8: Grazing and Milking Water Buffalo in Colorado

In this episode of The Grazing Grass podcast, Cal talks with Jose of Rocking TT Bar. Jose is originally from Venezuela and has studied animal and brain science from Montana State University on a scholarship. He now operates a family farm in Colorado. Jose discusses his journey of grazing grass with Water Buffalo. He also tells about how he utilizes a mobile milking area and uses it to improve his pastures.

Listen to this episode to learn more!

  • [01:12] – About Jose and his operation
  • [03:05] – Angus cattle and water buffalo
  • [05:00] – Electric fence as a game-changer in a leased pasture
  • [06:03] – Cutting the expense by half by using trees that are existing in the pasture
  • [07:03] – The kind of pasture he is grazing in
  • [08:59] – Kind of forages in Colorado
  • [09:05] – The difference between buffaloes and cows
  • [10:36] – Artificial insemination in the cows
  • [11:44] – Milk production in half-Italian cows
  • [12:20] – Milking the cows in the pasture
  • [13:00] – The cheaper way to run the operation
  • [14:04] – Getting Grade A milk
  • [14:55] – How much milk does he get from a water buffalo each day
  • [16:25] – How often does he move them to a new pasture
  • [17:36] – Grazing in a rangeland
  • [18:50] – Selling the water buffalo meat
  • [20:21] – Taming water buffalo
  • [23:02] – Making things more manageable by keeping the buffaloes in a herd
  • [24:37] – Deworming the buffaloes
  • [25:46] – His favorite grazing grass related book
  • [26:36] – Advice to new farmers

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Cal: [00:00:00] Welcome to Grazing Grass Podcast, episode eight.

Jose: [00:00:04] The electric fence a game changer especially with just one strand.

Voice over: [00:00:08] You're listening to the Grazing Grass Podcast. Helping grass farmers produce forages for livestock.

Cal: [00:00:15] I'm Cal Hardage, your host and on today's episode, we're talking about grazing, and milking water buffalo with Jose from Rocking TT Bar. Jose tells us about water buffalo, how he manages them for milking as well as for beef, and what his plans are. But before we get Jose on here, if you're listening to our podcast, please subscribe if you haven't. Also, please share our episodes. If you go to grazinggrass.com you can find out more about our show, and our notes for each episode as well as our links to our social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We encourage you to share our posts, spread the word. And with that, let's get Jose on here. Jose, welcome to the Grazing Grass Podcast. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your operation?

Jose: [00:01:12] Sure. I'm originally from Venezuela, where I grew up on a water buffalo ranch. I realized that's what I wanted to do as far as our profession. So I started going to Med school in Venezuela. And halfway through it, I was able to get a scholarship that allowed me to go to Montana State University, where I studied animal and brain science. And with that, I went back to Venezuela to work on the family farm. And then with all the changes that happened in Venezuela actually, I left and my wife is from the States came back to Colorado to be with her side of the family, and ended up here in Colorado working in northern cattle ranches. And then after doing that, for about seven years, Colorado legislation change to allow for the growth of the water buffalo as domestic species. So it used to be classified as an exotic species, which was a mistake, classify the same as the Asian sorry, as the African water buffalo. So it's two different beasts, you can even crossbreed, the Asian water buffalo with the African water buffalo. So once they corrected that mistake and classify correctly, the Asian water buffalo as their domestic species. That didn't happen until 2016. And that opened up the doors for me to start doing it. I've never really contemplated doing it. It's just the circumstances of my life. You know, I really miss the water buffaloes. And at that point, I had had plenty of experience with the cattle a specifically with Black Angus, and I really miss the water buffalo as far as how productive they are, how docile they are, and how much they thrive on the rangeland without any kind of supplements.

Cal: [00:03:05] How do they compare to your to Angus cattle? I've never been around water buffalo been around cattle a lot.

