One Rancher’s Plan to Establish Water Buffalo in Colorado

The challenges and prospects of water buffalo ranching in the Roaring Fork Valley.

By Sarah Tory | June 12, 2019

This story was originally revealed by High Country News and is reproduced here with permission.

“If more ranchers knew about water buffalo, they would forget about cows,” José Miranda, a Carbondale rancher, advised me one morning final January over breakfast. He listed their advantages: The milk tastes nice and it’s healthier, with less ldl cholesterol, 11 % more protein, 9 % more calcium and 37 % more iron than cow’s milk. Water buffalo have environmental advantages, too; they’re in a position to thrive on extra marginal pastures and fewer resource-intensive foods than dairy cows.


We’d been sitting around his kitchen table with Miranda’s associate, Erin Cuseo, who runs her own small vegetable farm, and his good friend and apprentice, Wyatt Dallenbach, preparing to go to the herd of 18 water buffalo he keeps on a rented plot of land simply west of city. Then we climbed into his previous inexperienced Land Rover, accompanied by his daughter, Paz, and drove by means of the snow-blanketed streets in the direction of the mountains.

Initially from the swamplands of Southeast Asia, water buffalo have been imported to many elements of world, most famously Italy, where they are coveted for their milk, supply of the delicate and creamy cheese mozzarella di bufala. Water buffalo herds at the moment are discovered in the Americas from the high Andes to the dry prairies of central Canada. Nonetheless, Miranda has encountered loads of skeptics. How, they ask, does an animal from the tropics survive winters—particularly a hard winter just like the final one—at over 6,000 ft in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley?

Miranda, who came from a scorching climate himself, merely replies, “It’s harder for them, just like it is for many people and other farm animals.”

In any case, he has all the time been drawn to troublesome things.

Miranda, who has an unruly black beard, intense inexperienced eyes, and a missing front tooth, was born and raised in Venezuela’s los llanos, the central flatlands, where his family owned a water buffalo ranch. “Cows were foreign to me,” he says.


Cows didn’t thrive in Venezuela’s native grasslands, so for decades, cattle ranchers planted non-native grasses at nice value. When water buffalo have been introduced in 1976—the yr Miranda was born—Venezuela’s ranchers began realizing that they didn’t have to take away native grasses anymore. It’s ironic, he admits, that a overseas animal might help protect the pure panorama.

Meanwhile, Venezuela was descending into political and economic turmoil beneath the Hugo Chávez regime. For a couple of years, Miranda believed that he might avoid it on the market on his ranch, however the turmoil discovered him. One day, in 2013, a gaggle of armed males arrived at the ranch and robbed his family at gunpoint. They pressured Miranda to the floor, tied him up, and crammed a pickup together with his tools, saddles—even the youngsters’ bicycles.

A day later, his spouse and youngsters have been on a aircraft to the U.S. Miranda adopted quickly after, strolling away from every little thing he had built. They moved to Carbondale, where Miranda’s spouse was from, and Miranda received a job as a ranch supervisor on the Tybar Cattle Ranch.

Miranda, joined by his mom, stepson, and associate, Erin Cuseo, holds his and Cuseo’s new child son, Wekta. The buffalos are extraordinarily affectionate toward him and his family. Photograph by Luna Anna Archey / Excessive Nation News

Regardless of having no animals, no land and a young household to help, Miranda was not ready to surrender on his dream. In 2014, Colorado delisted the water buffalo as an exotic species, and Miranda decided to begin constructing a herd. A interest farmer from Fort Collins named Richard Wheeler spearheaded the delisting, after he pointed out that Asian water buffalo and African water buffalo had been incorrectly categorized as the identical species. Asian Water Buffalo have been domesticated for longer than cattle, he argued, and by protecting them listed as “exotic,” the state was hindering dairy commerce.

The next yr, Miranda purchased his first two water buffalo calves from a Texas breeder. The subsequent yr, he bought a pair extra. But buying his personal property was too expensive, so he began leasing plots of land around Carbondale and reworked an previous trailer into a transportable dairy barn, painted mild blue and emblazoned with the words “mobile milking trailer.” It’s a DIY mannequin he hopes other aspiring farmers may comply with—one which may make it simpler for a spot like the Roaring Fork Valley, with its emphasis on native meals, to truly help the farmers and ranchers who produce it.


On the pasture, two water buffalo calves have been suckling a pregnant heifer named Missouri that Miranda purchased from the Texas breeder. The breeder artificially inseminated her with sperm he imported from Italy—the only nation that meets USDA approval for imported water buffalo semen. With Missouri pregnant, Miranda had educated her to adopt the brand new calves as her own.

