In the triangle formed by Kerang, Cohuna and Koondrook in Northern Victoria, there is a small region called Teal Point. Here there is a fascinating enterprise where an enthusiastic young couple Alice and Jack Blow milk two herds - one of Holstein cows and one of Buffalo.
The dairy cows are milked first and the Buffaloes last, twice a day. It's an intriguing and time-consuming role through the 50-a-side double-up herringbone dairy, with morning milking starting at 3am and finishing at 9.30am. This is then repeated in the afternoon.
The yarding for the 50-a-side is also time-consuming, but it was even more time-consuming in the original 25-a-side dairy.
Mr Blow said one double-up takes 100 animals, so they do this three times and the main dairy cow herd is done.
The buffaloes are more complex as all animals are injected with one-millilitre of oxytocin prior to cups on and both back legs are roped.
When questioned about both these practices, Mrs Blow explained.
"In India, buffalos are hand-milked with the calf at the head of the cow," she said. "The milk let-down stimulus is thus far better than with machine milking, and due to the small amount of milk produced per milking, it is efficient to use the injection."
The machine milking causes the buffalo to continually stamp their feet at cups on, hence the need for two leg ropes.
Once the cups are on, the animals are fine. There was no evidence of mastitis in the buffaloes and the udders were completely deflated at cups off. It is all done manually. Mrs Blow said cup removers were not feasible, due to the small milk flow.
The shed is powered by a three-phase diesel generator as three-phase power is not available.
The Blows got involved in milking buffalos as a couple at Millaa Millaa in Queensland with Mr Blow having been involved before that with a couple of entrepreneurs a few kilometres away from where they have now established their business to be closer to their market.
The dairy herd contains 300 cows and associated young stock and the buffalo herd peaks at 350 milkers. The whole buffalo herd numbers 600-700 with young stock being built up to cater for expansion.
The farm is 330 hectares with a leased 250ha block a few kilometres away. There is no green feed anywhere at present with bought-in hay being used and a commercial grain ration added to build up the protein, according to Mr Blow's specifications.
He said he found canola meal better suited the buffaloes, while soy was used in the dairy cow's rations. A mixer feed-out wagon is used, and a small grain amount is also fed in the shed.
There are some stark contrasts between the cows and the buffaloes. The obvious is the latter's large horns, their stature being stocky and fat and their coarse, quite bristly, coat.
Dehorning is not used, even on the bulls. The young calves show horns early.
There is hardly any colour variation from their dark brown/ black. One or two of the herd had a small sprinkling of white around their heads.
They love mud. "The cows (buffalos) submerge themselves in water if they get the chance," Mrs Blow said.
This writer saw several buffalo cows with mud cover all over but there was no mud on the udders. The udders are surprisingly soft textured and exactly the same colour as the overall animal. No milk veins are visible.
The animals' production varies from four to 10 litres per day and fat content is around 8 per cent. The milk is very white.
The two herds are fed on separate feed-out area as there is no grazing available this year. "This year is better than last season as hay and grain was then more expensive," Mr Blow said.
They source their feed wherever possible with some from NSW and the Wimmera this year. In years when possible, they buy temporary water to grow fodder.
Veterinary treatment of the buffalo is minimal. "When an animal has health issues, they shed their hair and we use a pour-on as the hides are simply too thick and hard to needle," Mr Blow said.
Maintenance of these animals is much lower than for the dairy cows. The buffaloes are quiet and docile, and at first, this writer was quite wary when approaching them.
But when watching the Blows in the yards with the buffalo cows and calves, it was immensely enjoyable to see their calm demeanour and skill in animal handling.
The mothers don't bellow and let out a much smaller sound than a dairy cow. "When we take the calves off the mothers at two days, they don't keep us awake as we don't hear them," Mr Blow said.
The couple prefers the buffalo to dairy cow. Mr Blow said trouble came at cow calving time rather than with buffalos. They don't require calving assistance nor get milk fever or paralysis, or any of these issues with cows.
The calves are reared by hand at the start with colostrum, although this is also collected for sale when available. The shed is nearby and as the calves grow they are moved to a facility on the leased block and are fed on a Lely Calm unit with four stations and associated yards/pens. The calves are not inoculated or dehorned and also receive hay ad lib.
Weaning is automatic via the feeder at a preset animal size. Normal milk powder is added to and blended by the machine and both dairy and buffalo calves are at the facility.
All animals - both dairy and buffalo - are in beautiful condition with the herd of mainly Friesian cows well uddered and still producing around 24 litres/day as an autumn calving herd. The buffalo are short-legged and much lower in stature and fattened up really well before calving.
Artificial insemination is used for both dairy and buffalo with the latter semen coming from India or Italy. Mop-up bulls are used on both.
The dairy milk is marketed via Australian Dairy Farmers Corporation and is picked up by Saputo.
The buffalo milk is sold to Melbourne via road transport in 1000-litre double-lined plastic bags in crates. The milk is held in a bulk vat at 2.5 degrees Celsius and collected twice weekly. At the time of collection, it is pumped into the bags/crates and loaded onto refrigerated tray trucks.
The Blows are paid $2.80 to $3.20 per litre for the buffalo milk delivered, depending on the time of the season. The milk is used for the production of mozzarella cheese. Cull buffalos are sold to designated meatworks for export mostly to India.
In an area and at a time where dairying is being severely challenged it is refreshing to meet the Blows and their two young boys with an obvious affection for their animals and a strong desire for business success. They are extremely busy although three labour units are employed with milking and farm work. However, they are establishing a platform for an enterprise which they hope will provide for their future.
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