Committed to buffalo

by Ann van Engelen

Christo Keijzer and Lucy Appleton are passionate buffalo farmers and cheese makers committed to sustainable and symbiotic living with the land.

Encompassing a 40-acre native forest and wetland reserve that has remained unchanged over time, their 100-acre property, Wairiri Water Buffalo farm, is home to pukeko, heron and a herd of Italian water buffalo.

“We were looking for a product what was demanded in New Zealand, and the land is suitable for the animals,” says Lucy.

“The buffalo enjoy our climate here, and with their large cloven hooves, their weight is naturally spread allowing them not to pug the delicate soils.

They produce A2 milk, which is often suitable for people with allergies to dairy. We had to learn to make the cheese and have won a couple of silver and a bronze medal in competitions. We enjoy the results of making a good quality product from our high-quality milk, which makes a beautiful cheese and we supply high-end restaurants across the South Island.”

The animals graze freely, and the herd remains the size the land can support. The farm is totally organic, and the couple’s philosophy is to live in harmony with the land, to care for and nurture it, as it does them.

“Our goal is to be a worldwide exemplar of sustainable agriculture, and we plan to integrate Solar energy to further minimise the impact on the environment.

“Our buffalo are Italian lineage and are characterful and have very few health issues. We sourced them from Melbourne in 2008. We have some swamp buffalo and purebred Riverine buffalo as a result of work from the late Andrew Frontin-Rollett who put much of his life savings to start a buffalo industry here in New Zealand.

“His swamp buffalo are our base stock, and we used purebred Italian bulls for eight generations, giving us what we believe to be the purest Italian water buffalo herd in the country. We continue to introduce Italian milking genetics into the herd with AI.

“They are very intelligent and have virtually no health issues. The calves live close to the mothers, and the milk is very smooth and silky in texture. Our buffalo lineage scores one of the highest Mozzarella index scores in Italy.

“Our main focus is modern Kiwi adapted Italian style cheeses including mozzarella, scamorza, caciocavallo and ricotta.

“We also produce camembert, halloumi, yoghurt, milk, butter and cream and our products are sold on our website

“We use the old school method farming with small paddocks and the cows are milked with a DeLaval milking robot. The calves are hand raised, and the males go to local people for raising for home kill, pets or farm parks on lifestyle blocks.

“They are very easy to keep and less prone to mastitis and foot rot due to their genetics and having adaptation to wet areas.

“Christo farms and milks the animals and I manage the cheese. Any farming is a massive commitment no matter what you do. Our products are very successful, and we have worked incredibly hard to see the fruit of what we have put in. Farming buffalo has its trials, but we wouldn’t want any other type of animal to work with.”