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Old 02-09-2009, 12:15 AM   #1
Nikkkola

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Default A farmer's best friend
The bond between a water buffalo and its owner was deep and complex

SUTHON SUKPHISIT
Bangkok Post
February 09, 2008

In the past, the water buffalo was a farmer's great companion when working the fields. It wasn't just a powerful animal that could respond to its owner's commands; the relationship between the two went deeper than that.

The man come to know the feelings of the buffalo and over the years of working hard together it became more of a pet than a tool, and it could be said that the work got done because the water buffalo and the farmer were friends.

Years ago, field work was only done once a year, because rice cultivation was dependent on the natural cycle of the seasons. The plants were watered by the rain, which fell for only six months each year. As the water levels in rivers and streams rose, and eventually flooded the fields the rice plants adapted to it, with their tops rising constantly to stay above the surface.

The rice matured just at the time when the water retreated from the fields. As the paddies dried, the cool season came in, the time when rice was harvested. This was the pattern of rice farming in the past.

In those times, almost all rice farmers lived beside a river, stream or canal. Houses were raised on stilts to keep them above water during the rainy season.

The area behind the house was covered with vegetation, both natural forest and cultivated trees. These latter - mangoes, krathawn, coconuts, glass apples, star fruit and bamboo - provided shade and food. Many are long-lived trees that grew to a considerable height, and in time they created cool, shady places to sit and work. Beyond the wooded area behind the house lay the wide expanse of the rice fields.

The water buffalo were kept in the space under the house, which was divided into two parts. One was the buffalo pen, the other a general-purpose area where work could be done or an unused boat might be stored (a boat in use would be tethered to a post at the dock). The buffalo were kept there to protect them from thieves. The animals would sleep peacefully at night, but if a stranger or buffalo thief approached they would wake up and the owner would be alerted.

Also, with the buffalo right there in the household, the owner would be able to protect them from the blood-sucking flies that tormented them by burning rice straw with weeds to create a smoke that drove the insects away. It also kept mosquitoes from bothering the family.

Work in the fields began at the end of the hot season with ploughing to prepare the ground. The farmer would awaken at 4 or 5am, depending on how far he had to travel to reach his fields, and take the water buffalo. He would also take his ploughing tools and load them onto a sled-like cart with runners instead of wheels, which the buffalo could easily pull across the wet ground.

The farmer and his buffalo had to reach the fields before sunrise and immediately begin ploughing. The work continued until around 10am, when the buffalo would begin to tire and the sun was becoming hot. Water buffalo dislike the heat.

Then they would both rest. The buffalo would find some edible weeds and grass nearby, and the farmer would eat the lunch that he had brought from home.

Ploughing resumed at around 2pm and stopped at 4pm, when the buffalo would again be tired and ready for a rest. Its owner would gather grass and weeds, and after they had rested a bit they would return home. The route from the house through the wooded area to the fields that the farmer and his buffalo passed along every day, which became wide, smooth, and free of grass from constant use, was called a soi and this is the origin of the Thai word used to refer to a lane in a town or city.

After returning to the house, the farmer would take the buffalo to soak in the water at the dock in front of the house. This was their favourite part of the day. The farmer might also sit on the animal's back and give it a back rub. The two would remain there until evening.

Once back in the area under the house, the farmer would burn grass and weeds to get rid of the flies and then give the freshly cut plants brought back from the fields to the buffalo to eat. This routine was followed every day.

When the rains started, the farmer would start sowing the rice. He would take the buffalo along, even though there was no work for it to do, so that it could find grass to eat. By eating the grass and weeds that sprouted in the fields, it kept them in check. When the farmer finished his day's sowing, he still had to cut grass to feed his buffalo in the evening.

When the new rice plants began to grow and water began to flood the fields, the buffalo pen would be moved to higher ground (a raised area would have been built near the house, to be used as a temporary pen). The buffalo would stay there throughout the rainy season, eating straw that the farmer had stored. But the farmer would still have to go to the flooded fields every day by boat to gather grass and edible morning glory-like vines (phak boong) that sprouted in the paddies and at the edge of the forest. He would leave in the afternoon, taking rice and nam phrik long ruea (a type of chilli dip) to eat. This sauce, whose name translates as "chilli sauce for taking onto a boat", was easy to make and convenient to eat outdoors.