Jose: [00:03:12] Okay. Well, I like to say that they're kind of like a cow but with the brain of a horse. Okay, so a lot smarter. Like they really become, for example, they pick up on their names, as they can be in the field, and you can call their names and they know who I'm calling. And they pick up on that pretty quick. So that's one of the things that happen. The other thing is that they are naturally attracted to being around people, you know, depending on the kind of handling you have, but they want to be around people. So when I go to the field, and I brush him, I pet them I hang around them or they all want to be around, they all want to be brushed or want to be say hello and don't want to leave me. So that kind of handling makes it a lot easier because it allows me to handle a herd without needing horses without needing a lot of employees. I can go in the field and basically call them and they will come to where I am instead of having to push him to a place I'll call them to a place so that's a little more powerful. I like to compare with magnets, you know, it's a lot more precise to attract another magnet to where you want to go than to push a magnet to where you want it to.

Cal: [00:04:21] Yes, it is.

Jose: [00:04:24] So the power of attraction is stronger than the power of repelling something. And using that as a tool just allows me to handle the animals easier, you know, as far as taking less time to move the animals from pasture to another, as far as loading up the animals in a trailer without using a corral just going out in the field and being able to load them up. A lot as far as teaching them how to respect an electric fence. I use just one strand of electric fence which is really the game changer when it comes to rotational grazing.

Cal: [00:04:59] Oh yeah.

Jose: [00:05:00] So, like I was explaining to you, I lease pasture, and most of the spaces only have a perimeter fence that most of the time is really in a very bad shape. And a really big expense of any Ranch is just maintenance of the fence. And if I go into leased property to spend a lot of time and money, repairing fences and subdividing pastures at the end, and really not going to make any money at the end of the grazing season. So the electric fence is a game-changer, especially with just one strand and that makes it really cheap. Just using the electric twine you know, it's just a magic tool. I've used electric fence before and it's always when you compare it with barbed wire fence is cheaper to build to put up just because mostly because of the distance of the posts one of the biggest factors. But it's still a big experience where the plastic insulators and it becomes a permanent feature where you are so just one of the great breakthroughs as far as the rotational grazing and being able to move these animals around and set up the cheap fence is being used in baling twine as your insulator.

Cal: [00:05:41] Oh yes.

Jose: [00:06:03] So if you tie that to the fence and actually use a little tension pulling away from the posts, right you can even use trees that are existing in the pasture. my trees most of the time is a tree or brush grabbing a brush together time tying up with twine become a post. So that way you just when you need a T-post and then tie the twine to it. You cut the expense by half or more.

Cal: [00:06:44] Oh, yes that's a good one.

Jose: [00:06:46] So that's been a big breakthrough with electric fences. I've always tried a little way that you know how to find a way to do it cheaper, but this being the biggest game-changer.

Cal: [00:06:54] So you talked about lease pasture, what kind of pasture are you grazing and what kind of forages are there?

Jose: [00:07:03] So I look for them to have at least like I was saying the perimeter fence, and to have a good water source. Then after that is for the animals to have shade or some kind of protection from the winter and the snow. The shade is important the water buffalo people think right away that they need a mud puddle and a lake or a pond. And they use that is to regulate the temperature. Right? Temperature control in the middle of the day that's when they go in the mud puddle in the river in the water. So if you don't have that you can have shaded it's an alternative and that works just fine. So that's what I look for is where are the animals going to eat? Where are they going to drink? And where are the animals going to regulate the temperature and because of our conditions here in the wintertime where they want to hide from the snow. And it's mostly the wind you know when you get these big storms its the wind with the snow, not so much the snow itself. That's something that I can build up. I build some temporary structures in the places that I keep them in the winter. As far as windbreaker you'll see cattle panels and plywood. I use for the calf basically greenhouse structure that they called a tunnel. It is a really cheap structure with plastic and you create basically a barn that you will go up in a day and it stays warm in there because of the heat in the day and it stays dry. So it is a perfect place for the calves to sleep. So the things that I do with my herd there are a few things that are different. Not only is that the water buffalo is unique in Colorado, but it's also different in the United States. But the rotational grazing that I do on the dairy, I don't supplement the animals they thrive on just the native rangelands.

