Catalyst Centre News

Developing a domestic supply of buffalo mozzarella

Researcher-industry partnership seeks to improve water buffalo farming in Canada

By Megan Cowie

Buffalo mozzarella cheese has become one of Canada’s favourite delicacies, so much so that demand for the thick, creamy cheese has increased by nearly 20 per cent in the last five years.

However, more than 95 per cent of the world’s water buffalo live in Asia. That means Canada’s supply of the cheese is mostly imported to meet Canada’s growing market demands.

And imported cheese is expensive. At prices as high as $50 per pound, buffalo mozzarella is a luxury many Canadians can’t afford. 

To meet the demands, some Ontario dairy farms are exchanging their Holsteins for water buffalo.

Among these farms is Sterling-based Ontario Water Buffalo Co. With more than 200 water buffalo in its herd, it’s Ontario’s largest producer of buffalo milk.

And while the farm is extremely productive, it’s facing its share of production challenges as it tries to keep up with its traditional dairy counterparts. For example, a single Holstein cow can produce more than 75 litres of milk per day, but water buffalo produce only about 10 litres per day.

On top of that, the water buffalo breeding season is short, and calving doesn’t coincide with consumer demands for buffalo milk products.

To help maximize its herd’s potential, the Ontario Water Buffalo Co. teamed up with animal reproductive technologists Prof. Allan King and Ph.D. candidate Leslie Gonzalez Grajales from the University of Guelph. These animal fertilization specialists are looking for ways to make the water buffalo breeding season longer.

A longer breeding season would mean longer lactation periods for buffalo cows, and ultimately higher milk and cheese production.

One approach involves hormone implants, which mimic the effects of natural reproductive hormones. The researchers believe implants could extend the breeding season to last year-round. Right now, they’re trying to find optimal hormone balances to artificially inseminate and collect embryos from females with high milk production.

This research was supported by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario’s Applied Research and Commercialization initiative (ARC). The initiative was aimed at connecting businesses in southern Ontario with post-secondary research institutions with research and development expertise,

“FedDev Ontario’s support has created an opportunity for an academic-industry collaboration to develop solutions that will help an Ontario company grow and thrive,” says Erin Skimson, Director of the University of Guelph Catalyst Centre. The Centre helped implement the FedDev Ontario ARC initiative.

Recognizing the value of supporting the growth of a new Canadian industry, this project has attracted support from a variety of other sources. Ontario Water Buffalo Co. contributed funding as well, as did the Partnership Agreement with the University of Guelph, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and the Ministry of Rural Affairs, the Canada Research Chairs program, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Toronto Zoo.

With the project now underway, King and Gonzalez Grajales predict that with proper hormone treatments, Canadian water buffalo herds can have what it takes to produce high-quality dairy products year round.