The Range News is Maleny's premium Weekly Newspaper delivered each Friday
to the People of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland from Glasshouse to
Kenilworth and west to Peachester.

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Buffalo farming begins on Range

by Simon Roper

There are five unique strangers in town.  Who are they? A herd of Buffalo, the first to walk our Range, thanks to the foresight of local farmers Mal and Margaret Thompson who just shipped them down from the Northern Territory.

The couple had been toying with several ways to diversify their farming since the deregulation of the milk markets effectively removed their profit margin, forcing them into new entrepreneurial directions like this.  “We’d seen the price of milk fall from roughly 40 cents to a low of 26 cents, so we needed to try something new,” said Margaret.

“We kept sheep, pigs and other cattle, so we thought why not buffalo.”  Before they new it the couple were in negotiation with The NT Buffalo Council and later, with the help of one of their daughters, booking a cheap flight via the Internet and heading north to purchase the livestock.

Margaret and Mal have become very attached to their new friends… “Once you get to know them and their mentality, you can’t help but fall in love with them,” she said. Husband Mal quipped “Once you’ve spent $17,500 on something you can’t fail but to love it!”.   That was the cash figure to buy and transport the entire herd to the Maleny area.

So what’s so special about Buffalos and how will they help our entrepreneurial farmers?   The answer is that the milk is of a high protein, high solid ratio, making it perfect for the production of up-market produce like Mozzarella cheese, Fetta cheese and luxury yoghurts.

“We spoke to cheese producers in Maleny and Kenilworth as part of our research and their eyes lit up,” explained Mal.  “We expect high demand for our buffalo milk and we want to increase the herd to about 20 head.”

The herd will grow by a mixture of purchasing and by shipping in semen from Bulls as far a field as Italy.   Buffalo are big business over there given the Italians’ Mediterranean diet.  And it is a departure into a niche industry for Maleny’s dairy farmers.  Not only can they provide sparse buffalo milk supplies for local cheese manufacturers, but the curd produce is also of particular relevance in Asian cooking, with fierce demand from surrounding nations.

“This is a new industry for Maleny,” said Margaret.  “The town needs this sort of enterprise.”  And the Thompsons will be paying particular attention to the lineage of contributing bulls and any additional live stock they buy, because pure bred Buffalo produce a much higher milk yield.  Included in the herd residing at their Witta farm, which has been in Margaret’s family for over a century, the couple currently have one pure bred and one three-quarter bred.  Roughly 57 pure-bred cattle exist throughout Australia, according to the NT Government’s Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development.

“These animals are the foundation of our herd,” said Mal. “Therefore they have to be well bred.”  Buffalo were first introduced into Australia via the NT in three separate locations - Melville Island in 1825, Fort Wellington in 1828 and Victoria settlement on the Cobourg Peninsular between 1836 and 1849, the NT Government said.

The buffalo were brought into these British settlements from Indonesia (then the Dutch East Indies) from nearby islands such as Timor and Kisar.  These settlements were all abandoned, and the buffalo were released or escaped and moved out along the coastal plains, Koolpinyah and Marrakai land systems westerly to Darwin and southerly into the Katherine and Arnhemland districts.

The department said the buffalo population probably peaked in the 1980s at a maximum of 350,000 head when aerial surveys were carried out.   Buffalos actually provide five percent of the world’s milk.

Margaret Thompson with some of the first five buffalos to walk the Range.
“Once you get to know them ... you can’t help but fall in love with them,”

Our thanks once again to Cameron & Tanya Outridge
of the Range News Newspaper for this story.