Almost four years after setting up one of the NSW South Coast's first water buffalo dairies, David and Sally Shannon are now preparing to farewell their herd of milkers.
The couple have operated Bonza Buffalo on their 56 hectare property, Menagerie Park, near Quaama, NSW, since about 2016, but health problems and a lack of skilled helpers has seen them advertise their herd for sale.
About 60 dairying Italian Riverine cows, pregnancy-tested-in-calf females and some heifers along with two bulls are now looking for a new home after a successful milking season.
The couple had been selling their buffalo milk to outlets within Australia for cheese making purposes, like Italian mozzarella.
While dairying may not seem like an opportunistic business in the current climate, Mr Shannon said they had no problems in selling the multiple products available from water buffalo.
"It's a good opportunity for some young people who are interested because there is quite a good business case to be made for the buffalo," he said.
"The milk is valuable and a wonderful product, and the meat is becoming increasingly salable. There are a few new abattoirs starting up that are considering exporting them Halal to Indonesia and the like.
"There is a health conscious market who understand the meat is pretty good stuff as is the milk.
"And there is great interest from artisan cheese makers. They realised what good cheese you could make with it."
The Shannons imported their water buffalo genetics to their property near the Bega Valley from herds across the country. Some were sourced from Victoria, with the remainder coming from a Northern Territory dispersal sale or the Northern Territory Government Buffalo Research Facility at Beatrice Hill.
It wasn't the only thing they imported. They also purchased a portable dairy all the way from Lithuania in Europe.
"You could take the dairy to the cows rather than the cows to the dairy if you wanted to," Mr Shannon said.
"We actually had it as a fixture. With the mobile one you obviously move it to the place, do them where they are, and save all the traipsing back and forth."
Unlike traditional dairy cattle, water buffalo are only milked once a day and produce about six to eight litres each, sometimes as high as 10 to 12 litres.
But their milk product was about quality over quantity and Mr Shannon said the milk sold for about $4/litre.
"It's a relatively easy product to manage and they do well on ordinary pastures," he said.
"They don't need massive amounts of water and improved pasture like Friesians. They don't produce as much product, no doubt, but...the buffalo butter fat is twice the butter fat of a Jersey so it's massively good for cheese making, and it's got less cholesterol."
Read about some other diversification ideas:
- Maffra Cheese Co paddock-to-plate success story
- Meredith Dairy puts its sustainability to the test
- Kerry farmers realise creamery dream at Tommerups pre-Eat Local launch
While the Shannons were focused on cheese production, Mr Shannon said there was big demand for the milk product alone.
"I'm surprised one of the bigger milk companies hasn't got onto it because there is export demand, it's just a very good diversification," he said.
"I think the bottled milk had some scope because it's such a good product and people don't tend to get allergic to water buffalo milk like they may with cows' milk.
"It's got more calcium, more magnesium, more of the good things, less of the bad things. It's perfect for older people, perfect for infants. It really is an unbelievably good product."
The couple had also dabbled in meat production and became so successful they ran out of their supply of steers.
"They don't carry lots of fat which is one of the advantages of the beef, but the meat eats well," Mr Shannon said.
"The meat, which we have slaughtered and sold, always comes off with very favourable comments. It's a very healthy meat because it's high in zinc and iron but low in fat. Athletes like it because of those characteristics."
Their water buffalo have previously been sold as pets and also to campdrafters who comment on their athleticism over bison or an ordinary cow.
Regardless of who takes the opportunity of their herd, the couple want to keep them together and won't sell them individually.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to read more stories like this?
Sign up below to receive our e-newsletter delivered fresh to your email in-box twice a week.