An ode to the buffalo

The animal does everything a cow does and more but does not get the same respect.

Hindus hold all life sacred and some animals are considered holy because of their association with certain gods and godesses. The cow is holiest of holies not only because of its association with Lord Krishna, Goddess Lakshmi and many others but also because it is integral to the Indian way of life. They are used as dairy cows, draught animals (ploughing, transport, turning the yoke), racing animals (jallikattu), etc.

But, there is one other animal that does all this but does not get the same respect. That’s the Indian buffalo. The domestic Indian buffalo is a humble creature. Cows can get irritable but the buffalo? No, sir, they are the humblest, friendliest, and arguably the most lovable of all farm animals. You can even climb on a buffalo and use it as a personal mode of transport. Most shepherds, when they are children, do this. Try the same on a cow and you will be pounded to pulp.

Buffaloes are also fun-loving animals. When they are taken to a water body, there is always one individual who tends to gallop forcing the rest of the herd to maintain the same agitated pace. This is a problem for the shepherd so he ties its horns to its legs. This does not cause any pain but forces its run to a tiring trot. A few days later, the rope is removed and the buffalo knows better than to gallop. Buffaloes cannot sweat like cows and therefore like to wallow in water. How it does this is extremely funny. It does not slip into the water with the grace of a crocodile or even a cow. It lifts two legs on one side, leans on the other two legs, flops into the water and creates a huge splash. It will do this even in shallow water.

A cow’s horns are sharp. When young zebu bulls are turned into oxen (bullock cart animals), they grow to twice the height of a man. Do not mess with them. They are extremely irritable. If they are sitting on the ground and chewing the cud, do not go near them. When the flies buzz around them, they shake their heads violently. Their horns will hurt you like no tomorrow. If they get angry or feel threatened, they can pick a grown man and throw him several feet away with those horns. The buffalo has horns but they are curved inward and are unlikely to harm anyone even if the beast tried. Their horns can hurt the buffalo more than anybody else and the farmer usually files their tips.

Milkmen all over India mix buffalo milk with cow milk. In fact, many of them only have buffaloes because the milk is thicker and very few people can tell the difference when it is adulterated with water. If a housewife complains that the milk is watery, the milkman says, “Amma, this is 100% cow’s milk and cow’s milk is always thin.” When a Tamizh kid does poorly in studies, their parents offer to buy him two buffaloes or four cows. Ask any Tamilian. One buffalo is always worth two cows. In fact, many dairy farmers became dairy farmers because either them or an ancestor was deemed not good for studies and born to herd buffaloes. When I build my farm, I will do the same.

A biochemical analysis will prove that buffalo milk is different from cow milk. For an adult, there is no perceivable difference. That is why milk cooperatives and milk product companies do not care. All milk is good milk. If a farmer takes goat’s milk to a collection agent, I do not think it is treated any differently. (Goat milk is expensive and no farmer would sell it at the same price.) It is all mixed, homogenized, pasteurized and packed.

When Indian milk packets started appearing on US supermarket shelves, the dairy lobby there got their government to mandate that buffalo milk be clearly identified as buffalo milk and not to be passed off as cow milk.

Yes, sir. The buffalo is as good as a cow if not better. Indians show it respect only during harvest festivals like Baisakhi or Pongal but the cow is worshipped the year around. The reason of course is that the buffalo is the vahan of Lord Yama. If the buffalo is pleased, it might bring along his master. That is not the same as with the cow, who brings in Lakshmi and Lakshmi means wealth and prosperity. Nobody is a fan of death and that’s the reason buffaloes are not given as much credit as the cow.

You will find plenty of stray cows on the road but have you ever seen a stray buffalo? No, never. If you have, then it is because the farmer was taking them to pasture or returning home. When a buffalo stops producing milk, it is immediately slaughtered for meat. Its hooves and horns are processed. Its skin is made into leather. The buffalo’s contribution to our lives is one of unrequited service and sacrifice.

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