Monday, June 15, 2015

Propagating 'mestizo' carabaos

Note:  This photo-essay appeared as the 'living' feature of the 12-18 June 2015 issue of  the FilAm Star, the weekly 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA. This blogger/author is its Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent.

Haw, haw the karabao, bantuten! - From a popular Filipino folk verse

For fun, the man knelt instead of his carabao during the recent
Kneeling Carabao Festival in Pulilan, Bulacan.
There were at least a hundred carabaos, some from Pampanga and Nueva Ecija, that were brought to Pulilan, Bulacan for the Kneeling Carabao Festival on 14 May 2015, eve of the feast day of San Isidro Labrador, patron saint of farming folks. The gathering place teemed with dark ‘Tagalog’ and ‘Bulgarian’ bodies, the names that the owners called their animals, which had short or long, curved or twisted, horns. 

The native ‘Tagalog’ may be generic to Central Luzon. It is simply ‘nwang’ to us Zambales Ilocanos. The non-native is either pure breed or hybrid, a mestizo born of a native inahin (mother) and a foreign bulugan (bull), both darker and taller than the native. There’s no malicious cultural insinuation here.

The carabao lore we learned from the farmers added significant value to the entertainment from the animals on parade.  Only a few actually knelt along the way, when they paused for a dousing of cold water, or in front of the church.  You could actually count which would kneel because they had pads around the knees.

The native is the typical swamp buffalo, the water buffalo to the first Americans who set foot here. They need water, they are averse to heat, said the farmers, and they may also succumb to heat stroke, hence, the dousing. Probably the rains are most welcome to them when they get yoked for the plowing during the wet season.  In our mind’s eye were our grade school days when we took the school carabao to the river for a good bath. Otherwise, it just wallowed in the muddy pool under the cashew tree in the school garden.

While on his knees, this carabao got doused during the
Kneeling Carabao Festival parade.
The farmers prefer that their male carabaos are castrated. They do not want their bulls getting wild in heat at the sight of an inahin.  If there’s another bull around, they may end up rivals, duelling with their horns.  The farmers described their unorthodox non-surgical method of castration; we are omiting details since they are not for the squeamish to read.

Regarding income from carabaos, a farmer said he gets Php500 for the swift encounter of his bulugan with an inahin. He would get around Php10,000 for the bulo, the young offspring, and around Php50,000 for an eight-year-old.

While looking at the predominantly mestizo horde of carabaos in the Pulilan festival, we remembered the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) in the Science City of Munoz in Nueva Ecija, an agency attached to the Department of Agriculture.  It was established by law in 1992 to answer the need “to improve productivity of the carabaos not only in terms of draft but more importantly for milk and meat to increase income, nutrition, and the general well-being of farmers. “

The mestizo carabaos could be the live products of PCC’s successful implementation of its major services in the national carabao development program, particularly, artificial insemination (AI), bull loan program, frozen buffalo semen distribution, and provision of superior breeding animals.  Alongside are training programs and extension services on feeding and management of dairy buffaloes, milk and meat processing, among others.

To carry out these services, PCC has 13 branches nationwide comprising state universities, and the stock farms and breeding stations in La Carlota (Negros Occidental) and Ubay (Bohol), which the government built in 1902.

A pale-skinned carabao - not the typical dark mestizo,

The farmers we met in Pulilan could have benefited from the artificial insemination performed by trained private village-based AI technicians (VBAITs) or those from local government units, regional field units of the Dept. of Agriculture, and the PCC regional centers.

The PCC info comics ‘Artificial Insemination sa Kalabaw’ informs that while the natural way of propagation is still the best, there are not many bulls to do the job. Hence, it explains the whys and hows for implanting semen from superior bulls like the Murrah buffalo into the inahin cervix.

The importance of AI is emphasized: use of superior male specie for propagation; increase of production of better breeds; prevention of diseases through natural reproduction; avoiding costly maintenance of bulugan; and the semen can be preserved for use for a longer time.

Some of the farmers could also have qualified for the bull loan program if the AI was not available in their areas. 

The PCC info comics ‘Pagpapahiram ng Bulugang Kalabaw’ explains how deserving farmers can join the program.  They get purebred dairy-type Murrah bulls for the natural mating with native or crossbred carabaos. The aim is to procreate animals with improved productivity for milk and meat.

A farmer does not pay for the loaned bull. If he gets a junior bull (2.5 years old and below), the loan is paid once it has produced 25 calves. On the other hand, if it’s a fertility-tested bull (three years old and above), full payment will after producing 50 calves.

A Phil. Carabao Center photo of their mestizo carabaos.

Historical memories tell that, once upon a time, carabaos roamed in the wild, and they were game like the boar, deer and tamaraw for Spanish, American and other foreign hunters. The typical carabao of olden days had very long horns.

The carabao was an unsung hero during the Philippine-American war. Edwin Wildman (1901) wrote that the propaganda war against the Americans could not have been pursued on the run without the reliable carabao.  “When Aguinaldo retreated,” he said, “La Independencia, with its few fonts of type, and its old Franklin handpress, was packed into a carabao cart, and dragged along.”

It was an apolitical animal nonetheless. While it was an insurrecto, according to John Bancroft Devins (1905), it was harnessed by the American military forces to serve them too. After the fall of Aguinaldo in Palanan, the Americans used carabaos in building peace-time Philippines.

Written in carabao Spanish-English, the folk verse “Haw, haw the karabaw, bantuten”may have an amusing historical lore for explanation.

The carabao’s delight for muddy water or the esteros of Old Manila made them smell repulsive (mabantot) to American visitors in the early 1900s. But they were surprised or shocked to find that the animals also were disgusted with them. They thought the animals hated their 'American' smell (Devins, 1905) or 'white man' smell (Campbell Dauncey, 1906).

The official handbook (1903) for the Philippine exposition exhibit noted that "in the more remote towns, [carabaos] sometimes display a violent dislike for white men, occasionally stampeding at the mere smell of one."  Charles Morris (1906) thought so too, that the buffalo  was "prejudiced against white men, the scent of an European traveller being sometimes sufficient to set all the buffaloes in a village on the stampede," clarifying that this applied to "villages rarely visited by the whites."  George Waldo Browne (1900), on the other hand, thought it was "an overmastering fear of foreigners, and the mere sight of a white man [that] has been known to stampede every buffalo in town."

Whether they are still bantuten or not, the mestizo carabao meat today is said to be comparable to beef in its physicochemical, nutritional and palatable characteristics. PCC tells us that meat from properly fed carabaos aged 18 to 24 months is equivalent to beef in tenderness and juiciness. Well, carabao meat is now used in meat products like meat loaf, corned beef and sausages. “Pen, pen, the sarapen!”

Cited references:
  1. Devins, John Bancroft. (1905). An Observer in the Philippines or Life in Our New Possessions.  Boston, [others]: American Tract Society.  Retrieved from;idno=sea185
  2. Dauncey, Campbell.  (1906). An Englishwoman in the Philippines.  London: John Murray. Retrieved from;idno=sea186
  3. Morris, Charles. (1906). Our island empire: a hand-book of Cuba, Porto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippine Islands.  Philadelphia: Lippincot.  Retrieved from;idno=sea200
  4. Browne, George Waldo. (1900). The pearl of the Orient : the Philippine Islands. Boston: D. Estes and Co.  Retrieved from;idno=sea210

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