Northern Territory  
Last updated 30 December 2016

Norman Fisher of Swim Creek Station showing the results of a few days "tailing out" on farm bred buffalo

Darmawan Prasada (left) and Petrus Budihargo (right) of AustAsia, PT Santosa Agrindo discuss the progress of the Australian buffalo with Neil Ross from the NT BIC

Some of the 100 buffalo from Marrakai Station in the Aust Asia feedlot at Jabung near Lampung in Indonesia

F1 (River * Swamp) bulls at Berrimah Farm NT

Young buffalo suitable for the Brunei "supermarket" trade, Marrakai Station NT

Part of the breeding herd, Marrakai Station NT

Dallis Wilschefski about to introduce his 7/8 Riverine bull to his swamp heifers at Darwin River NT

Bill, imported pure River bull with Eric Cox at Beatrice Hill Farm, semen from Bill is available for AI

Dry season lick block trial Beatrice Hill Farm near Darwin

Eye muscle of F1 bull at the quartering site. This quality is produced off pasture only

Excellent set of yards for safely working buffalo on Trevor Hall's property at Wodonga Vic'

Ernie Schluep protecting trees at Milkwood Farm

Barry Lemcke DBIRD discussing the working end of one of the Riverine cross bulls presented to the Sabah Government with Datuk Haji Abdul Rahim Ismail, Minister of Agricultural and Food Iindustries, and Awang Sahak Salleh Director of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry

Buffalo carts are used to transport oil palm fruit on plantations growing on flat land

Asrif Bin Mahmud from Plantation Manager (left) and Dr. Mohd Azid Kabul of the Sabah Veterinary Sevices discussing buffalo grazing on Sabah Mas Plantation, Sabah

Once trained buffalo are easily held behind a single strand of electric wire

Dr Peter Lee of Sabah Veterinary Services (left) and plantation staff at Sapi Plantations near Sandakan, Sabah

Buffalo being used to control grass growth under oil palm in Sabah, East Malaysia

Sleds are prefered in some areas as they do not roll into the buffalo on downward slopes

Hussyn Rahman Enterprise staff at a Buffalo meat promotion in Brunei

Local buffalo in the Kariyana feedlot West Java, Indonesia

(left to right) Dr. Petrus Sitepu (Austral Livex), Feedlot Manager Suratno and Assistant Manager Rahmad Suryono discussing the buffalo trials at the Kariyana Feedlot near Bogor, West Java Indonesia

Jeff Little, General Manager, Brunei Meat Export Company (left) and Dr. Tony Hayne spaying buffalo at Opium Creek Station using the Willis technique


The NT Buffalo Industry Council Inc. (NT BIC) is an incorporated association that represents buffalo producers in the Northern Territory.

The NT BIC does not trade in its own right, but seeks market opportunities for live animals, meat products (TenderBuff) and genetics within Australia and internationally on behalf of its members.

The NT BIC is an independent body of N.T. buffalo producers and acts as a forum for the exchange of ideas and to present government proposals, problems and solutions that may affect members or the industry as a whole. The NT BIC remains as a part owner of the Riverine purebred herd based at Beatrice Hill Farm and has input into the management and distribution of buffalo from the herd. This herd is expanding at an increasing rate and is expected to maintain 100 head of breeders within 2 years. Once the target is reached, more animals from the herd will be available for sale around Australia. Plenty of bulls are available for sale at present from our herd for upgrading of herds in Australia and overseas. A good cross-section of available Italian and US genetics is available from this herd..

NT Buffalo Industry Council's Mission

To facilitate the continued growth and sustainable development of the Northern Territory Buffalo Industry by providing:

  • Buffalo producers with technical and practical assistance in buffalo management practices.
  • Good organisation leadership, governance and a forum for knowledge sharing, coordinated turnoff and lobbying
  • Continue to develop and diversify export and domestic markets
  • encouragement for the adoption of industry best practice standards in the production and marketing of buffalo and buffalo products


Angus Fleming
0419 761 075
Michael Swart
0402 081 661
Executive Officer, Louise Bilato
0400 107 223
Christopher Whatley
Ernest Schluep
Jed Fawcett
Barry Lemcke and
Neil Ross

