Give me a home where the buffalo roam says Jo Roberston

Today’s guest blog comes from Jo Roberston who you guessed it grazes buffalo on her farm. I have been looking forward to hearing Jo’s story because I know nothing about buffalo. So thank you very much Jo for sharing your story

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A bit about me

Hi, my name is Joanna Robertson. I have completed my fourth and final year of a Bachelor of Livestock Science at the University of New England in Armidale at the end of 2011. Since finishing uni I have been working in Armidale for the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries as a Graduate Officer, currently in extension (beef cattle, sheep and agronomy).

I grew up on a mixed enterprise property at Tooraweenah in Central West New South Wales with numerous different crops and livestock.

Jo and Gucci 1991

Me and Gucci

The livestock included sheep, cattle and water buffalo, definitely not your every day farm animal. My parents had both been in the Northern Territory where they had worked with water buffalo, of the Swamp variety, on improving meat quality and domestication practices. Our  foundation herd of buffalo came from the Townsville research station in QLD. Other animals were bought from various locations around the eastern states, some in SA, including Dubbo Western Plains Zoo. At our peak we had around 100 breeding cows plus their offspring (steers and heifers).

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Mum, Dad and myself (in the middle) with some of the original ‘girls’ that were brought down from the Townsville research station.

When they returned to “Tara” they brought what they knew with them as well as maintaining also sheep, cattle and crop enterprises. So as a kid I was lucky enough to work with all these animals and take care of the inevitable poddys 1 that came with having livestock. We also looked after some of the local wildlife which led to numerous pet kangaroos, birds (including an owl), reptiles and even the occasional echidna.

Picture of me and a joey

I attended the local primary school in Tooraweenah, a small school with a very big heart. Tooraweenah Primary School has been dubbed the ‘school with a view’ because it has the Warrumbungle mountains as its backdrop.

After finishing at Tooraweenah I then attended Kinross Wolaroi School in Orange as a boarder. While at high school I took up showing cattle with an Australian Lowline breeder, Tammy Breuer. Tammy took me under her wing after I had a couple of bad experiences with bigger breeds of cattle and taught me everything I know today. Tammy took me to all the  regional shows that my school commitments would allow me to attend. I also accompanied Tammy to Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne royal shows. In 2004 my parents encouraged me to break in a steer and prepare it for the Dubbo national steer show. Murray, or as he was more affectionately known, Muzza, was a Murray Grey x Limousin steer. While I still had a lot to learn about the nutrition side of preparing and animal to show I had learnt a lot about grooming and breaking in animals. Tammy was there to help me every step of the way and provided support and guidance where needed. Muzza lead me to Grand Champion parade that year which was an amazing achievement.

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Muzza and Jo at the Dubbo Steer Show 2004

After regaining my confidence with cattle I went on to work for numerous other studs with countless different breeds including Herefords, Angus, Brangus, Droughtmaster, Brahman, Limousin, and Charolais just to name a few. Tammy has been an huge inspiration and influence in my life. She passed away early last year and I miss her immensely.

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Tammy and “the girls” at Sydney Royal Show 2005 with the senior champion bull and grand champion Lowline.

In 2007 I took a year off between finishing high school and starting university. I spent a few months up in the Northern Territory on a small  by territory standards) family owned station, Sunday Creek. Sunday Creek station, located 3 hours south of Katherine, is owned and operated by Tom and Bev Stockwell along with their 3 kids Peta, Brian and Claire. While I was there they also had a French exchange student and a Canadian whom both came out to experience outback Australia. This made for some very interesting days in the saddle and in the yards. All mustering was done on horse back, which for me was both a challenge and great fun. Growing up I had always wanted a horse but hadn’t been able to have one and had only ridden friend’s horses. Working with horses everyday was like a dream come true for me. The first horse I was put on was a bombproof 17 hand ( 5 feet 8 inches tall at the withers )  horse named Hercules. While he was a wonderful, quiet horse though I constantly found myself looking for termite mounds to stand on just to mount him! I rode a couple of different horses while I was there which was great and I learnt a lot about the different personalities of horses.

