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The BBC's Rob Pittam
"A canvass of local chefs indicated there would be demand for the low fat, low cholestrerol meat."
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Sunday, 25 February, 2001, 11:49 GMT
Making ends meat
Water buffalo
Farmers are not short of initiative - buffalo, ostrich and alpacas can all be found in Cumbria
By Rob Pittam from BBC2's Working Lunch.

The increasing presence of unusual meats such as buffalo and kangaroo on restaurant menus in the UK is a sign of the willingness of farmers to adapt to counter declining market conditions.

The strength of sterling, the BSE, swine fever and foot-and-mouth crises, together with the impact of new UK legislation have hit farmers across the board, whether in crops, cattle, dairy or pigs.

So any opportunity to break into a new market - however unusual - has been welcomed.

Richard and Pat Metcalfe farm 300 acres at Crook near Kendal in Cumbria. They moved there just as BSE was beginning to grip the industry.

Buffalo steak appears on the menu in a restaurant local to the farm in Kendal.
There is confidence in this meat because there's never been any recorded cases of BSE with buffalo.

"We decided about two or three years ago, as farm prices were going down very quickly, that we had to diversify into something that was going to be wanted," explained Mr Metcalfe.

It was the Metcalfes' son, Andy, who hit on the idea of branching out into buffalo, during a pub discussion on different meats.

Low cholesterol

"We got on to American bison and we found that we couldn't do that for various reasons but somebody put us on to water buffalo so we went with them and it's progressed from there," he said.

They bought their first buffalo from a farmer in Oxfordshire - his stock had come originally from Italy and Romania, where they are used as working animals.

People have more confidence because there's never been any recorded cases of BSE with buffalo

Farmer Metcalfe
A canvass of local chefs indicated there would be demand for the low fat, low cholesterol meat and the herd started to grow - the Metcalfes currently have more than 30 head.

"We sell it to local restaurants and at farmers' markets and to casual passers-by at the door," said Mrs Metcalfe. "Also a few of our bed and breakfast customers buy it after they've eaten it here.

"People have more confidence in this meat because there's never been any recorded cases of BSE with buffalo anywhere in the world."

Chef Nick Wilson serves the meat in a red wine sauce at the Railway Hotel at nearby Staveley. He says it is very popular with summer visitors and although it is more expensive than beef he believes it could take off.

Growing niche

So far the buffalo have proved a sound financial move for the Metcalfes. They are cheaper to keep than conventional animals and have had no health problems.

It will be a niche but we're confident

Mrs Pat Metcalfe
A couple every month are sent to a local abattoir for slaughter and the Metcalfes sell on the cuts of meat.

"I think there will always be a market for it somewhere - it will be a niche market but we're confident," says Pat Metcalfe, who looks after the marketing of the meat.

It is not just the flesh of the buffalo which is providing farmers with new opportunities; some sell the milk to mozzarella cheese makers while others have found buffalo manure a valuable commodity.

But farmers are not short of initiative in these troubled times - also to be found in Cumbria are ostriches, alpacas and even wild boars.

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See also:

16 Apr 00 | Wales
Water Buffalo go wild at park
19 Aug 00 | UK
Swine fever hopes raised
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