Buffalo cheese, buffalo milk gelato and buffalo meat is now available at local farmers’ markets thanks to Kim and Ian Massingham moving their business to the Coffs Coast.
Buffalo cheese, buffalo milk gelato and buffalo meat is now available at local farmers’ markets thanks to Kim and Ian Massingham moving their business to the Coffs Coast.

Couple grabbing buffalo market by the horns

GROWERS' markets have become a touch more exotic since Kim and Ian Massingham moved to the Coffs Coast last December.

The Massinghams brought with them from the Blue Mountains their herd of buffalo and their business, AusBuffStuff.

Asian water buffalo and Italian riverine buffalo now share the paddocks of their biodynamic Eungai Creek farm with kangaroos and kookaburras, while buffalo cheese, buffalo milk gelato and buffalo meat is now available at local farmers' markets.

A trip to Italy in 2006 gave the Massinghams a taste for buffalo mozzarella, but they found it difficult to source the fresh product when they returned home.

Kim decided to buy an in-calf buffalo cow and make her own cheese at home, but a meeting with the secretary of the Australian Buffalo Industry Council, who wanted to hand over his herd to a younger person, saw her plans escalate.

Two years after 11 buffalo trotted onto their 25-hectare hobby farm at East Kurrajong, the Massinghams had much bigger plans as well as a herd of 24 buffalo, so they moved north onto 120ha of timber and pasture in the Nambucca Valley, bounded by Eungai Creek.

The newest calf this week brought their buffalo numbers to 60.

The last three years have been a steep learning curve for the novice farmers and Ian says they are still learning every day.

It has not just been farming that is new to the Massinghams, but buffalo psychology and regulations as well.

"You don't force a buffalo to do things, you entice it," Kim said.

Buffalo are big animals, with cows weighing around 700kg and Zorro the bull tipping the scales at 1200kg.

Asian water buffalo horns can measure more than a metre from tip to tip and require respect.

Buffalo hide is more like pigskin than cowhide and the animals like to wallow in mud, which helps them resist ticks, lice and other biting insects.

Ian and Kim have managed this by fencing off the creek and dividing their farm into 26 paddocks, almost all with small dams, while Ian treats the dams with micro-organisms to reduce sludge and nutrient loads.

As "3B non-indigenous species" buffalo are classed with camels, bison and some breeds of deer rather than cattle and the Massinghams are required to have double perimeter fencing, locked gates, surveillance cameras on the gates and a high-powered rifle on hand.

"They're pretty good if they're well-handled," Ian said.

"But with 60 buffalo, you've got nearly 60 personalities among them.

"They don't like dogs at all and you have to be prepared to work in 'buffalo time'."

Buffalo milk has almost twice the fat of cows' milk and this natural creaminess makes it ideal for gelato, but the meat is extremely lean, with a tight texture and only 2% fat, so it needs to be cooked like kangaroo, which is best cooked and eaten rare.

The couple keep all their heifers but kill their steer calves at 14-18 months, having them processed at Frederickton abattoir and Gladstone butchery for sale through the farmers' markets.

They make their gelatos and cheeses in licensed premises at the old Bowraville Butter Factory.

The mozzarella is made by a business partner, but the Massinghams are awaiting a small-scale Brazilian machine which may allow them to make it themselves.

They are aiming for a herd of 30 milkers, which means about 50 breeders, using Mediterranean riverine buffalo genetics, but they are not yet ready to milk their own cows and are currently bringing milk from Cairns in Queensland to process.The Massinghams can be found on a regular basis at Coffs Coast Growers Market, Bellingen Community Market, Bellopy Organic Market and Dorrigo Market as well as farmers' markets in Gladstone, Port Macquarie, Wauchope, Cassegrain Winery, Newcastle, Warriewood and Eveleigh Markets, offering buffalo gelato in a range of tempting flavours, buffalo mozzarella, firm-curd and Persian feta, quark, labna, yoghurt, buffalo meat, pies, sausages and mince.

The Massinghams will be at today's Coffs Coast Growers Market with their AusBuffStuff products.