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Me and one of the many station horses on Sunday Creek

For our weekends off we occasionally went to the local pub which was only half an hour away. The Daly Waters pub was always an extremely busy place and popular tourist destination, especially during the dry season as it was a popular tourist destination. I also attended the Daly Waters camp draft which was a great day out for the whole family. clip_image010

Me on Maddie, one of the kids ponies, at the Daly Waters Camp draft

One of my main responsibilities while at Sunday Creek was to look after the ever growing number of poddy calves. This included both the bottle fed poddys and pellet fed poddys The pellets are high in both energy and protein and this gives the poddy calves the necessary boost to keep them healthy and growing well clip_image012

Friday, my first poddy calf of the season He was a Brahman x Droughtmaster. I managed to teach him to shake hands for his milk every day. I was sad to leave him behind.

Working in the Northern Territory opened my eyes up to just how different extensive cattle production is compared to what is almost considered intensive cattle production in the south eastern states. On Sunday Creek we did lick runs every week which involved putting out a loose lick supplement, similar to lick blocks more commonly used in the southern states. These supplements are used all year round. There are 2 main supplement types; One for the wet season and one for the dry season. These two licks are also formulated for weaners, as they can’t go straight onto a full grown cattle lick. The licks are formulated to suit the age and needs of the animals being fed as well as the different times of the year.

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Cows tucking into loose lick at Sunday Creek (the black thing hanging down is a scratching bar that is treated with chemical for the animals to rub on to help protect them from buffalo fly, a prevalent pest in the NT)

Me and my water buffalo!

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Growing up with water buffalo enabled me to see a side of livestock production that most people don’t get to see. It also enabled me to see the joys and challenges of working in a new and emerging industry. Many of my earliest memories are of watching my dad work the buffalo through the yards: marking, weaning, pregnancy testing and sending them off for sale. Many people believe that buffalo are hard to handle but if they are handled often this is not the case. Like most livestock, the more you handle them, the quieter they are.

I would also accompany my parents to the abattoirs so I was exposed to the paddock to plate concept from an early age and it has given me a greater appreciation of the critical control points that exist between the yards at home and the knocking box of the abattoir. Meat quality has undergone a lot of research in most meat products. The buffalo industry came up with TenderBuff branding in the 1980s to ensure meat that was to be sold was of the highest quality. Its similar to the MSA grading system used for beef.

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Once I started university in 2008 I took more of an interest in the buffalo industry from a research and promotion perspective looking at increasing awareness of buffalo and their products in Australia. In December 2008 I accompanied my Dad and Barry Lemcke (principle buffalo research scientist) to Cairns in northern Queensland to have a look at a prospective buffalo project to be funded by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC). While we were up there we visited the Millaa Millaa buffalo dairy owned by Mitch Humphries up on the Atherton Tablelands.

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Riverine buffalo cows in the holding yard waiting patiently to be milked.

In 2009 I travelled up to Darwin to spend 4 weeks during semester break working with Barry Lemcke, buffalo and cattle research officer NT Department of Resources. While I was up there I was lucky enough to work on both cattle and buffalo projects.

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7/8 Riverine x 1/8 swamp buffalo cows with calves at foot. Beatrice Hill research station NT.

During my time on the Beatrice Hill Research Station, west of Humpty Doo, one of the OUTBACK magazines free lance journalists turned up to do a story on the buffalo industry. I was lucky enough to not only be quoted in the article but to also get my photo in there. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! It is an excellent article and I encourage any who can find a copy to have a read as it gives a great history of buffalo in Australia and where the industry is now heading.

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OUTBack magazine cover of the Buffalo Industry feature story. Issue 67 Oct/Nov 2009

Also in 2009 I attended the inaugural New Rural Industries Australia (NRIA) conference held on the Gold Coast, QLD as a representative for the NSW buffalo Industry. It was a very interesting conference with many varied industries being represented. Industries included: crocodiles, olives, truffles, camels and native flowers just to name a few. It was an excellent opportunity for some of these smaller industries to get together, network and learn from each others opportunities and mistakes.

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NRIA conference 2010, Jo holding a crocodile from Karoona Crocodile farm QLD.

I was supported by other buffalo producers from QLD, Margret Thompson and Mitch Humphries, at the conference who supplied some of the cheese products that are made from buffalo milk (mozzarella and feta). Buffalo cheese was also on the menu of the conference as the chef tried to use every product that was being promoted at the conference in the menu over the 2 days. It made for some very interesting meals!

