By Andrew Campbell
There are definitely some unique farms in Canada, producing very niche products. This tour definitely fits in that category! Using their experience with dairy cows, the Koskamp family found a niche market in producing water buffalo milk that they use mainly to make fresh mozzarella cheese. And while there may be only a handful of water buffalo farms in Canada, it’s actually a very common product in other countries, especially Italy. For the Koskamps, although the water buffalo are different animals than dairy cows they share a lot of similarities including their need for clean food and water and a comfortable place to lay down. So come and see for yourself what a water buffalo looks like and how the Koskamp’s care for them.
Why water buffalo?
Because nobody was doing it.
There are only 10 farms in the whole country who are actually doing this. So this is going to be a pretty fascinating tour. Let’s start with the milking process. How do you milk a water buffalo?
Patiently! Water buffalo are an easy-going animal. The milking process is similar to milking dairy cows. We use a rotating milking platform. We start the process by using an antibacterial dip to clean off their udders and teats before attaching the milking unit. We keep everything clean and dry and keep the animals relaxed.
What is water buffalo milk used for?
Our main product is traditional, fresh, water buffalo mozzarella. It comes in its own brine and in different sizes. Most fresh mozzarella is imported so we wanted to create a Canadian supply source. We also work together with Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese by Woodstock to make a Gouda-style cheese and Asiago.
To be honest, I’ve never looked for a water buffalo cheese, but if I was looking for it, where would I go and find it?
Most major stores have it, and if not, go to our website www.waterbuffalocanada.ca and find the closest store.
The other side of your farm is the meat side. Not all the water buffalo are going into the dairy herd. They’re going into the meat herd. What is the meat like on a water buffalo?
Water buffalo meat is fairly lean and similar to bison. With lean meat, you have to be careful that you don’t overcook it because it doesn’t have a lot of marbling in it. Our meat brand is called Tenderbuff and we process the animals before they reach a year old. Once they are older than that, the meat can get a little tougher. We want to keep it tender and to make sure nobody has a tough steak or roast. Older animals are used for ground products like summer sausage or pepperettes.
Let’s look more at how you look after water buffalo. We’ve moved into the barn and these are pretty quiet, curious animals. Within about three seconds, they have decided they’ve got to figure out what’s going on. Other than housing water buffalo instead of cattle, this looks like a pretty typical kind of Canadian dairy barn. But there must be a few things that are different about looking after a water buffalo.
It is similar to dairy cows. We take good care of our animals. They are housed in an insulated building. They’re free to roam. They have clean, potable water and good clean, healthy feed, a clean, dry place to lay and social interaction.
What do they eat?
Their feed has wheat straw, corn silage, alfalfa, Timothy grass and some ground oats and barley or corn. It’s a whole mixture with vitamins and minerals added.
They’re pretty comfortable. How much milk does a water buffalo give?
We’re averaging between eight to nine litres per animal per day.
How much fat is in water buffalo milk?
The more milk water buffalo produce, then the less fat is in the milk. Water buffalo have from 6% to 10% fat. (Dairy cows are closer to 4%)
You’re also using the poop. You actually harvest it! How do you harvest poop here?
We collect it and put it in a large vessel with a balloon over the top and we keep it at around 38 degrees Celsius. With the balloon over it, there’s no oxygen, just the anaerobic bacteria, meaning no oxygen. Then in this nice warm state, the bacteria break down all the complex carbons, fibers, waxes, any sugars or proteins that the cow didn’t utilize while it was in her stomach. We call it the digester.
We put the manure in the digester for 20 to 40 days and it produces methane and other gases. We also add some green garbage from the compost in our local city. Then we harvest all the natural gas off and use it to run an engine and make electricity with it. Also in the spring when soil conditions are right we’ll also spread the manure on our fields for fertilizer.
Very interesting. Thanks so much for the tour today.
Watch Fresh Air Farmer, Andrew Campbell’s full video here