Herd the one about the water buffalo in Orkney - part 3 of 3
By Naomi Bremner, Apr 11 2014 04:28PM
I left off last time with the first buffalo arriving on East Mainland Show day. Next came our first calf, early in the morning of the 13th August. In the days running up to that we were frequently called and emailed with requests as to whether the first calf had made an appearance, both from the press and also friends and family. More anticipation for a buffalo calf than any of three children when they had been imminent.
As it turned out, in their fervour to chronicle the first calf, the national papers miss-reported that Dorothy – then aged 4 – had been up in the field in the night and had spotted it! She does deserve some credit however, as she had woken Dad to get tucked back into bed (as 4-year-olds do!), and this prodded Russell to go out and check the heifer he suspected was near calving. And there it was, the first buffalo born on Orkney soil, which was later named Boris.
Shortly afterwards our second calf, this time Bertha, was born. The new calves were joined a couple of weeks later by a score of one to two-year-olds from Wales (The farmer who bred them, who had always wanted to see Orkney, even hitched a ride up on the cattle wagon with them).
Buffalos live and breed for a long time so, our first born female, which is destined to join the breeding herd, should be with us for about twenty years or more.
Two of the cows in the “starter pack’ are 17-year-olds, but you really wouldn’t guess that from their appearance, albeit they have a slightly larger frame and shoulders, while the younger mums – around three years of age – still have two or three years more growth ahead of them.
Buffalos thrive and finish on just grass, hay or silage, and have been indoors for the winter, so we have been in the “dighting” routine, with lunch at the ‘top of the day’, for near six months now. Spring and summer couldn’t come sooner, and just this week with the prospect of some finer weather we have turned out the cows and calves. With a new farm and new animals winter has involved a lot of head-scratching and a lot of learning and adjustment within the byres.
The meat that we are now producing from buffalo is commended for being succulent, due to the longer length of time to finishing, and hence a good distribution of fat throughout, as well as being sweeter, slightly richer, and healthier than beef, with around half the fat content overall. Our favourite, and most frequently quoted, feedback from a customer to date was from an older Orcadian wife who was a repeat-customer to our second farmers market who said: “it’s just like what like beef was like when I was peedie!” Our second farmers market in December 2013 was our most nerve-wracking, with the hope and expectation that others’ will have agreed with our own take on the tastiness and succulence of the meat; and this peedie comment from a keen returning customer at a quarter-to-opening time was a veritable delight.
Also, perhaps in 2014 there will be a water buffalo - Bubalus bubalis – in the ‘any other breed’ category at the County Show in Orkney. I always reflect upon the care, attention and effort that goes into turning out the clean, polished and preened beasts at the shows, and for this farmers’ wife who has rarely ever blow-dried her hair, let alone possessed an iron to press clothes, I expect the buffalo will be arriving with their mud-packs still firmly on, the au-natural look.
Many of our visitors so far have come to the farm with their own ideas for what we could do with the finished buffalo; from meat, mozzarella cheese, leather goods, horn and bone-based jewellery and crafts, and we are delighted to be in a position now to start to realise these ideas. The buffalo (and the Bremners) have travelled a long road to Deerness, and are delighted to have finally got out of the starting blocks.