Temperament: Usually placid
Cost: $300 plus
Lifespan: 25 years
Recommended for: enthusiasts & farmers
There are several kinds of buffalo in the world but the one most people refer to as “Buffalo” is in fact correctly called an American Bison.
Appearance: Riverine buffaloes are usually black and reach between 600-1000kg (1324-2208lb) and have small curly horns. The swamp buffaloes are usually grey and reach between 450-700kg (993-1545lb) and have long horns.
Temperament: Buffaloes are usually placid, but individual males can be flighty or temperamental.
Background: Here in Australia there now two types of ‘real’ buffalo, the swamp and the riverine. The swamp buffalo became a serious environmental problem in the Northern Territory when animals imported from Asia became feral. Only 41 swamp buffaloes were imported in the 1800s but by the 1980s there were an estimated 400,000 swamp buffaloes causing enormous damage to northern Australia. A cull program was instigated and the herd was reduced to less than 100,000.
During this time there had always been a few domesticated herds which were fulfilling the market for buffalo steaks. As demand for exotic foods grew, owners of the swamp buffalo herds looked overseas to outcross and, hopefully, improve productivity.
Riverine Buffalo: The essential ingredient was found in North American herds of riverine (or Indian) buffalo. Although this species is actually a native of Asia, the American herds were the only animals permitted to be imported into Australia due to our stringent animal disease requirements.
The first cattle arrived in 1994 and cross-breeding programs began immediately between the Australian swamp buffaloes and the US riverine buffaloes.
Northern Territory Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries say results have been impressive. Dressed-weight figures show a significantly-higher carcass yield from swamp-riverine crosses than from either individual breed.
Uses: Producers are taking a long-term outlook on the milking potential of buffalo, as the milk’s high fat content – compared to that of cows’ milk – means it is sought after for the making of “stringy” cheeses such as mozzarella.
With the demand for buffalo meat increasing annually, the outlook for what had been an environmental pest is now very positive. Buffalo meat is tender with a nice flavour and is becoming increasingly popular in the restaurant trade.
Health: Tuberculosis has been a problem in buffalo. With the risk of it being transmitted from wild water buffalo in the Northern Territory, some owners have had to put down some of their herd. But this has now been eradicated.
Cost: Males usually cost about $300 but quality breeding stock would be more expensive.
George Carney, phone: (02) 6342 4554
Our segment was filmed with the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries. Contact: Principal Livestock Management Officer, Barry Lemcke, phone: (08) 8999 2263