After he had eaten, the farmer would collect grass and edible weeds for his buffalo, and the fire to rid the house of insects had to be lit every evening, as usual.

When the cool season arrived, the rice was ready to be harvested and once again there was work for the water buffalo. The animal pulled the cart loaded with rice back to the threshing area near the house. There the buffalo would walk on the rice to free the grains from the stalks. Of course, the threshing ground was located under the trees to take advantage of the shade.

To prepare the threshing ground, the farmer mixed mud with buffalo droppings and spread it over a wide piece of ground. When it dried it would be smooth and soft, but not dusty. If ordinary ground were use the treading of the buffalo would raise dust that would mix with the rice and be hard to remove.

The threshed rice would be stored in a special silo whose walls were made from hard bamboo matting covered with a mixture of earth, rice husks and buffalo droppings. The buffalo droppings were needed to keep out moisture and insects and kept the air inside from getting too hot.

Most of the rice was sent to the mill and then to the market, and some of it was kept to be eaten. But a portion of it was left unmilled and kept as seed rice to plant the following season. The seed rice was also stored in the silo, where the buffalo droppings helped to retain its quality.

After harvesting and threshing, the buffalo returned to the pen under the house and the cycle was ready to begin again.

Farmers got many good things from their buffalo. There was the happy relationship it had with the family. During the hot season, the youngsters would take it out into the fields to look for grass to eat. They would climb onto its back and ride it out into the fields, letting it roam free to forage for food. While in the fields, the children played with other children who had come with their buffalo.

The buffalo came to know and love not only their owners, but also the local children. There is a story of one heroic buffalo who drove away a mad dog that was threatening to attack a child in the fields.

When buffalo reach a ripe old age they no longer work and when they died they were buried. No one eats his own buffalos, but they keep the horns from their heads and hang them from the central pillar of the house. Even though there may be many pairs on display, the owner will remember the name of each one of them, as well as when the animal came into the family and started working with him.

Buffalo horns are still in wide use. People hang their clothes and loincloths from them. Even in death, they continue to be of service to their owners.

The bond between a water buffalo and its owner was deep and complex. It was a natural link between a man and an animal who loved each other, an especially beautiful facet of traditional Thai culture.
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Old 02-08-2011, 08:21 AM   #2
monologue

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The route from the house through the wooded area to the fields that the farmer and his buffalo passed along every day, which became wide, smooth, and free of grass from constant use, was called a soi and this is the origin of the Thai word used to refer to a lane in a town or city.
One of those interesting factoids that you would never guess.
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Old 02-08-2011, 08:43 AM   #3
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No one eats his own buffalos, but they keep the horns from their heads and hang them from the central pillar of the house.
Buffalo horns may also be represented in traditional architecture as well
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Old 02-08-2011, 08:51 AM   #4
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Must be the best example of how they were honoured, putting the dead buffalo's horns right up there above everything else in the house.
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Old 02-09-2011, 07:42 AM   #5
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buffaloes having their happy hours.......
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Old 02-09-2012, 12:16 AM   #6
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Water buffalo are extremely intelligent animals (not at all stupid, contrary to the old Thai proverb "Ngo meuan Khwai"). I can well understand a bond of friendship, respect and love developing between a buffalo and his farmer owner. One surprising thing about them is their lack of heat tolerance, considering they originate in hot tropical countries. Problem is that they don't have anywhere near as many pores per square inch in their skin, to dissipate the heat as cattle do. So they must have shade at midday and ideally a cool river or pond to wallow in, with just their nostrils showing. Buffalo heaven! Buffalo are not cattle - they are a completely different species and their scientific name is bubulus bubulus. Wonderful animals and very sad that they are rapidly disappearing from the Thai countryside.
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Old 02-09-2012, 12:35 AM   #7
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I recall being around many buffalo in the seventies. One thing thais told me was to keep my distnce from these animals. They can turn in a flash and attack. I never saw that happen, but when I got close to them, in their pen, and they turned there head to me and stared, My wife told me to move away. Families don't eat their buffalo.? Noticed alot of buffalo meat in market stalls many years ago. Vendors said it was khwai nua.
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Old 02-09-2012, 01:32 AM   #8
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Well it's about time people appreciated the animal and stop referring it as a dumb animal.
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Old 02-09-2012, 07:14 AM   #9
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You're right paul, I'm sorry...we shouldn't refer to you as a dumb animal!
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Old 09-21-2012, 09:12 AM   #10
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Rcalaimo said: - "I saw this on television. An American company in Vermont ,of all places, raising water buffalo for cheese making".