NT BIC contact details

E-mail Address

Postal Address
PO Box 36828
Winnellie NT


Northern Territory Tenderbuff
Click here for TenderBuff Information

Milking Buffalo – Plenty of purebred river bulls and small numbers of pure and crossbred milking type buffalo are available for dairy projects or general herd upgrading
Breeding Buffalo - pure Swamp, pure River and various crossbreeds
Slaughter Buffalo - for the live export wet market trade or local manufacturing for smallgoods, pies etc
Feedlot Buffalo - for live export, farm raised, or young free range animals for finishing in feedlots or value adding within Australia
Plantation Buffalo - for live export young farm raised animals for grass control on overseas plantations, while growing out for breeding, fresh meat or pulling carts.
Semen - available from one of the original River bulls imported from the USA
Safari Buffalo - Some NT properties have limited safari buffalo available
Buffalo Horns - A large range of buffalo horns available in one Darwin premises or make arrangements for collecting at Abattoirs
Pet Meat - from Buffalo is available in Darwin

Currently only one abattoir is operating in the Top End processing local buffalo for Australian domestic consumption:
   Gunbalanya Meats
    Oenpelli NT 0822
    ph: (08) 8979 0428
    fax: (08) 8979 0176

Contract mustering and local and interstate buffalo transport is also available


Buffalo were introduced to the NT in 3 separate locations — Melville Island in 1826, Fort Wellington in 1828 and Victoria settlement on the Cobourg Peninsula between 1836 and 1849. The buffalo were brought into these British settlements from Indonesia (then the Dutch East Indies) from nearby islands such as Timor and Kisar. These settlements were all abandoned, and the buffalo were released or escaped and moved out along the Coastal Plains, Koolpinyah and Marrakai land systems westerly to Darwin and southerly into the Katherine and Arnhemland districts.

The buffalo population probably peaked in the 1980s at a maximum of 350,000 head when wide spread aerial surveys were carried out.

The first uses of the buffalo were for their hides in 1880 and ceased in 1956 when synthetics took over most of the useful jobs buffalo leather performed, eg: flat belting for steam engine drives. Inferior but cheaper south-east Asian hides also increased the problems of competing in the market place.

A small export market to Hong Kong existed between 1958 and 1962 until a Hong Kong wharf worker was fatally gored. Slaughter for human consumption was commenced in 1961 and was a very popular method of field shooting and transport to the small meatworks - sometimes mobile - within 1 hour. Three meatworks were able to kill for restricted export and others certified for Australian consumption. In 1972 and 1973 some meatworks were upgraded to full US export standard and export to EEC commenced. Buffalo was able to enter EEC as it did not come under the restrictions that applied to beef. This market was lucrative in comparison to beef at that time. EEC export buffalo had to be delivered live to the meatworks for antemortem inspection (helicopters revolutionised mustering in the 1960s and onwards).

In 1982 the BTEC program commenced in earnest and freedom was declared in 1997.

Harvesting from the feral herd was maximised during the 1980s to comply with the BTEC program – all livestock had to be tested and slaughtered if positive to the test. All non-testable stock were removed to slaughter at meatworks, or shot to waste.

Pet meat operations using buffalo have continued before and particularly since the early seventies until today, with lesser returns to the property owner.

Domestication also commenced in the sixties but very few survived the 1970s beef slump (low prices).

Since the late 1980's, domesticated numbers have remained fairly static until 2005 at around 15,000 - 20,000 head. Today, approximately 10,000 head remain in farms in the Top End.

A further 50,000 to 60,000 head have remained in Arnhem Land in an area never known to have TB in cattle or buffalo, and this area is monitored on a yearly basis to maintain that status. This area has not been comprehensively number surveyed since the 1980s.

It was obvious that at peak numbers, buffalo stocking rates were excessive and much damage to floodplains, in particular, was occurring. With the massive reductions in numbers, the obvious improvements in range condition were quickly evident, particularly on the sub-coastal plains.

This period of change to the industry was particularly tough due to the lack of capital at a time of rapid expansion in fencing, waters, and other infrastructure.

Buffalo always fared better than cattle in the floodplain environment as they were able to graze in flooded situations and they caused many cattle drinking water holes to be less drinkable to cattle, due to wallowing. Buffalo were also able to make better use of poorer quality roughage than cattle, particularly during the mid to late dry season. It was in this period of the year that cattle suffered tremendous mortalities from lactation during the dry season. This was much less common in buffalo.

