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Victoria's newest buffalo dairy farm

Outstanding in his field, rural affairs reporter Darren Gray visits Victoria's newest buffalo dairy farm.

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The cows wander into the milking shed on Bryan Jans' dairy farm twice a day - at 7am and 4pm. And when they do, they do not make a single moo - the noise you hear is more of a grunt.

There might be a ''Daisy'', a ''Dixie'' and a ''Ranga'', each with a long tail at the back and an udder underneath, but the cows on Mr Jans' Gippsland farm are much more unique than those on your average Victorian dairy farm. Mr Jans' milking herd is made up entirely of buffalo.

They were trucked down from a Darwin research farm to the Jans' property at Giffard West, near Sale, last October, a time of the year which Mr Jans says would help with acclimatisation. And since they arrived the Riverine buffalo herd has virtually doubled in size, as all bar five of the cows have had a calf. The five remaining pregnant cows are expected to calve soon.

Buffalo farmer Bryan Jans in South Gippsland.

Buffalo farmer Bryan Jans in South Gippsland. Photo: Jason South

Mr Jans, along with his father John and mother Tina, has established what is only Victoria's fourth buffalo dairy farm, according to the Victorian Buffalo Industry Council. The third started operating in northern Victoria a few months ago.

After months of preparation, milking is set to start on the farm known as Sunrise Plains in a week or so. The milk will be transported to Melbourne for processing, where most of it is likely to be turned into mozzarella.

A buffalo cow produces less milk than a traditional cow, but her milk is more valuable.

Buffalo dairy farmers can be paid in the range of $2.50 to $3.50 for a litre of milk, Mr Jans says, which compares favourably to current prices of about 60¢ for a litre of traditional dairy cow milk.

Out in the paddock the buffalo herd is hungry, apparently happy and somewhat curious about the attention they are receiving this morning. Each cow has long curved horns that twist in close to their neck. All are growing a distinctive long winter coat as they settle in to their new home - a coat that is much more wiry than the soft coat on a traditional dairy cow.

''Ranga'' chomps away steadily on some lucerne hay before she turns, lowers her nose to the ground and swings her head around while kicking up her hind legs. It is the biggest outburst in the paddock this morning.

After the dummy-spit Mr Jans says of the cow with the caramel-coloured coat: ''She's always been a bit fiery. We've had to talk her out of a couple of situations where she has been a little bit silly. If anyone is going to kick up a bit of dust or throw her head around it's her. She's never been a fan of little children either.''

Yet ''Maximus'', a broad-shouldered and stocky bull with very large, long horns seems unfazed by the attention. The buffalo bull, which Mr Jans estimates weighs about 800 kilograms, is content to either lie in the sun, or help himself to a feed.

As the young farmer leans on the farm ute considering the prospects for buffalo farming, a couple of cows in the herd become vocal. Mr Jans' buffalo cows might look a lot like traditional dairy cows, but they make a sound that is nothing like a moo. Mr Jans describes it as ''more of a grunt than a moo. And a bit of a quack at times.''

Mr Jans says he never pictured that he would become a buffalo dairy farmer. Growing up he was interested in farming, but also in working as a zoo-keeper. ''So I think we've got the best of both worlds now. Farming and exotic animals,'' he says.

Athel Smith, president of the Victorian Buffalo Industry Council, sees a good future for buffalo dairy farming in Victoria. ''I think that there could be a lot more dairy farms and there could be a lot more milk products, the cheeses, the yoghurts, the ice-creams and the milk powders - there would be a market for that, probably an export market as well,'' he says. ''Ten to 15 per cent of the world drink buffalo milk. A lot of them have migrated to Australia and they can't find the products,'' he says.