer over the next week until it reaches 100%.
Most buffalo calf-rearers leave the calf with the cow for up to 4 days to ensure that the full quota of colostrum is properly consumed by the calf and it is drinking strongly.
When the calf is removed from the dam it is best to allow it to get a little hungry and thirsty before attempting to try and get it to suck from a bottle or bucket for the first time. Warm the milk to body temperature until the feeding regime is fully established.
The calf should be milk-reared for at least 1 month and then given access to concentrate twice daily. The concentrate could be up to 0.5 kg made up of different mixtures of lucerne chaff, copra meal, or other protein meal, grains and mineral mixed in with milk powder.
First drink from a bottle for new calf. The first feeds should be buffalo colostrum. The sucking reflex for buffalo is not as strong as cattle and it can take longer to get the calf to suckle strongly.
Concentrate can be gradually introduced at four to five weeks with free access to good quality hay at all times. Calves should start at 150 g/day of concentrate mix or calf pellets built up to 250 g/day between 3 and 6 months of age. Concentrate is best fed twice per day rather than once to reduce the possibility of stomach upsets. Barley, wheat, sorghum, oats, rye and maize are all suitable energy sources, while protein sources can be copra meal, brans, cottonseed meal, fishmeal, canola and other legume seeds.
Lucerne chaff is a great starter component or additive for concentrate mixes. Leucaena leaf meal is useful in the tropics.
As concentrate consumption rises it can slowly be substituted for milk and by 3 to 4 months, the whole milk can be completely stopped over a period of a week or two.
The benefit of calf rearing is mainly in the dairy industry so that the full quota of milk from the cow can be harvested to achieve the maximum milk production for sale.
The other option is to allow the calf to remain on the cow and milk her once daily or at whatever schedule is convenient. Calves need to be locked up overnight and released again with the cow after the morning milking or vice versa. Once a routine is achieved the process operates easily. A high producing cow is prone to mastitis if the calf is left with her for too long a period and is not able to consume enough of the milk she produces.
Good hay and water needs to be available overnight so the calves are not overly hungry next day.
This helps a heifer calf to get used to hand feeding for later training to milking; eating some feed in the bales is a good diversion and relaxant for the cow being milked.
A further option is the use of multiple suckling of a high milk fat percentage dairy cow breed such as a Jersey or a Guernsey. The Jersey is more suited to hotter climates. A herd of foster cows with up to three to four calves per cow could be used.
Buffalo or goat’s milk should be used on the first attempt once colostrum is finished rather than a powdered preparation for maximum acceptance. Substitutes should be introduced gradually once they are sucking strongly. A preparation that mimics the fat and solids content of buffalo milk should be created by increasing the amount of powder in the water.
Some milk replacers designed for cattle calves can be toxic to buffalo particularly those fortified with copper. Brands used by farmers currently rearing calves vary widely according to suppliers, but some attempt should be made to duplicate the composition of buffalo milk. Feeds per day (2) at 10% of body weight daily to 30 kg and then 5% for extra kilograms up to 100 kg liveweight.
i.e. 3 litres/day for 30 kg calf, up to 6.5 litres/day for a 100 kg calf. There is no substitute for fresh buffalo milk to get the calf to suck strongly from the start and gradually substitute with the milk replacer.