Livestock Research for Rural Development 20 (supplement) 2008 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD News

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A field investigation of performance and economic efficiency of working buffaloes in the Mekong Delta

Pham Tan Nha, Nguyen Van Thu and T R Preston*

College of Agriculture, Cantho University, Vietnam   ,
* University of Tropical Agriculture Foundation, AA# 48 Socorro, Santander, Colombia


A field investigation of performance and economic efficiency of working buffaloes was carried out in the Mekong Delta (MD) provinces of Vietnam: Hau Giang, Kien Giang, An Giang and Dong Thap. The result indicated a large body size of adult buffaloes in the MD (550 kg live weight). Reproductive performance of female buffaloes in An Giang was better than that of buffaloes in other provinces. Economic efficiency of buffaloes in the MD was better than for tractors as they were superior for transporting rice and for working in wet and muddy areas. The changing role of buffaloes from cultivation to transportation is an important recent development.

Traditional feeding was still dominant and there appeared to be limited support for buffalo development programs which could enhance their role in the Delta. It was concluded there was an urgent need to develop more appropriate feeding systems, and that breed improvement should be considered urgently to improve buffalo breed quality and income to the farmers.

Key words: Body sizes, economic efficiency, performance, reproduction, working buffaloes


The native buffalo is traditionally raised for rice culture and meat in the Mekong delta (MD) of Vietnam. However, there has been a serious reduction of its population, especially from 2000 through 2005, while in other regions of Vietnam such as the North and Central Highlands the buffalo population has been increasing (Ly 2001). In recent years buffalo meat has become very important in the Mekong delta due to a lack of supply, and the increasing demands from the human population. According to Long (2002) between 200 and 300 live buffaloes are imported from the North of Vietnam and Cambodia to be slaughtered for meat in Ho Chi Minh city and the MD provinces. However, there are some indications of the development of an economically effective production model, using the buffalo for the work of transporting rice from the paddy fields. The farmers in Triton district of An Giang province reported that they got a good income from the use of buffaloes for this activity (Bergstrom 2003).

The present study aimed to document the current situation of buffalo development in the MD, with a view to improving the role of buffaloes for future more sustainable production systems.


The objectives of the study are based on the hypothesis that buffalo raising in the MD is still competitive in small farming systems if compared to mechanized power. The objectives were therefore to investigate:

Material and methods

Characteristics of adult buffaloes were investigated through methods of eco-geographical sampling by choosing sixty household of eight typical districts in four provinces of the Mekong delta: Hau Giang, Kien Giang, An Giang and Dong Thap. The principle measurements of buffaloes were taken using a measuring tape, following the methods described by Mason (1974). Reproduction criteria of buffalo cows were surveyed in each farmer household. Feeding, management, economic efficiency, disease incidence and prevention were also monitored using questionnaires. The data were analysed using the General Statistics model in the Microsoft Excel programme.

Results and discussion

Body measurements and live weights of the adult buffalo cows and bulls showed that buffalo in Dong Thap and Hau Giang provinces were larger and heavier than those in Kien Giang and An Giang provinces. (Tables 1 and 2). This was probably caused by the harsh conditions in relation to feeds and the brackish and acid sulphate water in Kien Giang and An Giang provinces. The results of the present study also indicated that the size of buffaloes in Dong Thap province had decreased when compared with previous studies (Nguyen Van Thu 2000). This could have been caused by inbreeding due to the small herd size as a result of the reduction in the population.

Table 1. Body measurements (cm) of adult buffalo cows in different provinces of the MD


Hau giang

Kien giang

An giang

Dong Thap







Mean SE

Mean SE

Mean SE

Mean SE

Height at withers

134 1.43

132 1.94

131 1.54

131 0.57

Height at hip point

113.4 1.56

132 1.68

131 1.26

131 0.62

Shank girth

23.2 0.29

21.7 0.57

21.6 0.21

21.9 0.36

Body length

147 1.88

142 3.66

140 2.71

141 1.16

Heart girth

198 2.80

187 6.31

185 9.33

201 1.46

Live weight  (kg)*

512 14.4

447 35.0

424 33.6

505 21.1

n: number of observations; * 88.4 x (heart girth)2 x body length

Table 2. Body measurements (cm) of buffalo bulls in different provinces of the MD


