By Amanda Brodhagen
There are very few farms in Ontario that keep water buffalo and even fewer that use them for dual purpose of meat and milk but one farm family in Perth County have found a way to successfully produce and create a market for several water buffalo products including meat, cheese, and more recently, fresh-from-the-farm-milk under the name Kampkeek Dairy. The meat is sold under the name Tenderbuff Water Buffalo at a few local stores, the farm gate and through direct consumer delivery. Milk is processed into cheese through Quality Cheese Inc.
Henry and Inge Koskamp run a mixed farm outside of Stratford along with their five children – Andrew and his wife Josie, Jacqueline, Theo, Philip, Darren, and three-month-old grandchild Georgia. The business comprises milking Holsteins, Mediterranean buffalo, broiler chickens, 800 acres of cash crops, and a biodigester to produce electricity for Hydro One. The family farm was founded by Henry (Sr.) and Grace Koskamp, Henry’s parents and is currently run by Henry (Jr.) and Inge Koskamp along with their children.
Why water buffalo?
“We wanted a new challenge,” said Henry (Jr.) Koskamp.
Another major factor of their diversification was preparing for farm succession. Henry and Inge wanted to give their children an opportunity to work on the farm full-time while being able to make a comfortable living. To do that they had to look for something outside of the supply management system. Currently, all five siblings are employed full-time on the farm along with several staff.
“Most established agricultural commodities are expensive to get into but are familiar to lenders and the agriculture community. Water buffalo is very established in other countries but not here,” said Henry..
While getting into water buffalo can be relatively easy, selling water buffalo products requires a lot of work along the supply chain to develop markets. As Henry explained it best “it’s a new frontier with boundaries yet to be determined.”
After doing some research and reading a student’s university paper, Henry realized that mozzarella was being imported at an extremely high price point and he asked himself, “why aren’t we making it here?” That was the catalyst to start thinking about adding water buffalo to their farm.
Inge explained that having supply managed commodities helped them to fund their water buffalo venture. In 2007 the family imported their seedstock from Florida. The “buffs” which they are so fondly referred to as are bred through artificial insemination from imported genetics sourced in Italy.
After getting some clarity from Dairy Farmers of Ontario, the Koskamps were able to use the farm’s GEA 33 rotary parlour for the Holsteins and the water buffalo. The Holsteins are done first, and then, after a full wash, the buffalo. The buffalo milk is eight per cent butter fat compared to four per cent in dairy cows. “It’s great for cheese as it has a much higher yield,” explained Koskamp.
The milk seems to be tolerated by those who struggled drinking/eating traditional dairy products. “Some of our customers have had sensitivities to conventional dairy and have been able to have our products without the same sensitivities,” he said. “This isn’t the case for everyone, but we’ve received positive feedback about our products based on this,” he added.
“We are blessed to be in the position we are now, but it did not come without its fair share of challenges,” he said. Developing a market for their own meat and milk has been one of the biggest hurdles that has taken years to develop.
“We had to find a processor with the same mindset as we did and thus began the partnership with Quality Cheese,” he said. “We were specializing in producing the milk and Quality Cheese specialized in making the cheese. It was a win-win situation for both parties,” he added.
While the buffs are hardier compared to a Holstein cow, there was still a learning curve on how to raise them, especially when it came to nutrition. For example, buffs require less energy than dairy cows, so they had to adjust their rations accordingly.
Even with the hurdles, there have been several milestones that the Koskamps can point to. The business has been successful. Today they milk 140 head in their third milking parlour after outgrowing the first two. The herd average is nine to ten liters of milk. “We are milking purebred Italian genetics that we think are the best genetics at this point in time,” he said.
“We have just started selling fluid milk under KampKreek Dairies which is being operated by the next generation, us kids,” said Jacqueline Koskamp.
Jacqueline has been able to use her degree in nutrition to help with the marketing aspect of the family business and enjoys updating the website, coordinating advertising through local radio and targeted community newspapers, and adding logistics coordinator to her resume.
The Koskamps have found that many of their customers are climate conscious, which has opened the door for them to talk about their biogas plant using their livestock resources to produce electricity through a FIT contract. It has become an important aspect of marketing their family’s story. The anaerobic digester allows them to put manure from the animals as well as diverting waste from the landfill and produce energy for approximately 500 households for the year.
“We are local and part of the circular economy,” said Andrew Koskamp. Andrew, the eldest sibling, runs the bio-digester. It was a job that he was given after sneezing uncontrollably if exposed to the buffs for long periods of time. It later confirmed he is allergic to water buffalo. Andrew’s wife, Josie, is also an active part of the family farm and milked up until she was eight months pregnant.
One of the joys of producing water buffalo products is being able to connect with the consumer, said Henry. In Italy and South Asian countries, many families are raised on water buffalo milk and some even have a buff in their backyard. As part of the Koskamps marketing strategy they’ve started advertising in ethnic newspapers from which they’ve received a good response. Especially in the GTA.
Products can be purchased at the farm store by appointment from Monday to Thursday or on Friday (9am-5pm) and Saturday (9am-Noon). They have started deliveries to different areas and will continue to partner with stores in select communities.
More information about their products can be found at www.waterbuffalocanada.ca and www.kampkreekdairies.ca. ◊