Other technological advances include helicopters, four-wheel drive vehicles, and bionic arm catching equipment.

Northern Territory Government assistance to the Buffalo Industry

  1. Research, development and extension assistance since the early sixties;
  2. A Research Station whose primary function was buffalo research;
  3. Assistance during BTEC with destocking, freight and restocking subsidies;
  4. Marshalling facility for calves at Annaburroo in 1982 to give the Industry access to normally unwanted young stock for restocking purposes;
  5. Subdivision of Point Stuart area in 1984 into four new leases;
  6. The Buffalo Development Scheme which offered grants of up to $100,000 per producer ($1.9 million was provided to increase breeder retention);
  7. The employment of a part-time Buffalo Industry Officer to assist the industry with development and BTEC issues;
  8. Assist with the employment of a full-time Buffalo Development Officer for the NT Buffalo Industry Council from 1/7/2000 until 31/12/2005
  9. Assist with the employment of a part-time Buffalo Development Officer for the NT Buffalo Industry Council from 1/1/2006 until 30/6/2006
  10. Appointment of NTCA as executive in running affairs of NTBIC.
  11. Cessation of funding in 2010 to employ an EO to run the Council
  12. Cessation of NTCA office support in March 2011

World Buffalo Situation

In the world context the Australian Industry is minuscule in proportion. The world buffalo population currently is estimated at 172 million head mainly in Asia (97%), with India, Pakistan and China having the majority. There are however significant numbers in the western Mediterranean (Italy to Egypt) and also in South America where buffalo numbers seem to have the highest rates of yearly increase, particularly Brazil.

World wide there are three broad types of domesticated water buffalo:
1. Milking Buffalo (River type) – the dairy animal of India and Pakistan.
2. Mediterranean Buffalo – native to Mediterranean crescent from Egypt to Italy – used as dual purpose animals.
3. Swamp type – native to South-East Asia – used mainly for draught.

Australia had only the Swamp type imported in the early 1800s. However, three River breeds were introduced into Darwin in the 1880s from India and were used extensively for draught and milk in early Darwin town. These did not appear to be used after the 1930s and their contribution to today’s genetic mix is unknown.

In 1994-98 the first introduction of Riverine Buffalo in a century made it into Australia from 3 countries, Italy, Bulgaria (into Victoria) and USA (NT and Victoria). Some small numbers were recorded as coming to Darwin from India in 1886 and old photos of these animals can be seen in the State Reference Library in the N.T. All the USA imports (8) went to the Northern Territory to be used on Coastal Plains Research Station for research and development purposes.

Crossbreeding between the Riverine and Swamp types has been highly successful with crossbreed buffalo growing up to 40% faster than the swamp purebred counterpart progeny. Meat quality has improved markedly with the crossbreeds and are hoped to be the future standard in the Tenderbuff program. This program is a Quality Assurance program where each carcase is inspected, measured and only branded as TenderBuff if it complies with the 5 standard criteria.

In the last 16 years buffalo farming has expanded to all states and also to New Zealand. 68 head were sent over 2 years from the NT in 3 shipments to an Auckland producer, now making buffalo cheeses and yoghurt in a dairy operation.

Healthy Meat

One of the big marketing advantages in buffalo meat is its leanness (and its lower cholesterol content) in comparison with beef and with many other meats commonly used in Australia. It has also high iron and zinc levels.


1. The European buffalo meat quota has not been fulfilled for many years, due mainly to a lack of EU accredited abattoirs in the Northern Territory where the majority of buffalo suitable to supply this market are. There have been small numbers of mature age cull stock from South Australia sold to Europe at times.

2. In Northern Australia the main market has been to Brunei, 3273 head were imported in 2002 with a focus on good quality farm raised animals for the Supermarket trade. Numbers have steadily declined to 312 head in 2010 with mainly free range wet market quality animals that are unsuitable to the Supermarket trade being supplied.

3. Mainland Malaysia imported 1556 head in 2004, 1690 head in 2005, a record 5777 head in 2006, but dropped to 582 in 2007. This is price sensitive market and can be substituted readily from other SE Asian supplies.

