Thanks to vast marshes and wetlands, in Azerbaijan buffalo husbandry has been practiced since ancient times and have been played an important role in satisfying national demand for meat and dairy products. Local population has strong traditions and experience in keeping Caucasian Buffalo, a domestic water buffalo breed (Bubalus bubalis) and, still nowadays, are extremely valuable in the Azerbaijanian agrobiodiversity heritage.
The buffalo population of the Caucasus is the result of the selection among different buffalo types, starting with pure breeding of local buffaloes, including inbreeding, and resulting in the Caucasian Buffalo breed, noted for its high milk and meat production, being officially registered in 1970.
Called the “black pearl” of Azerbaijan, during the Soviet Union 70% of all water buffalo were moved in the South Caucasus and today they are concentrated in the Aran, Shaki-Zagatala, Ganja-Dashkasan, Lankaran, Mountainous Shirvan, and Guba-Khachmaz economic regions, characterized by high numbers of bogs, lakes, and reedy vegetation. The abundance of water sources attracts buffalos, which like to lie in pools of water, swamps or riverbeds on hot days. Moreover, buffalo’s presence helps to increase fertile soil mainly through grazing and hoof movement on the ground, which makes it easy to cultivate the fields where they are kept.
Traditionally, two principal methods of Buffalo herding are performed. In the wild herding, animals are pasturing in forest by their own from April to December. Starting from June, buffalos go to the farm twice a day (in the morning and evening) to be milked, while in July only once a day. From August until December they live in forest on their own. In winter months, buffalos stay on the farm and are fed with locally produced fodder.
Nobat pasturing, also known as Sira, is a traditional practice of common pasturing of domestic animals by adopting a community approach. All the village animals are pastured to the nearby mountains and common pastures of the village (the Nobat). Each household in turn goes to the Nobat shepherding the village herd. The frequency and level of involvement depends on the amount of the animals in each household’s possession.
Caucasian Buffaloes produce 3-4 liters of milk per day, with 7-8% of fat on average. The milk contains higher levels of protein, sugars and minerals than cattle milk. While market channels for buffalo milk are not well developed in Azerbaijan, most farmers process their milk into butter, yoghurt, cream, cheese, kefir, and other products with dietary significance, which they consume in the village or sell directly. Buffalo meat is very well known as a red meat with twice as much hemoglobin content as beef and low cholesterol. In Azerbaijani gastronomy it is used to produce Gakhaj (jerky style meat) and as ingredient of many local dishes.
The facts that buffaloes do not require large amounts of food or special care make them easy to raise. Still, most families that keep buffalo have just a few animals. The main reason for the decline in buffalo livestock is the progressive loss of pastures. In recent years, pastures are decreasing as fields are used for industrial crops, so there is simply nowhere to graze livestock. Moreover, drought and reduction of water sources mostly coming from climate change affect buffaloes’ supplies. The Presidium will work on increasing sustainable practice of Nobat and wild buffalo pasturing among local population. The main pillar of the production protocol signed by buffalo owners establishes the full adherence to the traditional techniques of buffalo grazing with attention to the animal welfare.