So what happens when you want to start a dairy but have very limited experience? You try and find as many people as you can, to help you get off the ground!
We were extremely lucky to find a buffalo dairy just outside of Bangkok, Thailand with a wonderful owner by the name of Runchuan, who owns Murrah Buffalo Dairy, to take us around her farm and answer any and all questions that we had. Our trip was set up by Somsak, from Dairyinterline in Bangkok and he played tour guide and translator for us. This was actually Somsak’s first time meeting Runchuan as well.
The dairy is situated about 2 hours outside of Bangkok, so Somsak met Steven and I at our hotel at 9:30am and drove us out. Slowly, thru morning traffic, we managed to leave behind the hustle and bustle of the city life and it became a little more country-like the further we traveled. Somsak treated us to lunch in a little village not far from the dairy since we were a bit early and afterward a coffee at a little local shop. All the while, discussing with Steven plans we had made for the milking and cow shed designs.
After a deliciously filling lunch of local Thai food, off we went again to find the dairy. At this point we were only about 30 minutes away.
In we drive, to fields on our left and fields on our right growing grasses that we can only guess are meant for the buffalo. Finally we come to an opening and see a big house up ahead. As we get out of the car, a woman walks out of the house and approaches us. This is Runchuan. She apologizes almost immediately in Thai to tell us that she doesn't speak English and she will need Somsak to be her translator. Steven and I apologize right back that we don't speak Thai. And then she tells us that we have come at the right time as the afternoon milking will start soon.
We wander down a dirt road leading away from the main building and all of a sudden the view opens up and there are lots of buildings to house buffalo. Runchuan is working with about 400 ria of land and she has about 200 buffalo but only 60 are currently being milked.
As we walk further in, we come to the first pen which holds about 30-40 buffalo and has a nice big wading pond for them to enjoy. Only non-milking buffalo are afforded a wading pool, as you don't want any contamination for the milking buffalo. The structures she has built are very rudimentary but they are very functional. Being in an area where the weather doesn't get very cold or snowy, there is no need for walls in the winter, so the structures are basically metal posts, concrete and dirt floors and a roof made out of corrugated tin. The water troughs are large and made from concrete and have pipes leading out of them so they can be drained and cleaned as needed.
We walk around the farm from pen to pen looking at all of the different buffalo and all of the sets ups. She has a mixture of swamp buffalo, Murrah buffalo and a few other types that she cross breeds. Interestingly, we find out that it takes 3 generations for the horns of the swamp buffalo to curl in (and become less of a hazard to humans when you are trying to move around the buffalo! :-P). This is an important piece of information for us to have as the majority of the buffalo we will have in the beginning will be swamp buffalo and we are cross breeding them with Murrah.
Finally, we walk on and find the pens that have the milking buffalo in them and along side them we see the babies! And as we walk up I have to laugh because right in the middle of the pathway is a playpen set up with a few babies in it. I turn to Steven and giggle and say, “I had a playpen just like that for my kids when they were little! I never thought I'd see buffalo calves in a pen like that.”
We stand here for quite a while as there are a good many things to see at this juncture. Runchuan tells us that even with all of the land she has, she is unable to grow all of the fresh grass herself that she needs to supply the number of buffalo she has so she uses a dried mix. In front of us there are large plastic barrels that hold the mixture and a conversation ensues between Somsack, Runchuan and Steven about what she uses and how she stores it. As this is outside my purview, I wander over to the babies and stroke a few noses and take some pictures. They are very cute in a bouncy sort of way and remind me of my youngest child with their bounciness.
I watch as the milking mothers are led into the milking area. They seem to be happy following each other right up the ramp, head to bum, all the way. Runchuan tells us that since these mothers don't get a wallowing pond they get a nice long bath before being milked. Her system is set up so that there is a shower that comes down on each buffalo as they stand in line and another that sprays from the bottom up. As they stand there in the shower, a farm hand walks around them with a hose and hoses them down even further.
As we walk through the center of the building, we look at the ramp and structure that the buffalo have come up. It is basically a horseshoe shaped structure that allows for the first batch of buffalo to come in to be showered and then a gate is opened for those buffalo to continue to walk through to the next gate which stops them in the milking area. Here also, the buffalo stand head to bum in a line, on just a slight angle. This system is called a herringbone system. The buffalo are up on a platform and there is a trench dug on the outside so the workers can stand and easily attach the milking machines to each buffalo. In this system it takes 15-30 minutes to milk 20 buffalo at a time, depending on how cooperative the buffalo are being.
Runchuan has 5 or 6 men attending the buffalo on the milking side. They give a final clean to the udders of each cow, make sure the cups stay attached, tie down legs where necessary if a buffalo gets feisty and tries to knock off the cups, and collect the milk. The milk is collected in plastic buckets and wheeled over to the “boss”, a woman who sits at a table above them with a clipboard and a scale. Each bucket is emptied thru a sieve into another bucket on a scale. The men tell the woman which buffalo it is and she records the amount of milk at each milking each day. Then she pours the milk from that bucket into a big milking urn.
After watching the milking process, we went back up to the main house where Runchuan had had a table set for us so we could try some of her products. She gave us some warm buffalo milk to try as well as mozzarella and a butter that she has been trying to develop. They were all very tasty treats for the afternoon.
After these treats, Runchuan asked us if we wanted to go out and see her tourist part of the farm. Of course we said yes! About 40 minutes from the actual farm, she has a beautiful site. At her other site, she has ducks and chickens, bunnies, goats and pigs and most of all, she has buffalo!
School trips and the general public can go in and see the Baby buffalo and some mums as well. She also has a restaurant set up too. She gave us some of her soft serve buffalo ice cream and I got to make a pizza. She does classes for kids and adults here using her cheeses and milk. Inside the restaurant is a gift shop where you can not only buy her cheeses and milk but you can also buy buffalo-y gifts. She also has a line of skin care products that she sends her milk out to be turned in to. If her products are anything like the feel of our milk on the skin, I'm sure they are a huge success!
All in all it was a great day. Very informative and lots of fun (and filling!). It's definitely a place we need to go back and take the kids next time. I'm sure they will love it!