4. Following several visits by the NT BIC, Sabah imported breeders, 314 in 2005, 659 in 2006 and 152 in 2007 as part of a program to increase the numbers of livestock raised under oil palms. Buffalo are particularly useful in that Buffs can be used to pull sleds to get to bunches to the roads for trucks to pick up. Further imports have occurred during 2008-2011 period of swamp buffalo breeders to Sabah.

5. In December, Sarawak plantation owners and Agricultural Department staff showed a lot of interest in farmed buffalo during a visit by the NT BIC in 2005. Sarawak has not imported buffalo since 1998; hopefully imports will start again in the near future. NT Govt officers provided advice over a 2 year period to help increase efficiency on government farms.

6. An import health protocol for buffalo to be imported into Indonesia from Australia was finalised in November 2005 with the first trial shipment of 100 head was exported to a feedlot near Lampung in December. Since this shipment has growth areas in exports with 820 in 2006, and 2865 in 2007. They are doing very well and hopefully this will develop into a very good market for farmed buffalo as there is also a lot of interest for buffalo as draught animals in small farming and aid projects. Numbers built to 3815 in 2008, but have waned slightly since due to permit issuing restrictions by Indonesia as part of its policy push to self sufficiency in beef by 2014.

7. Occasionally there are one-off overseas breeder consignments, which have gone to many different destinations as wide ranging as Cuba, New Guinea and Nigeria in the last 30 years. A large number of young buffalo were sent to Indonesia in the early 1980's to be trained to pull ploughs in the rice fields as part of the transmigration program.

8. TenderBuff is the higher priced local product- currently $3.10 per kg HSCW to the producer. This product is restaurant quality and is also available in retail butcher shops. This trade started in Darwin and is gradually expanding to other states, with some producers selling product direct to the public rather than to wholesalers. This product is restaurant quality but is currently not available in the NT due to the closure of the local abattoir in April 2007. There are producers in niche markets in other states but supplies are small.

9. There is much interest in the Riverine buffalo for milking, particularly in southern states and New Zealand. There is an established dairy and cheese making enterprise at Yambuk in Victoria with mozzarella, yoghurt and other dairy products manufactured. This dairy currently holds the majority of Australian Riverine buffalo stock, however numbers in other dairies are increasing rapidly. There are now 4 commercial dairies operating in Australia with more expected soon.

10. In 2002 a dairy farmer from Millaa Millaa in QLD purchased some pure and crossbred Riverine buffalo from the Northern Territory, milking commenced in 2003. At first the farmer produced his own brand line of cheeses at a local cheese factory, but now mainly supplies a Cairns based cheese factory and a cheesemaker in Sydney. This factory has gained prestigious cheese show awards over a number of years. He is now milking around 110 head on a twice daily basis. Mozzarella soft cheeses and yoghurts are produced.

Their main products are soft/moist Italian style buffalo mozzarella, soft marinated fetta, natural yoghurt and labna cream (spread able cheese)

11. A dairy farming family in Maleny on the Sunshine Coast hinterland commenced diary operations with buffalo from the NT and they now supply 2 local boutique cheese makers which specialise in local door sales and farmers’ markets. A further 6 cross breeds in-calf heifers were shipped in 2008 from the NT and more in 2010. They are currently building the herd to increase production capability.

With the current deregulation of the dairy industry in Australia, buffalo may receive increasing attention as an alternative product for dairy farmers with little change required to implement in established dairy areas.

12. In November 2010 Gunbalanya Meats re-opened its doors to an upgraded abattoir with a large injection of capital at the aboriginal settlement of Oenpelli on the western edge of Arnhem Land. Using local labour, the plan is to supply affordable meat to local and Arnhem Land settlements. It is also looking at supplying cattle and buffalo meat products interstate were feasible.

13. In 2011, a small pilot Buffalo Dairy operation commenced in the Darwin rural area. Beatrice Buffalo P/L is selling cheeses and yoghurt to local supermarkets, restaurants and farmers markets. The operation is to test the dairy buffalo performance economically in the wet/dry tropics. This will be an important demonstration for a large part of SE Asia if it is successfully managed in Darwin. Their website is:

14. Darwin is still awaiting the construction of a new abattoir by AA Co on refurbishment of the Batchelor Abattoirs. Unitl this occurs, no committments can be made to the numerous enquiries from overseas customers which use frozen buffalo meat.