Cal: [00:08:59] Okay.

Jose: [00:08:59] So it’s just 100% grass-based milk production, which will be really hard to do with Holstein or Jersey or any other cow. It just really would struggle, you know, it will just take a toll on their fertility and overtime, they just wouldn't last. So I know the difference between the buffaloes and the cows is how long they live. A water buffalo will live 20 to 25 years. That's twice as long. Another difference is reaching puberty; it takes them a little longer. So you get the first calf off a Black Angus when they're two years old. You know water buffalo, there are some exceptions, you may get some a two-year-old but for the most part, is when they're three years old. So it's a little longer to reach puberty.

Cal: [00:09:45] And then do they calf every year after that, or?

Jose: [00:09:50] Yes, every year then the production varies, you know as far as volume and the month of production, you know, there's something to work on in this country. Just because most of the operations that have existed so far has been extensive grazing in large operations. So very few people have been focused on really doing the work of improving the genes for milk production. And we have the tools to do that with semen from Italy. That is the one country that is allowed imports of frozen semen for artificial insemination. And that will help us over time build up the herd for milk production.

Cal: [00:10:36] And do you AI (Artificial insemination) your cows?

Jose: [00: 10:40] Not at the moment. This year, I have some really good bulls that are actually half Italian. And I have found over time that's a really good way to look at these animals that are a half (50/50), the way they have more of the genes that are already from this country or from this area. You bring the genes from your production so I got my bulls are half Italian and I got a few cows that are half Italian blood. And we plan on doing some artificial insemination in the future with some selective cows to do that with. That can be also a very expensive endeavor if you're not really focused on what you're doing and what the ultimate purpose of that is. But it will be just some on some specific cows to produce bulls for the herd.

Cal: [00:11:33] Oh, yes replacement bulls. Do you see a big improvement in milk production on your half Italian cows?

Jose: [00:11:44] Yeah, definitely. Yes, that makes a difference. There's that and also another part that makes a really big difference is the disposition and the training right? A cow that is just not used to handling and it's just a fight you're never going to get the milk that she's capable of producing.

Cal: [00:12:02] Right.

Jose: [00:12:02] Having the animal train and use to this handle it makes a big difference. Animals that want to come in and want to be milk always will produce more than the ones that you have to go and chase no matter what kind of genes they have. I always like to say that attitude is the first filter as far as selecting animals.

Cal: [00:12:20] I've seen on your Instagram page where you're out in the pasture milking them. I grew up on a dairy of course cattle but the majority of our cows were not that tame. So do you go out each day to where they are to milk them? How's that work for you?

Jose: [00:12:42] Yeah, so the mobile system is having a trailer where I parked the trailer in the field postpartum rotational grazing so we'll go to a new pasture and move the trailer and the trailer becomes their base camp.

Cal: [00:12:54] Oh okay.

Jose: [00:12:55] The trailers were to have mineral blocks so the trainer is because what they're familiar with it you know they're not really comfortable around. It becomes a windbreaker with the elements tool and it's where the calves go sleep at night and slowly the calves want to go sleep in there especially if the weather is hot. So that mobile it became a tool of necessity right. But then I realized actually it is healthier for the pasture and it’s a lot cheaper a non-expensive way to run the operation you know, when you build a barn is a really expensive investment, and then you're tied up to it. And all the pastures around the barn the ones that get used the most and all the overload or manure around the barn is huge and the parasite overload is huge and there's no way around it. So it's not something that I want to solve problems you know my circumstances made me come up with it but then I realized well this is a lot healthier for the pasture and it’s a lot healthier for the animals as well.

Cal: [00:13:00] Yes, I completely agree.

