Top End buffalo shipping to South Australia feedlot as consumer demand soars

For more than 20 years, Paul Blacket and his family have successfully fed bush goats in their feedlot, as an addition to their on-farm cereal production, 70 kilometres north of Adelaide.

However, in the past 12 months at the River Light Goat Depot just outside Mallala, they have taken on a slightly larger ruminant: Northern Territory buffalo.

“We’ve been doing goats for 25 years, processing them and delivering to shops all over Australia and we just started getting more and more requests for [buffalo].

“We thought, okay, [there] could be an opportunity here.”

Bit different to goats

As buffalo are very different animals, a change to basic infrastructure was necessary.

“Goats can jump, so we already had high fences,” Mr Blacket said.

“[But] buffalo are a lot stronger, so we needed some pretty thick steel yards and, like, steel cabling.”

A stripped-down jeep drives alongside a running water buffalo through scrub
Northern Territory bull-catchers snaring a wild buffalo. (ABC Rural: Daniel Fitzgerald)

The buffalo have been travelling up to 3,000 kilometres from Arnhem Land to South Australia’s Mid North.

When the first truckload of buffaloes arrived, they were not what the team at River Light Goat Depot were expecting.

“But a lot of them actually came off the truck and almost came up to you and wanted to know what you were all about.

“There were still the wild ones at the back of the yard that wanted to squash you into a pole but, [mostly they are] very inquisitive animals. I was quite surprised,” he said.

Mr Blacket has been feeding them surplus hay from his cereal operation, including pea straw, which is considered almost gourmet compared to what they would be eating in the wild.

People can’t get enough

In country Victoria, Ken Lang owns Yarra Valley Game Meats with his wife, Mary. Their butchery specialises in game meats, such as buffalo, emu and venison.

Mr Lang said the demand for buffalo was “huge”.

“We’ve found that Indian, Sri Lankan or Nepalese people are the ones who want it.

“I’m having trouble keeping up, especially with the Nepalese. They are really into their buffalo meat.”

A grey-bearded man in a green cap and white butcher's coat holds a tray of steaks aloft
Ken Lang of Yarra Valley Meats in southern Victoria can’t get enough buffalo.(Supplied: Yarra Valley Meats)

Tight supply in the south has resulted from decent export prices — averaging around $2.30 per kg live weight — after a significant wet season in the Top End.

“[The rain received] interfered with supply and sort of left us pretty well without,” Mr Lang said.

Leaner than beef

Mr Lang says buffalo meat is leaner than normal beef, which could point to its attraction for gourmet restaurants, alongside its exotic appeal.

“The meat is not as marbled as what normal beef is. The fat seems to be just subcutaneous, so between the skin and the muscle.”

“It’s very lean, a bit like venison,” Mr Lang said.

Back in South Australia, Mr Blacket hopes to continue having buffalo on his feedlot because he can take the animals that are not appropriate for live export.

“Those markets only want, say, males at a certain size. So, we can come in and buy the younger, the smaller, the females, whatever else doesn’t fit those markets,” he said.

As for the best way to cook a thick rib eye of buffalo?