Thats very interesting. A few years ago a client of mine was considering importing milking buffalo into NZ from Hungary to produce mozzarella cheese (Purists insist that only buffalo milk should be used for producing mozzarella). I was at the point of chartering a Jumbo jet to fly 150 purebred milking buffalo calves into NZ when my client unfortunately died. It was a good idea but it (and the money required to fund it) died with him.
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Old 09-21-2012, 10:29 AM   #11
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Seem to be more of them over in Issan than over here where we live, only 2 or 3 around that I have seen and never see one working..

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Old 09-21-2012, 12:14 PM   #12
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LOL! The carton. Hope the Buffalo ran against getting 'S##t scared'... that would not have made the farmer too happy looking.
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Old 09-21-2012, 12:27 PM   #13
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Very interesting article. Thanks yeows.

My wife has lots of stories about when she was a girl and tended the family's buffaloes. To hear her talk about them, you realize that they were very much like pets, and that she really loved them. I think that's where she must have developed her great rapport with animals. She seems to speak their language, somehow!

DogoDon
My wife too has fond memories of tending to buffalo and she won't eat the meat of large animals as a result.
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Old 09-21-2012, 01:20 PM   #14
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The farmer and the buffalo seem to have the rapport as the mahout has with his elephant. The only similar relationship I can think of in the west is the shepherd with his sheepdog.
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Old 09-21-2012, 01:53 PM   #15
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Khun Don said: - "Over the past decade, the number of water buffaloes has sharply declined from 2.29 million in 1997 to just 1.35 million in 2006 due to rapid mechanisation".

Yeah, but in 1968 there were eight million!!
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Old 09-21-2012, 02:19 PM   #16
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I always like Buffalo milk more than cow's. But in my place we do not get it. Which milk is consumed in Thailand more?
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Old 09-21-2012, 03:25 PM   #17
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Very interesting article. Thanks yeows.

My wife has lots of stories about when she was a girl and tended the family's buffaloes. To hear her talk about them, you realize that they were very much like pets, and that she really loved them. I think that's where she must have developed her great rapport with animals. She seems to speak their language, somehow!

DogoDon
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Old 09-21-2012, 04:26 PM   #18
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Do Thai's eat cheese? I only know that when I have bought cheese in the past in Thailand none of my family will taste it after smelling it (and it wasn't strong cheese.)

David
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Old 09-21-2012, 05:25 PM   #19
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I saw this on television. An American company in Vermont ,of all places, raising water buffalo for cheese making.
http://www.woodstockwaterbuffalo.com/index.shtml
Possible idea for someone in Thailand )
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Old 09-21-2012, 07:44 PM   #20
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I saw this on television. An American company in Vermont ,of all places, raising water buffalo for cheese making.
http://www.woodstockwaterbuffalo.com/index.shtml
Possible idea for someone in Thailand )
This is nothing strange where I come from. "White cheese' or 'cottage cheese', the kind of cheese produced out of buffalo's milk, is well-liked in the area. My company is presently assisting a micro-sized client firm which breeds water buffaloes. However, one problem it is facing is the limited shelf-life of the product--only 6 days. If this business is introduced in Thailand, that problem should be addressed well.

I also wonder if Thais have a taste for cottage cheese. I've got no idea.
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