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Milking water buffalo

STIRLING — Lori Smith and Martin Littkemann were both conventional dairy farmers, married to other people, before they formed their own union and forged a new path together as trailblazing water buffalo farmers.

Their successful operation, Ontario Water Buffalo Company, was the first of its kind in the province when established almost 16 years ago.

“There are more water buffalo milked in Italy than dairy cows milked in Ontario,” Littkemann recently told a visitor at the farm located north of Stirling. As a species, water buffalo are also the globe’s second biggest source of milk for human consumption after regular dairy cows.

The couple bought their first animals in Vermont and word wasn’t long getting out in Ontario’s dairy community. They soon had calls from processors eager to buy their  milk — raw material for “real” Italian mozzarella cheese and not subject to the rules of Canadian supply management. The head of Saputo even approached them with an offer to “pay any price” for the milk, Littkemann recalled, though the farm’s output was already contracted to another processor at that point.

They started with 40 water buffalo, including one bull and 10 females in milking condition, housed in an older tie-stall barn. Today the herd numbers about 800, including 150 milking head kept in a modern free-stall barn equipped with double-10 parallel parlour.

The animals love water and mud. The operators let them indulge this proclivity in a concrete “aquatic centre” area of pooled water outside the main barn.

Though not as big as regular cattle, water buffalo are large, broad-backed animals with forward-set eyes and  massive horns, unless dehorned at a young age. They’re commonly used as a working animal in Asia, and Smith says they are more interactive with people.

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