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Hawai‘i – Where the Water Buffalo Roam

About

Faith Chase, a 48-year resident of Maui, is a mother and grandmother who has testified at many Maui County and Hawaii State hearings. Her interest in island agriculture inspired her turn from graphic design to writing.

Bubalus Bubalis has been reintroduced to Hawai‘i thanks to a Kaua‘i kalo farmer with deep reverence for the animal. It took three years but Don Heacock’s love for water buffalo is vehement and with tenacity and fierce focus he has brought the water buffalo, back to Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i island to be specific.

In simultaneous timing to the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture decision to change the restricted animal list and the required published legal notice, Heacock and Arkansas water buffalo rancher Tom Olson, drove four pregnant water buffalo 1600 miles from Texarkana, Arkansas to Los Angeles Airport for delivery to Hawai‘i via Air Cargo. The animals were in quarantine on O‘ahu and then made their final voyage via cargo boat to Kaua‘i.

Don Heacock poses with his four pregnant water buffalo at his Kauai farm Mahi ‘Ai Niu Malu. The buffalo traversed 1600 miles from Arkansas to Los Angeles, 2,500 miles from LA to Oahu and a final leg of 108 miles via boat form Oahu to Kauai.

Asian water buffalo were introduced into Hawai‘i around 1890 by Chinese rice farmers and were used for plowing, puddling and leveling rice and taro (Coloccasia esculent) pond fields. However, the Asian water buffalo produces little milk as it was selected for draught and meat production, as most Chinese are lactose intolerant. In contrast, the Indina water buffalo has been selected for over 60 centuries for milk production and for draught purposes because most Indians are Hindu and do not eat meat, therefore milk products substitute meat as a major source of protein in the Indian diet and elsewhere in the tropics and subtropics.

The State of Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture has had the water buffalo on the restricted animal list. Early confusion of mistaking Bubalus Bubalis (Water Buffalo) with other types of buffalo led to Heacock’s long road of petitioning the Department of Agriculture to lift the restriction.

Recently retired Kaua‘i District Aquatic Biologist and commercial integrated fish-taro-agroforestry farmer, Don Heacock, sought breeders far and wide before presenting a request to the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture (HDOA). Thorough inquiry and research led him to Tom and Shannon Olson, water buffalo breeders from Arkansas with 29 years experience, impeccable history of success and shared love for the water buffalo.

Tom and Shannon Olson of Texarkana, Arkansas have been successfully raising buffalo in Texarkana, Arkansas for 29 years. Turkey Creek Ranch is one of the few water buffalo operations in the U.S.

From the beginning the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture supported Heacock’s plans to reintroduce water buffalo to Hawai‘i. No could have expected the arduous procedural steps to make it happen as it had never been done before. Even with administrative red tape, political timelines and department lead changes, Heacock persevered and with the support of the acting land vertebrate specialist, he muscled forward his proposal to bring water buffalo to his Kaua‘i kalo farm.

The integration of dairy water buffalo to his farm allows him to use the water buffalo for producing milk, mozzarella cheese and ghee, for plowing, puddling and leveling his taro pond fields and for controlling weeds and producing fertilizer. The buffalo products and activities will increase his farm’s net economic returns, diversify his farm products, and make his whole farm system more resilient and sustainable.

There are many valleys of Hawai‘i where lo‘i kalo used to flourish but the over grown areas are inaccessible by tractors. Water buffalo can do the work of ten men and can easily aid in these hard to reach areas. This is a refreshing realization as all of Hawai‘i hustles towards food security and sustainable agriculture. Water buffalo also produce milk that has 30% more fat than regular milk helping create the Italian popularized delicacy, buffalo mozzarella. The water buffalo are docile animals and internationally, the average age of a water buffalo handler is nine years old.

These water buffalo will acclimate to Hawai‘i aloha and as Heacock’s teaching farm produces more water buffalo calves in the future, the stories of successful Hawai‘i agriculture continue to grow.

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