Delighted, farmer Joel Vallejos of San Antonio, San Agustin, Isabela passes his hands on the massive body of the bull, which owns a peculiar pair of eyes, as officials of the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) entrusted it to him.
He was told that it is a product of almost 20 years of breeding efforts and it has 93.75% riverine buffalo blood. It came all the way from the PCC at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (PCC@UPLB) in Laguna.
Two other farmers in San Agustin each received a similar bull during a ceremony that marks the beginning of a much anticipated milestone in the history of carabao breeding in the country.
A similar bull will be showcased during the 25th anniversary celebration of PCC. This bull, with all its excellent attributes developed over years of backcrossing from selected crossbreds, will be introduced to the public as the “Philippine Dairy Carabao” breed, according to Dr. Arnel del Barrio, PCC’s Executive Director.
The wonders of breeding
According to Dr. Ester Flores, National Genetic Improvement Coordinator and geneticist of PCC, the Philippine Dairy Carabao is a product of backcrossing method done by researchers at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños under her guidance.
She added that they were able to come up with this kind of bull by continuous backcrossing.
She explained that imported purebred (riverine) buffaloes are either mated with native (swamp) buffaloes or become semen donors for artificial insemination. The resulting offspring are crossbred carabaos, bigger, meatier, and several liters more of milk yields than the native carabaos.
The native carabao can only produce an average of one to two liters of milk a day, while the purebred riverine buffalo can produce from six to eight liters of milk a day.
She added that this effort is also important for the breed’s adaptation to Philippine climate.
“The bulls entrusted to the San Agustin farmers have high percentage of riverine blood but they still have native blood. Hence, they can adapt to our country’s tropical climate compared to the imported bulls that needed proper acclimatization protocol,” she explained.
When the program started years ago, the process used was inter-se mating (among or between themselves). In other words, the acclimatized F1 females are mated with F1 males of the same breed. The performance of the different filial generations (F1, F2, etc.) are then studied, according to Flores.
She explained that the end-result of inter-se mating is a crossbred buffalo with 50% riverine blood and 50% swamp blood.
To illustrate, Flores explained that in inter-se mating, a purebred bull is mated with a native cow to produce a crossbred cow. The resulting offspring is called the first filial generation (F1) with 50% riverine blood and 50% swamp blood. To achieve the second filial generation (F2), an F1 cow is mated with an F1 bull. Their offspring will still be 50% riverine and 50% swamp. Then, to achieve the third filial generation (F3), an F2 cow is mated with an F2 bull that results in the production of offspring which again have 50% riverine and 50% swamp blood.
This still would be the case even as this process continues to the succeeding generations.
In backcrossing, the F1 (50% swamp, 50% riverine) cow will be mated with a riverine bull. Their offspring (F2), will have 25% swamp blood and 75% riverine blood and when mated with a riverine bull, the F3 offspring will have 87.5% riverine blood and 12.5% swamp blood. The offspring of the F3 cow mated with a riverine bull is F4 with 93.75% riverine and 6.25% swamp blood which is almost a purebred, according to Flores.
The F4 bulls can then be used for breeding for the production of the Philippine dairy carabao, she added.
Flores also said that it is not advisable to use F1, F2, and F3 bulls for breeding because there is a high probability of them having offspring with lower fertility rate.
“Purebred and native buffaloes have different chromosome numbers. Native buffaloes have 48 chromosomes, while purebred buffaloes have 50 chromosomes. Therefore, their chromosomes are not aligned. In F1, there will be fusing of chromosomes. This will again break-up for the subsequent F2, thus, the offspring will have high chances of having low fertility rate,” Flores said.
She said this is the reason why continuous backcrossing is needed.
“In the process, some of the offsprings will look more native than purebred, while some will look more purebred than native,” she explained.
She elaborated that the good thing in backcrossing is that the offsprings, as far as observable characteristics are concerned, become more uniform in each generation as the process continues.
In F4, almost all offsprings will look more purebred.
Rigorous selection of cow
More than just improving the bloodline until the fourth filial generation, the cows used in breeding were also carefully selected. The PCC@UPLB researchers selected crossbred cows that have high milk production performance to be used in breeding.
“These bulls [entrusted to farmers] are not just ordinary bulls but with 93.75% riverine blood. They are products of continuous backcrossing and selection of cows that are really good milk producers. Their daughters will be included in the genetic evaluation, the process that purebred cows undergo, having their own estimated breeding values,” Flores said.
“With all the rigorous processes done to come up with these bulls, they are ready to be used for breeding,” she added.
For the farmers
Director Franklin Rellin of PCC at Cagayan State University explains that San Agustin is home to many crossbred buffaloes which are owned by the farmers. This was the reason why, he said, this town was selected for the production of more Philippine Dairy Carabaos.
These bulls will be used to sire more carabaos of its kind through mating with crossbred cows, according to Rellin.
The farmer-recipients were trained in bull handling and are qualified for bull entrustment, according to Celso Quinet, Community Development Officer of PCC@CSU.
The two other farmer recipients, Rodel Bartolome of Salay and Reynaldo Tapaoan of Masaya Sur, like Bartolome, are noticeably happy for being chosen as the recipients of these bulls that will sire the expected Philippine-bred dairy carabao.
“We really need bulls for breeding [genetically superior] buffaloes here in San Agustin,” Vallejos said.
Bartolome shared that the bulls will help the farmers in their town as many dairy buffaloes will be sired. “The milk from dairy buffaloes will surely augment our dairy income,” he added.
Similarly, Tapaoan stated that their fellow carabao farmers are happy that they have bulls in their community.
Director Rellin stressed that the performance of the bulls will be closely monitored, including the performances of their offsprings.
“If we have enough information of the genetic potential through close monitoring, farmers in San Agustin can sell the buffaloes at a higher price. It may also serve as source of export materials and it will bring higher income for the farmers,” he said.
Definitely, the production of more “Philippine Dairy Carabao” is a much anticipated happening. It would bring pride to the Filipinos by joining the select few countries of the world that how successfully bred their own dairy buffalo.
Farmers Rodel, Joel, and Reynaldo, on their part, are with bated breath as they await the coming of more carabaos with bluish pairs of eyes.
But more than the peculiar eye color and the bigger body frame, the farmers will not rely anymore on imported bulls and cows to breed more dairy buffaloes in the country. For them, it is a boom, as they know that these type of buffaloes is synonymous with progress in their respective family and in their rural communities.