Jose: [00:14:04] Because I'm building up the herd and I'm training the herd and building up the relationship with different landowners. I'm milking them in the field, but I'm no milking them on their condition that makes for grade A milk. The goal is in the future I am working with the state of Colorado in this sense so in the future we can have the system but under a milking parlor on wheels that is certified by the State of Colorado so we can have great grade A milk under these conditions of rotational grazing out in the field milking them.

Cal: [00:14:43] Oh, yes which makes sense. How much milk do you get each day from a water buffalo cow?

Jose: [00:14:55] So I do keep the calves with the cows during the day. I separate at nights with the calves' sleep separate. And in the morning when I milk, and I milk two of the tits and the calf gets to have two of the tits. So I try not to really compromise the growth of the calves or the learning of the calves how to be a buffalo they spend all day with their mom learning how to be a water buffalo. And I get some of the cows who give me about half a gallon, the heifers and mature cow will give me one gallon of those two tits in the morning.

Cal: [00:15:29] Yes very good.

Jose: [00:15:32] So one thing about the water buffalo milk is that it has a thicker [inaudible 00:15:32] it’s more dense. You get more pounds of cheese per gallon of milk compared to a cow. So in my experience, it is about 10 liters of cow milk to make a kilo of cheese, and the water buffalo will be about six liters of milk makes one kilo of cheese. So it's a significant when it comes to making cheese.

Cal: [00:16:01] And it's A2 milk?

Jose: [00:16:05] Yeah, it is all A2 kind of like with sheep and goat. And the big difference is it’s pure white, the milk is pure white, it doesn't have any of the yellowish colors. Okay, because of the beta carotene, the water buffalo transformed the beta carotene into vitamin A. So it's a higher content of vitamin A because of it.

Cal: [00:16:25] Okay, very good. And when you say you're rotating them, how often are you moving them to a new pasture?

Jose: [00:16:34] He depends on the size of the pasture, the size of the animal, you know, there's so many variants. You know, like people oh, how many cows per acres? You know, the variables are huge, you know, depends on the grass precipitation, how many animals you have? How big the field is? So I try to make so it is between one and two weeks in each. Some fields might stay for a month, but I really don't stay in any field for more than a month just because of the size or the size of the herd and everything else. That's the way it worked out. And I don't like to keep the milking parlor in a place longer than that either. It starts getting more worn around it after that. So that's kind of seems to be the ideal about, you know, two weeks.

Cal: [00:17:22] Oh, yes. Do you broadcast any seeds? Do you plan any annuals? Like, in our area it's wheat or rye-grass, or you're using forages that are already there in place?

Jose: [00:17:36] It's called rangeland. It's all rangeland and helping improve the rangelands.

Cal: [00:17:40] Oh, yes.

Jose: [00:17:40] Trying to graze it all with the right time. Some pastures that might have a problem with weeds, like [inaudible 00:17:49] is one of the problems I have out here. So we try to hit those pastures, right when the flower is at its prime, the water will flow free really like to hit them. So use them also as a tool over time to improve the pasture.

Cal: [00:18:04] So they'll eat the [inaudible 00:18:05]?

Jose: [00:18:05] They are pretty good about leaving the seed pots. So after grazing, if you don't know or graze and they just graze the leaves and you leave the seed pots that also helps over time improve the pasture.

Cal: [00:18:16] Okay.

Jose: [00:18:18] I don't bring any seeds. It just helps improve what's already existing. That's a part of the reason that is also parking the milking parlor in those areas of the pastures that are marginal. Need that little extra help with a little more manure right. That trampoline is not really going to hurt the grass is just like, either where there are weeds or where there's rockier And you know, the grass is just like cheatgrass. Those will be the places that are more ideal to go and park the milking parlor.

Cal: [00:18:50] Very good. And you also process and sell water buffalo meat?

Jose: [00:18:55] The meat? Yes, I sell the beef for the farmer's market and some at the local restaurants. So the beef is lean, is lower in cholesterol. It doesn't have much of that intramuscular fat. So in a way, it's like the opposite of wagyu.