Hau giang

Kien giang

An giang

Dong Thap







Mean SE

Mean SE

Mean SE

Mean SE

Height at withers

136 1.77

133 2.47

132 1.99

138 1.87

Height at hip point

142 1.84

135 2.38

134 2.27

139 1.71

Shank girth

23.2 0.72

22.7 0.94

23.2 0.68

23.3 0.68

Body length

152 1.84

146 2.63

146 2.08

149 1.88

Heart girth

203 1.38

201 1.28

194 2.22

208 0.91

Live weight  (kg)*

556 10.6

525 10.8

487 12.6

573 8.15

n: number of observations; * 88.4 x (heart girth)2 x body length

Generally the reproduction and working performance of the buffaloes were similar in the different provinces (Tables 3 and 4). However, reproduction rates seemed to be better in the buffaloes in An Giang province, as evidenced by delay to estrus after calving and percentage of cows that produced one calf per year. The better reproductive performance of buffalo cows in An Giang may be because the farmers in many villages paid more attention to selection of the cows and their management, as they made their living by raising cows and selling calves to other provinces. Age of bulls for starting to work was lower in Hau Giang province than in other provinces (Table 4). Productivity for levelling the paddy field after ploughing and transporting rice for threshing were higher in the Dong Thap and Hau Giang provinces compared to other provinces. This may have been because the farmers in these province paid more attention to the feeding and management for buffalo bulls.

The survey also showed that ploughing and harrowing were mainly done by tractors, while transporting rice for threshing or transport to the homestead was implemented by buffaloes. It was also apparent that in the very wet and muddy areas that the buffaloes did most of the work as the tractors were unable to operate efficiently under these conditions.

It was also noted that the price of buffaloes In the MD area had increased, probably because of the reduction in the population and better feeding due to some surplus of natural grass. Rice transporting had become the main work for the buffaloes in the MD with very high incomes for the buffalo owners, particularly in the rice harvest of the wet season.

Table 3.  Some reproductive criteria of female buffaloes in different provinces of the MD


Hau giang

Kien giang

An giang

Dong Thap







Mean SE

Mean SE

Mean SE

Mean SE

Age for the first estrus

3.42 0.11

3.63 0.13

3.27 0.21

3.82 0.10

Age for the first  mating

3.71 0.10

3.91 0.11

3.62 0.18

3.91 0.13

Age for the first calving

5.01 0.13

5.30 0.18

4.78 0.22

5.17 0.11

Working after calving (month)

3.20 0.24

2.72 0.13

4.47 0.24

4.39 1.30

Estrus after calving (m)

3.73 0.31

3.18 0.19

2.81 0.23

3.53 1.19

Calving (%)




1 calf/ 1 year





2 calf/ 3 year





1 calf/>2 year





Raising buffaloes without shelter was habitual by farmers in the MD (Table 5). Natural grasses were the main feed resources for the buffaloes, but there was a lack of planted grasses. In the MD, grassland areas are very restricted, compared to other areas of Vietnam, so developing feeding systems for buffaloes in the MD should be based on the use of crop residues, especially rice straw. Lack of investment for buffalo development in the MD was a major constraint, due to a lack of financial support from the banks. In the present study buffalo diseases were not big problems. Pasteurellosis, Foot and Mouth disease, bloat and liver fluke were prevented effectively by vaccination or periodical use of drugs.

Table 4.  Working performance of  buffaloes in the MD


Hau giang

Kien giang

An giang

Dong thap







Mean SE

Mean SE

Mean SE

Mean SE

Age for working initial

3.72 0.10

4.27 0.10

4.11 0.12

4.70 0.13

Working hours/day

7.17 0.19

7.02 0.21

5.78 0.19

6.86 0.17

Working months/year

3.27 0.27

4.41 0.17

3.37 0.21

4.93 0.16

Weight of Rice,Ton/cart

0.81 0.07

0.72 0.05

0.61 0.06

0.90 0.05

Speed of Pulling (m/s)





Speed of cart no rice

0.73 0.20

0.68 0.10

0.67 0.11

0.76 0.18

Speed of cart with rice

1.01 0.03

0.88 0.03

0.91 0.02

1.02 0.03

Rice tranport for threshing*




  1-2 ha/ day/buffalo





   > 2 ha/day/buffalo









1-2 ha/ day/pair





> 2 ha/day/pair





Age for culling, years

17.4 0.41

18.1 0.40

15.3 0.48

14.6 0.43

* The main work with high income for buffaloes in the MD province recently

Table 5. Traditional raising and feed resources and other support activities in the MD


Hau Giang and Kien Giang

An Giang and Dong Thap




Main grasses

Para grass,

Para grasses,





Panicum repens,

Panicum repens,


Cynodon dactylon

Cynodon dactylon


Brakisk grasses


Grass land

Very restricted

Very restricted

Crop residues

Rice straw,

Rice straw,


Maize stover

Maize stover,


Sugarcane tops

Sugarcane tops


Sweet potato vines,

Bean vines

Financial input



Hire of buffalo draught power

The farmers in Tra Vinh had no income at all from the hire of buffalo draught power. This is because the tractors manage all the different types of fieldwork in the dryer upland environment, and demand for the buffalo thus is lower. However, the farmers in lowland areas reported an average income of $800 per buffalo per year for hire to other farmers, mainly for transporting rice. The price for fieldwork depends on the current price of rice, and the hire is often paid in rice. The rice is pulled on sledges or barges by a single buffalo (91 per cent), up to 650 kg at one time. One buffalo may transport rice from around 50 ha per year, or around 300 tonnes of rice. The transport could involve taking the whole rice crop to the threshing machine and later the threshed rice for storage in the farmhouse, or delivering rice to the road or canal for further transportation. The farmers often store the rice in their houses waiting for the price to increase.

