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Making water buffaloes produce in dairy farms

Authors: Laszlo Cseke*, Polytechnic University of Turin/University of Turin
Topics: Animal Geographies, Cultural and Political Ecology, Economic Geography
Keywords: multispecies ethnography, human–animal relations, oxytocin, real subsumption, buffaloes
Session Type: Paper
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Water buffaloes are known as “slow and hard milkers” due to their slower oxytocin release reflex. In order to overcome this issue in dairy farms, there is a common but not well-documented practice of using oxytocin injections for a faster milk release. In the past, buffalo calves were used to stimulate buffalo cows during the milking process. However, the industrialization of the sector and the use of milking machines with teat cups have required alternative ways to stimulate younger and more sensitive buffaloes before milking, and injecting the animals with oxytocin has become a ‘quick fix.’ Some veterinarians even argue that the frequency of using oxytocin injections can tell us about the quality of human–animal relations in dairy farms as well.
As part of my doctoral research, I worked for almost two months as a trainee farmworker on a buffalo farm in Southern Italy, where the well-known buffalo mozzarella cheese is produced. I had the opportunity to closely and repeatedly observe how buffalo cows anticipate the oxytocin injections before milking and how the injections affect their body functions. My work experience allowed me to observe and think about how this particular form of ‘real subsumption of nature’ is linked to highly uneven and complex (violent and caring at the same time) human–animal power relations in dairy buffalo farms. I argue that the situated knowledge that emerges from this experience has the potential to re-politicize the current, mainly technical debates on the relations between humans and farmed animals.

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