Water Buffalo Herds Growing in the United States

These unique, niche market animals start to make inroads.

| September/October 2009

  • Water buffalo in the meadow
    A scenic Vermont meadow with grazing water buffalo is becoming a more common occurence.
    Luke Berndt/www.Cookography.com
  • Gritty milking
    You can't really blame this water buffalo for looking nervous as Gritty prepares to do some milking.
    Brad Anderson
  • River Buffalo
    Sporting the distinctive horns of the River Buffalo, this cow is part of Bufala di Vermont's milking operation.
    Luke Berndt/www.Cookography.com
  • Young blond water buffalo
    This young blond water buffalo and his companions are dressed for the cold on Jeff Mease's Indiana farm.
    January Jones

  • Water buffalo in the meadow
  • Gritty milking
  • River Buffalo
  • Young blond water buffalo
Mozzarella Recipe in 30 Minutes 

For most people, a mention of water buffalo conjures images of the African savannah, perhaps accompanied by a calm voice, “Watch now, as Jim flings himself from the helicopter into the midst of the herd …” Those ferocious-looking animals from the Wild Kingdom are a completely different species than the docile, easily led animals that have come to grace water buffalo farms in the United States.

“They respond just like a dairy cow,” says Kent Underwood, self-proclaimed “Water Buffalo Guru” and former manager of Vermont Water Buffalo. “They’re more of a flight animal than a fight. A lot of people get them mixed up with the Cape Buffalo in Africa, but they really are more of a companion animal.” 

At home in many lands

The buffalo of the world are classified into two main groups, the Asian and the African. The African species, the Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) mentioned above, has huge horns that join in the center to look like parted hair. For clarity, what we tend to call the North American Buffalo are really Bison, which are more closely related to cattle than to Asian water buffalo. The wild Asian water buffalo is an endangered species, from which the domesticated water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) was tamed around 5,000 years ago.

Since then, two main types of domestic water buffalo have found prominence. The swamp type is mainly found in China, Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Uniquely suited to hotter climates, they are primarily draft and meat animals, and they have broad, wide horns, lighter-colored legs and large hooves. River Buffalo originated in India and Pakistan. They have been bred toward dairy production, though they also provide meat and power. River Buffalo have more curled horns, hold their heads higher than their swamp brethren and are the preferred type for milk production. Large herds live in Bulgaria, Romania and Italy.

The history of the water buffalo in Italy is cloaked in mystery with hypotheses that suggest the animals were introduced to Europe in the seventh century by invading Goths, in the Middle Ages by returning Crusaders, or even that they originated on Italian soil. In any case, water buffalo are entwined with Italian food, providing milk for mozzarella di bufala (most often produced in southern Italy, chiefly in Campania), a cheese prized for its taste and texture.

With an estimated world population of around 168 million animals in 50 countries, water buffalo vary greatly in size based on their environment. When food is scarce, buffalo tend to be smaller. Adult females range from 770 pounds high in the Himalayas to 1,750 pounds in Bulgaria and Italy. In poorer agricultural settings, a water buffalo can be an important asset to a family, providing milk, meat and pulling power. 

Salvatore _2
9/10/2010 8:30:57 AM

I make Mozzarella at many grocery stores in NY, CT, NJ. I make "The Mozz" from Polly-o whole cream curd. I get rave reviews from all while manufacturing this amazing product in front of the customer. Many people have been asking about Buffalo Curd. Is there such a thing in my area? If I find the curd can I freeze it? If anyone has this information please email me at ricco5@msn.com I am also planning to manufacture "The Mozz" for farm markets in various towns. I would also love to manufacture Ricotta. To make available Fresh Ricotta would be a wonderful treat for the buyer, homemaker who knows how to handle this amazing product. I also teach how to make "The Mozz" from the curd form. EAT HEALTHY Chef Salvatore'

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