The competitor to buffaloes for transporting rice is not so much the tractors as human labour. Rice-field workers are hired and provide the labour for harvesting, transplanting, pulling weeds and carrying sacks of rice on their backs. However, when humans carry rice it is often because of a shortage of working buffaloes. Leveling the paddy field prior to planting can also be very profitable work with a reported daily income of between $10-20 for one animal. In Table 6 Economic efficiency of buffaloes in Dong Thap province was better than other province.

Table 6.  Economic efficiency of working buffaloes in the MD                   


Hau Giang

Kien Giang

An Giang

Dong Thap


Total income per working life, 10 yr, USD






Total cost per working life 10 yr, USD






Total profit per buffalo, 10 yr, USD






Economic efficiency  of buffalo, %*






*Economic efficiency of buffalo, % = 100*(Total income/working life/ Total cost/working life)

The tractor

The most common tractor was a two wheeler with handlebar, driven by a noisy, smoking and vibrating diesel engine. The farmers working with tractors in the study all complained about associated health problems. The machine drives a cultivator aggregate rather than pulling a plough or harrow. A new tractor costs around $1200 together with a barge for moving it on the waterways. The yearly net profit from hire was reported to be around $400. The investment mostly depended on having a supply of customers to work for. Depending on type of soil and degree of wetness condition, a new tractor could plough around two ha per day, compared to a pair of buffaloes that can plough around 0.3 ha per day. Ploughing is reported to cost the same, whether carried out by buffalo or by tractor. Careful planning is needed to achieve three rice crops per year when there is a need for faster tillage supplied by the tractor. This creates a high demand for tractor work and many farmers have therefore sold their buffaloes and bought a tractor, or alternatively just hired a tractor for doing the field work. However, because of the wet conditions in the MD, the tractor is reported to work efficiently only for about three years.

All farmers with knowledge of tractors reported that the efficiency then decreased together with the reliability. Breakdown is common, and is also expensive to repair. The costs and time spent on repairs, transport and maintenance then increased and the customers often abandoned the old tractor hirer for someone with a more reliable model. After 8 - 10 years the tractor might be totally worn out and the farmer often had no capital for investment in a new one, or money to buy buffaloes. This might result in the farmer not working his own fields and instead hiring all the draught power needed. Large numbers of tractors have recently been sold, and the competition between tractor owners for customers is hard. Reduction in the costs to hire tractors was reported. To move the tractor from field to field on the waterways was also more demanding than to move buffaloes On balance, it was calculated that economic efficiency was better for buffaloes compared to tractor by a factor of 2.1 (Table 7 ).

Table 7. Economic efficiency of the two wheel tractor in the MD


Hau Giang

Kien Giang

An Giang

Dong Thap


Total income per tractor Cycle, 10 yr, USD.






Total cost per tractor Cycle, 10 yr, USD






Total profit per tractor,  10 yr, USD






Economic efficiency of tractor, %*






Economic efficiency Buffalo/tractor






*Economic efficiency of tractors, % = 100*(Total income/working life/ Total cost/working life).



Many thanks to Mr. Nguyen Van Liem and Miss Dan Thanh. Financial support of this work was provided by Mekarn. The authors would like to thank the Department of Animal Husbandry, Faculty of Agriculture, Cantho University, Vietnam and the Department of Animal Nutrition and Management, Swedish Agricultural Sciences, Sweden for use of their facilities.


Bergstrom J 2003 A Study on The Changing Role the native buffalo in Farming System in the Mekong delta. MSc thesis. Department of Animal nutrition and management. Swedish University of Agicultural Sciences

Long D 2002 Importing Buffalo, why? Economic. Tuoi tre Newspers (Vietnamese) No 133/2002 (July 16 2002 2003). pp.11

Ly L V 2001 Buffalo development in Vietnam: Constraint and prospects. MEKARN proceedings of International Workshop on Swamp Buffalo. Editors: TR Preston and R Sansoucy. Hanoi 17-18 December 2001

Mason I L 1974 Species, Types and Breeds. In The husbandry and health of the domestic buffalo. W.Ross Cockrill (Editor). FAO, Rome, Italy. Pp 1-47

Nguyen Van Thu 2000 Buffalo production and performance in Vietnam. Performance recording of Animals Unpublished manuscript

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