Since 2009 I have been looking at increasing my own herd with the addition of a bull. Unfortunately he was not as fertile as we had hope and has only produced one calf over the past 3 years. However, I must take into account the differences in gestation between buffalo and cattle. The gestation period of a buffalo is actually 10.5 months where as cattle are only 9. Buffalo calves also stay with their mothers for a lot longer than cattle. Buffalo calves are weaned when they are 12 months or older where as beef cattle calves can be weaned much earlier. For now my herd remains small and is just for my own enjoyment but hopefully, sometime in the not too distant future, I will be able to produce enough buffalo meat to supply a market and I have done some extensive market research. Hopefully a saltbush fed buffalo product will be on the menu at the farmers markets near you soon!

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Kyle, my first swamp buffalo bull

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Kyle’s first calf, a little heifer calf, called Kylie (she is about 6 months old here)

Unfortunately, due to old age, Kyle passed away about a month ago and we now have a new bull calf (around 2 years old), yet to be named. He came from a buffalo producer in SA. He was delivered on ANZAC day so we thought a name relating to ANZAC day would be a good one. Any ideas?

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My new little swamp buffalo bull

A little bit about buffalos

There are currently two main types of buffalo in Australia the Swamp buffalo and Riverine buffalo. Swamp buffalo are the buffalo commonly found in the Northern Territory. They have much bigger, sweeping horns, lighter grey colour and less hair. Where as Riverine buffalo have short, tightly curled horns, a lot more hair and are also a lot fatter than the Swamp buffalo.

Buffalo have the same names as cattle; females are cows or heifers (if they haven’t had a calf yet), steers (castrated males) and bulls (intact males).

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Swamp Buffalo- at home, New South Wales

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Riverine Buffalo- at Beatrice Hill research station, Northern Territory

Next year (2013) I will be attending the World Buffalo Congress, which is to be held in Phuket, Thailand, as a representative for Australia. This will be an amazing experience which will allow me to network with like minded people across the globe as well as hear about some of the latest advances in buffalo research.

I could write about buffalo all day, however for now I will leave it at that and if anyone would like to know more the Australian Buffalo Industry Council website is http://buffaloaustralia.org/ it has links to all of the state bodies and information about the products produced by buffalo producers.

Farming Futures

Last year a friend of mine, Jo Newton, and myself came up with an idea of hosting a networking/socialising function to get University of New England agriculture degree related students together with agricultural industry employers. This was the start of the Farming Futures Industry Dinner. It was organised by the Rural Science Undergraduate Society (RSUS) in conjunction with Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE). We had 2 speakers, both former agriculture degree related graduates from UNE, to talk about where your degree can take you and opportunities that exist in the Agriculture sector in Australia. Our fist speaker was Dr Geoff Fox, former employee of the World Bank. He inspired everyone with the number of diverse careers he had had since he finished at UNE. Our second speaker was Troy Setter who is the current Chief Operating Officer for the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo). He highlighted the opportunities you can have in a very short period of time if you are willing to work for it. Chris Russel our master of ceremonies for the night, was a hit with everyone.

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Farming Futures Industry Dinner organising committee with VIP guests Dr Geoff Fox, Jo Newton, Chris Russell, Troy Setter, Jo Robertson, Sarah Foster and UNE Vice Chancellor Prof Jim Barber

Overall, it was a great night with a good number of Agriculture industry employers/leaders and university students. This year the dinner will be hosted again but this time a careers fair will be held beforehand during the day. This allows the students to have a look around at what is available in a more formal setting then discuss with the employers at the dinner, in a more informal setting, the opportunities available to them. As I am no longer a student at the uni I hope to attend the dinner as a representative of the NSW DPI graduate program.

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Jo on Merry, a poddy Riverine buffalo calf at Beatrice Hill Research Station NT.

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Agriculture is a very diverse industry in which a large variety of jobs can be found. Anyone wanting to be involved in agriculture can be! There is a place for everyone, you don’t have to have grown up on a property to be involved or to get involved.

Any Questions?

Q. What are poddys Jo

A 1 Poddy’s are young calves that are hand raised

2 thoughts on “Give me a home where the buffalo roam says Jo Roberston

  1. Good Morning,
    I am making an enquiry into the purchase of two yearling Swamp Water Buffalo. Could you please give me further infomation by either email (belindab@stanbroke.com) or Phone Richard Sheriff on 0428 557 258.

    Thank you.

    Kind Regards,

    Belinda

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