On the other aspect of the pasture, one other animal caught his nose in the pee stream of a fellow buffalo. “They like to bathe in each other’s pee,” 13-year-old Paz says, by means of rationalization.

Miranda — who treats the buffalo extra like beloved pets than livestock—had a unique rationalization. “They all have distinct personalities,” he says.

With the shortage of a longtime water buffalo business in the U.S., discovering reliable animals has remained a challenge. So is capital: Miranda needed money to keep growing his herd. He tried to apply for a zero curiosity loan from 2 Forks Club, an area nonprofit that helps local farmers and meals entrepreneurs, however wasn’t accepted. “In Venezuela, we say (you need to be) encamburado,” Miranda informed me. “I came here as a foreigner, so I’m not part of the club,” he defined, which means the local ranching group whose roots in the valley return generations. He ended up getting a daily loan from the bank.

Wyatt Dallenbach, who has been helping handle the herd, jokes with Miranda. Photograph by Luna Anna Archey / Excessive Country Information

Access to land is another challenge. Across the West—and particularly in the Roaring Fork Valley—rising property values mean the price of a mortgage far surpasses what a farmer or rancher can produce from agriculture. At one point, Miranda appeared into shopping for a home on 40 acres—simply sufficient to use as a winter base camp for the buffalo—however the least expensive he might discover was $700,000. Farther up the valley, nearer to Carbondale, it was at the least $1.5 million.


Prior to now few many years, most of the older ranchers and farmers have bought their property to builders or to land trusts as conservation easements. The easements shield the farmland from turning into subdivisions, however don’t make sure that it stays in manufacturing. Miranda would really like to see a program in which extra county-owned land is made obtainable to farmers at low value to allow them to provide a few of the food they develop to meals banks and low-income communities.

In the meantime, Miranda has been innovating his means around the challenges he faces. By renting land and building his cellular dairy, he can hold his costs low, shopping for time to develop his herd and make connections with future consumers. Chefs and foodies think about buffalo mozzarella a premium product, value far more than regular mozzarella. One restaurateur from close by Aspen invited Miranda to style the mozzarella he created from buffalo milk imported all the best way from Italy. The cheese recurrently sells for $30 a pound in the U.S. and Miranda realized that his solely rivals have been the Italians; he might supply the identical product regionally and more cheaply.

Nonetheless, even Wheeler, the person who acquired water buffalo off Colorado’s unique species listing, stays skeptical of the animal’s ranching’s potential. “It’s a niche market,” he informed me. “Maybe some local cheese stores would be interested, but it’s mostly a novelty.”

Miranda has discovered to ignore the skepticism. In any case, he doesn’t surrender simply.

The youngest calf in Miranda’s herd nurses in a small brush opening that her mom stamped out before giving delivery. Photograph by Luna Anna Archey / Excessive Country Information

On a current blustery day in Might, I went with Miranda and his companion, Cuseo, to go to the herd at their summer time pasture, east of Carbondale in Previous Snowmass, in a green valley on the base of the Elk Mountains. It was a season of modifications. Two weeks earlier than, Cuseo had given delivery to a baby boy—their first youngster collectively—whereas in February, a female named Orinoco gave start to Miranda’s first calf, Caicara—each named after places in Venezuela. Meanwhile, in Miranda’s residence nation, a violent attempted coup towards the regime of Nicolás Maduro was underway. Miranda’s mother and father and 94-year-old grandmother still reside there, regardless of his pleas for them to depart.


Miranda not contemplates returning completely to Venezuela. Most of his fellow ranchers have moved their herds to neighboring Colombia anyway, whereas here in the mountains of Colorado, Miranda is lastly rebuilding what he lost when he left his native country. With another of his heifers pregnant and 9 calves expected for subsequent yr, Miranda is assured that in a number of years, he’ll have sufficient milk-producing buffalo to begin making cheese commercially.

Proper now though, Miranda is simply wanting forward to a simple joy: summer time naps together with his buffalo.

“Oh, mi preciosa,” he coos, gently nudging one of the buffalo to lie down with him in the scratchy grass. Miranda rubs her belly, savoring the animal’s slightly bitter odor and recalling how, until he arrived in Colorado, he didn’t understand that what he thought was the odor of his homeland had been the odor of the water buffalos all alongside.

Miranda lays down to cuddle with certainly one of his water buffalo. They are very hooked up to him, excitedly operating to the gate when his truck approaches for a go to. Luna Anna Archey / High Country News

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