INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND
Azikheli buffalo is a unique riverine breed found in khawazakhela Tehsil and its adjacent areas in district swat since unknown times. The breed has very peculiar characteristics under unique traditional husbandry practices in comparison to the rest of the Buffalo breeds found in the country. This is relatively a smaller breed hence requires lesser space & feed than the large size buffalo breed like Nili ravi, however, milk production is comparable. Majority of the Azikheli buffalos are housed in some close proximities characterized by darkness with no or poor ventilation and/or water trough facilities. Mangers are narrow and deep which cannot be cleaned properly. In a 10*10 square feet space more than 8 animals, along with calves & bulls, are kept.
The animals are fed dried roughages like maize Stover, rice & wheat straw, poor quality traditional hay made from hills grasses locally called as Peshkallay and other crops by-products. In the rainy season, when green fodders are abundant, some people used to offer that to their animals in a small quantity. Commercial concentrates of various brands are available in the local market but the farmers are reluctant to use that due to unawareness, the two widely used concentrates ingredients wheat bran and cotton seed cake in combination with wheat flour or dried bread and wheat straw in equal ratios are mixed and fed maximum up to 03 kg each in the morning and evening during milking times locally called as Boothawa or Peera.
Albino and reddish brown are dominant skin colors found in Azikheli buffalo which attracts people due to which farmers do not allow everyone to visit his animals due to the common myth of bad eyes, animal can get sick and /or reduced milk productions. This factor mainly prohibits the farmers not to allow the animals to graze in the fallow land or orchards or in the hills. The breed has the ability despite of its heavy weight than the cows to climb on the steep hills.
The average milk production under the aforementioned practices at farmer level ranges from 5-6 liters /day, however some exceptional buffalo can produce up to 16 and 18 liters as per statements of the local farmers. The animal has great potential for milk and meat production which could be exploited many folds through modern husbandry practices.
Natural breeding is common due to the fact that majority of the Azikheli buffalo’s farmers do not like the inseminators to rectally palpate their animals. Every farmer also does not keep pure bull for the purpose being economically a challenging task; on the other hands this practice can be instrumental in the spread of a zoonotic disease like brucellosis. Need not to mention here that neither fresh nor frozen semen of Azikheli bull are available at the moment in the field. The female is very much fragile while male is reasonably agile & seldom used for draft purposes.
Azikheli Buffalo is a docile animal and even children and women can comfortably handle them, being a domestic animal, hence show great affinity to the house hold & react to the strangers aggressively. Well-fed males and even female can serve as good beef animals, especially for sacrificial purposes. The average body weight ranges between 350-450 Kg while average age at first calving is 45 months with the lactation period of 300 days. Average Fat %age found in milk is 6.5 and the taste of milk, yogurt and ghee is quite pleasant.
Azikheli buffalo has excellent fertility record at community level wherein it produces a calf each year and the average calving interval is 1.5 to 1.8 year. Though insemination or natural bulling before 40 days after parturition is not recommended due to the process of involution but farmers do not care the same and get them pregnant successfully. The animal is well adopted to the local weather conditions however cannot withstand to blistering sunshine in summer. Exposure to extreme cool weather in winter could cause cracks on their skins and hence change takes place in body color. Thus they need to be protected in either condition.
The breed has remarkable resistance to diseases. A baseline survey conducted by the staff of the project with the Azikheli buffalo farmers and collected the following tabulated diseases prevalent in the area along with local names and remedies.
The Azikheli buffalo breed is, however, on the verge of extinction due to inappropriate crossing over with the local non-descript and/ or with Nili Ravi. Furthermore, huge numbers of Azikheli buffaloes were lost due to the insurgency in the region in the years 2006 to 2009.
Keeping in view the above factors and peculiar characteristics, it is imperative to undertake conservation & development process of this indigenous buffalo breed not only to save it from distinction but also to enhance the natural profile of the province and the country. Through strong advocacy and/ or strong applicable extension services in the field could help the farmers for sustainable use of its genetic diversity to ensure its conservation & development which would also pave the way to evaluate its performances under traditional and improved management conditions.
Department of Livestock & Dairy Development (Ext) very precisely came off with a proposal on this issue and presented to the provincial Government to conserve and further bring improvements in its production parameters. A PC-1 amounting to Rs120.000 million, (financial year 2014-15 to 2017-18 & 19) out of which Rs.38.300 million specified as capital cost while Revenue cost Rs.81.700 Million, was approved by the provincial Developmental committee to establish a nucleus herd of the Azikheli buffalo at Alla Abad 1.5 Km inside the campus university of swat on the Government land.
OBJECTIVES OF THE PROJECT
- To conserve the indigenous Azikheli buffalo breed in its home track.
The above objective is assumed to be achieved through the following main activities:
i. Construction of buildings & infrastructure for improvement & conservation of Azikheli buffaloes at Charbagh, District Swat.
ii. Procurement of true to type Azikheli Buffaloes to maintain a nucleus herd of Azikheli Buffaloes.
iii. Organizing the Azikheli buffalo farmers and creating awareness amongst them to keep the breed pure and evaluate best producers through culling & selection process both at community l and Farm level.
iv. Selection of best bulls for semen production to make it available at community level to overcome the shortage of bulls and avoid random crossing over of the breed with the other breeds.
ESTABLISHMENT OF NUCLEUS HERD
A nucleus herd of 37 buffaloes and two bulls true to type Azikheli breed have been established the majority of which are pregnant wherein14 buffaloes’ have given birth. They are kept loose in the sheds and eating/drinking freely whenever they like. Sheds have been provided with cubicles and paddocks for their comfort.
Mangers are shallow and at ground level wherein maize silage @ 25 kg mixed with 05 kg wheat straw per animal are offered three times a day. The milking animals are fed concentrate feed 04 kg per animal per day while the pregnant being near to parturition are offered 01 kg each to fulfill its requirements and accustom them with the feed.
So far easy parturition had taken place, 50% male & 50% female calves have been obtained. Unlike the Nili Ravi Buffalo breed of Punjab, these buffaloes do not bother about their calves and produce milk without suckling of their calves. Calves at the age of 03 days are separated from the dam, kept in calf boxes and fed with milk through bucket @10% of its live body weight along with good quality hay and 24 hours’ fresh water. Average birth weight of the calf is 35 kg.
Average milk production recorded is 8lit per day per animal & the individual peak production recorded is 10 lit per day per animal at Farm.
All the animals have been protected against foot & mouth (FMD) and Hemorrhagic septicemia (HS) through vaccinations.