Cal: [00:19:14] Oh, okay.

Jose: [00:19:15] That's right. So it's kind of a healthier beef is not a standard because the intramuscular fat is what gives that extra tenderness.

Cal: [00:19:26] Right.

Jose: [00:19:26] So it's selecting animals that are a little younger use between a year and a half to butcher to get a little more tenderness, but the flavor is really sweet. Yes, they gave me flavor because of the grass-fed and the taste kind of between bison and elk cow.

Cal: [00:19:43] Okay.

Jose: [00:19:44] So in Colorado, because people have that culture of hunting elk, and people are familiar with the elk they understand that and they look for it. Because of it and it's appreciated because of that similarity to the elk at least around here.

Cal: [00:19:57] Oh, yes. Well, I find out Water Buffalo very fascinating and the pictures you posted that I've seen on Facebook and Instagram are also pretty. The animals look great and they are so tame, which just surprises me so much how calm they are because you're just completely all over them and they're fine with it.

Jose: [00: 20:21] Yeah, well, thank you. They have to be, you know, it's part of the thing that I have a one and a half year old that I have to feel comfortable walking around the cows.

Cal: [00:20:31] Oh, yes.

Jose: [00:20:31] You don't worry about it, you know. The same thing with any employee, you know, you just have to otherwise it comes to liability, you have an animal that you don't trust, and can hurt an employee and then instead of having an animal that is an asset, you really have a liability in your hands.

Cal: [00:20:48] Right. Yes. Now, in your experience with water buffalo, are they all pretty calm? Or do you get some that are pretty nervous, too? You really got to manage for that docileness.

Jose: [00:21:04] Yeah, It's a matter of handling. Yes, definitely handle makes a big role. They do have some of the natural attitude and disposition. But the way they race makes a huge difference is a kind of like a wild monster. Horses can be nice and beautiful but go get a wild monster and you're going to get kicked.

Cal: [00:21:22] True.

Jose: [00:21:25] So it's very similar. And that was the biggest challenge here because most of the animals come from extensive grazing large herd nobody's really doing it for milk production. I couldn't really go to another producer and be like, Hey, I would like to buy some heifers that I, you know, train halter brokers, no, that does not exist or did not exist prior to the time I started doing this. The animals have that disposition and it's why they've been used in Asia for doing work, you know, from plowing the rice fields, too, you know, pull a wagon being ridden. They have the disposition. They're really good at it. But yeah, the handling and the training makes a really big difference. So I started really small, on one hand, to really make sure that they were going to perform in Colorado accordingly, which I'll get to, and the other reason is to actually train them for these kinds of handling. After I had enough animals, I went ahead and I bought some adults and I introduced him to the herd once the herd was already trained to this kind of handling. Yeah, and at the beginning, so animals caught up with it, maybe in a week they came around, and they wanted to be brushed and pet and be around me. So more than once took me months to have come around and they did. But with some it takes work. With some of them, they come from places that they're not used to people. Now once they've been around you and they've been around people and their herds are broke they're extremely easy to have. But yeah, it takes a little bit of work of training them. And once they come from a herd that has been training, everything gets easier.

Cal: [00:23:02] Oh yeah.

Jose: [00:23:02] So as far as reforming for this weather. I knew that they have been an experiment they did in Montana in the year 2001, where they took five bulls and had them all there exposed to the elements to see how they did. And they made it through the winter just been fed hay but no shelter, no nothing, just five bulls together. It is important for them to be a group because they really stay closer together like cows, you know, the buffaloes do too. But even tighter together, they graze closer together, they sleep even closer together, and in the winter, that makes a difference sleep in a bundle.

Cal: [00:23:42] Oh, okay.

