Water buffalo weren’t the family’s first choice. After ten years of running dairy herds for others, the younger McClintock returned to the family farm with the idea of starting a cottage dairy, but the economics didn’t make sense.

“The person who helped with my business plan asked if we would consider milking water buffalo because the local cheese plant wanted milk,” says Sandra. And so they did.

Together, the McClintocks bought 15 heifers in 2010, built a new barn and resurrected the remains of an old milking parlor. Milk production started three years ago. There were challenges from the outset.

“North American water buffalo are poor milkers,” cautions Sandra’s father, Gerry. “The top milkers in Italy produce three times what we get, but we can’t import live animals from Europe to improve  our herd genetics because of BSE.”

Importing water buffalo semen from Italy is an option, but it’s not always obvious when females go into heat and there wasn’t much information about artificial insemination available, unlike in more established livestock sectors. B.C.’s water buffalo farmers decided to do something about it.

With funding from the Canada-BC Agri- Innovation Program, they launched a project last year in collaboration with their veterinarians. They looked at the existing literature and consulted with the Guelph Veterinary College, which had done some work with small herds in Ontario. They inseminated buffalo with observed heats and tested a variety of protocols that synchronize herd breeding.

Results are promising with three of the four producers continuing to use artificial insemination.

“Before we started, conception rates averaged ten per cent,” adds Gerry, who  led the project. “During the recent breeding season on our farm, we had a 55 percent conception rate using artificial insemination during observed heats.”

A guide is available upon request.

FUNDING: $3,639 through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. (INN130SP)