Buffalo: next big thing in meat & dairy?
Australia has hundreds of thousands of buffalo, much of them feral. Once viewed as little more than a pest, a growing number of Australian farmers are now seeing this hardy animal in a new light, producing premium meat and dairy products for an eager customer base.
Water buffalo were first introduced into the Northern Territory from Indonesia in the 1800s. They served a dual purpose, as both draught animals and to provide a meat source for new settlements. Over time, animals escaped or were abandoned, and there’s now a large population of free-range wild buffalo in northern Australia. Because of the extensive environmental damage they cause, these feral animals have long been targeted for culling. But a domesticated industry offers opportunities in a potentially lucrative market.
While buffalo meat has been produced and consumed in countries around the world for centuries, it’s still a relatively new industry in Australia. However, in recent years, the meat has become more popular among health-conscious Aussie consumers. It’s leaner than beef, contains less cholesterol and is a rich source of protein, iron and zinc.
Know your type
There are two main types of water buffalo – river or riverine and swamp. Swamp buffalo have primarily been used for their draught power, but also for their meat and hides. The river buffalo is a major milk producer in many countries. Now, a small but growing number of farmers are producing its milk here in Australia. The milk is lower in cholesterol than cow’s milk and contains more calcium and protein. It’s also suitable for people with a cow’s milk allergy. And it makes some pretty mind-blowing mozzarella.
Victoria’s Shaw River Buffalo Cheese has been farming buffalo since the mid-1990s. The Haldane family imported riverine animals from Italy and Bulgaria to build their herd, becoming the pioneers of the Australian buffalo cheese industry. The family now produces some of the country’s best grass-fed buffalo dairy products. Shaw River’s yoghurt won a delicious. produce award in 2020, and their cheeses – mozzarella, buffalino and “buffeta” – have also won international awards. The herd is only milked once a day, which reduces stress. This leads to longer, happier lives for the animals, which can continue giving milk for 15 years or more. In comparison, the average milking life of a dairy cow is four to six years.
A happy herd
Burraduc Farm in Bungwahl on the mid-NSW coast produces award-winning Mediterranean riverine buffalo mozzarella, following traditional Italian cheesemaking practices. The farmhouse dairy, run by Andrei and Elena Swegen, produces all its pasture-fed milk products on-farm, including other artisan cheeses as well as yoghurt and cultured cream. All Burraduc’s animals are born and raised on the regeneratively managed farm, and the dairy calves stay with their mothers. The Swegens work to provide a relaxed and harmonious environment for their buffalo, which can stop producing milk if they’re unhappy. Burraduc also produces a selection of meat products. You can check out the full range here.
For the love of mozzarella
Ian and Kim Massingham of Eungai Creek Buffalo on the mid-north coast of NSW decided to begin producing buffalo milk products after falling in love with mozzarella while on a trip to Italy. They began building a herd of Mediterranean riverine buffalo crossed with Asian swamp. Now the Massinghams produce a range of hand-crafted soft and mature cheeses as well as gelato, milk and yoghurt. They also offer meat products and supply a number of restaurants, as and regularly sell their produce at local markets. There’s also an on-farm cafe which serves dishes that hero the farm’s produce. The family uses biodynamic farming practices and has a strong focus on animal welfare. To find out more, click here.
From nose to tail
The Thompson family has been farming buffalo on the Sunshine Coast for the past 15 years. Originally producing meat such as steaks, and milk for local cheesemakers like Maleny Cheese, the family has now branched out to add processed meats and hides to their range. They decided to diversify after extended COVID lockdowns led to restaurant, cafe and cheesemaker orders drying up. But it also lends itself to the Thompson’s commitment to zero-waste agriculture. There are even plans afoot to launch dried buffalo bone dog chews. Thompson family matriarch Margaret, 83, believes there’s a real demand for their products in Australia, and that the market will continue to grow.
From deer to buffalo
Down in Tasmania, former deer farmer Phillip Oates started the state’s first commercial buffalo herd in 1997. They raise a herd of Asian crossed with purebred Italian Mediterranean for both meat and dairy products. The farm has its own cheesemaking facility run by Oates’ partner Sheridan Lee. She produces cheeses such as mozzarella and ricotta. Oates and Lee also share the Thompson’s nose-to-tail, zero-waste philosophy. They now sell their products at local farmers’ markets, and also supply restaurants in Hobart and Launceston.
A love affair
Emma Rooke and Eric Oxenham run a small buffalo dairy farm in South Australia’s stunning Fleurieu Peninsula. Buff Love produces premium milk from purebred Italian Mediterranean buffalo and the business makes its own cheese on-farm. Rooke, an artisan cheesemaker, is a big fan of authentic Italian mozzarella cheese. She planned to travel to Italy last year to learn the traditional cheesemaking process. Sadly, COVID scuppered those plans, but the couple remains excited about the potential opportunities ahead. The Fleurieu Peninsula is home to some of Australia’s best food and drink, and the dairy has already sparked the interest of local restaurants, wineries and breweries.
In Western Australia, farmer Graeme Carthy has introduced a herd of riverine buffalo from the Northern Territory to his farm in Quindanning, 170km south-east of Perth. The animals were part of an NT breeding program at the Beatrice Hill Research Farm outside of Darwin. Carthy believes that buffalo meat could be the next “big thing” in the premium meat market. He plans to continue growing his herd to produce boutique products, including sweets. As buffalo milk is higher in fat, it makes amazing ice cream and chocolate.
Top End wagyu
The Northern Territory is where the majority of our buffalo roam. Farmer Adrian Phillips runs buffalo and cattle on Annaburroo Station on the Mary River, 100km south-east of Darwin. He believes that with cattle prices increasing, buffalo meat could offer a more affordable alternative. While most of his meat is currently exported, Phillips hopes to expand into a domestic market with the riverine breed. He says his “Top End wagyu” is already in high demand from restaurants. Farming NT buffalo for meat and milk could help to reduce the number of wild animals that are currently culled and simply go to waste. It would also address the land degradation that free-ranging buffalo can cause.