Jose: [00:23:45] So I knew that they could perform in the winter. And I knew they could perform at high altitude in Venezuela. They went from being in the lowlands and expanding everywhere to make it to the end. And I see there is a place that was high altitude and cold and I was impressed at the moment seen water buffalos can really be everywhere. And they really can you know, they have my experience with Black Angus is frequent. Anyone that has cattle has to deal with foot rot, pinkeye, bloating, and diarrhea. None of those have been an issue with buffalo.

Cal: [00:24:25] Oh, yeah.

Jose: [00:24:25] Not of it. I've had zero health issues with them so far.

Cal: [00:24:32] So you doing any vaccination or worming?

Jose: [00:24:37] Yeah, deworming. Deworming is a problem and what impressed me the most actually was external parasites takes particularly a lot of takes in the spring.

Cal: [00:24:49] Oh, yeah.

Jose: [00:24:50] Amazing. Yeah, I mean, the condition that I have they just grazing and in that time of year they go through the sagebrush and everywhere else, they get covered to the point that they enjoying and they just stay in there with their legs wide open to get their ticks picked. You know the time a year just go and pick them off but they just love having a tick check.

Cal: [00:25:18] Yeah, they like to be picked.

Jose: [00: 25:21] That time of year is hilarious.

Cal: [00:25:24] Oh, yes. Imagine it is. Well, Jose, we have on our podcasts, are famous four questions and they are questions we ask every guest so I'm going to go through them with you. What's your favorite grazing grass related book or resource? And since we're talking a lot about water buffalo may be something out there about that.

Jose: [00:25:46] You know, not a particular book comes to mind. I would say the Holistic Management from Savory would be an important one right. It has a lot of those principles. And it's been around for a while. I think there will be an appropriate book. It applies to all species.

Cal: [00:26:05] Yes very good selection there. What tool could you not live without on your farm?

Jose: [00:26:13] A machete.

Cal: [00:26:14] A machete. That's not an answer we've had before.

Jose: [00: 26:18] A machete for sure. It’s a very South American thing but that's a good choice.

Cal: [00:26:22] Yeah, very good.

Jose: [00:26:25] I actually have two in my truck under my seat at all times.

Cal: [00:26:28] Oh, yes very good. And what would you tell someone just getting started?

Jose: [00:26:36] Get some hands-on experience first. Make sure you have that hands-on experience from somebody that you admire that you use, you know that you know, that knows or that is around your area. That is an old-timer, perhaps or just get some experience. The younger you can get your experience, the better. And the more diverse experience the best. But yeah, hands-on. That's what I've learned the most, although I had the privilege and the opportunity of going to college. It really was all the little jobs that I did when I was younger, learning from all kinds of people, all different things. And it's really opening up your mind of all the different ways that it can be done, that you're going to tap into when you need to.

Cal: [00:27:28] Yes. I was listening to a podcast earlier and they said when you're young, you say yes to everything so you get that experience. As you age for sure you start saying no to more things you can hone in on what your skills are. And lastly, where can others find out more about you?

Jose: [00:27:49] So our Instagram page you can reach us through there takes those see some pictures and videos. Facebook and Instagram. So is there Rocking TT Bar. And that's from the brand, right. There's a way to write the cattle brand. Yes. So rocker, the double t, and the bar, Rocking TT Bar so obviously has it that name play with it right as far as being the milk production right. That's what we produce at the Rocking TT Bar.

Cal: [00:28:18] Yes very good. That's good. Well, thank you, Jose, we appreciate you being on here.

Jose: [00:28:25] You're welcome. I hope people can expand that a little bit of their toolkit with the idea of the electric fence. Just play with it. I think that's really the biggest breakthrough I've had in the last couple of years as far as seeing things and just coming up with things along the way by necessity. Yeah, electric fence with baling twines.

Cal: [00:28:47] Very good.

Voice over: [00:28:48] Thank you for listening to the Grazing Grass Podcast, helping grass farmers produce forages for livestock.

Cal: [00:28:56] Be sure and share this episode with someone and until next time, keep grazing.

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Book(s)/Resource(s)

  • Holistic Management by Allan Savory (Amazon*)

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