Welcome to the Laos Buffalo Dairy of Luang Prabang. It's one of the first dairies in Laos, a country that even imports cow's milk. But of course this isn't any old dairy, this one is pretty special.
It's a dairy that combines a petting zoo, ice cream, an organic farm, innovative animal husbandry, support for local farmers, and fresh buffalo mozzarella. What more could you possibly want? Seriously.
In Laos, buffaloes are traditionally bred for their meat. Naturally - they're enormous. So a family that can afford to raise and sell one is doing pretty well for themselves. But that's where the wealth ends. It's not sustainable because you kill off your cash cow (literally).
The concept of milking buffaloes, however, is pretty unheard of in Laos. Partly because Lao people are not typical milk drinkers but also because buffaloes don't actually produce very much milk.
Swamp buffalo, the native Lao breed, average 1.5-4 litres a day while Thai Murrah buffalo typically produce 15-20 litres a day. That's a big difference. By comparison, the modern cow yields 35-50 litres a day!
Buffalo milk has lots of wonderful properties including being high in proteins and low in cholesterol. The buffalo milk industry is pretty huge in Asia, and particularly in India and Pakistan, where it's the #1 consumed milk. And over in Vietnam, they've been experimenting with buffalo milk production for the last 20 years.
But it's a first for Laos. Though evidently there's some great potential.
The Laos Buffalo Dairy has both Swamp buffalo, rented from the local farmers in Luang Prabang province, and Murrah buffalo, which they bought from Thailand.
The Dairy aims to increase milk yields through a buffalo crossbreeding program, another first for Laos. The very small gene pool among the local bulls (as male buffalo are typically sent to market) meant artificial insemination (AI) was the only way to go. The crossbreeding program started in 2014.
The Buffalo Dairy uses international vet and buffalo expertise to help manage the AI program. Students from the local Northern Agriculture and Forestry College are also on hand to help and to learn. Several graduates work full time at Dairy now.
In late 2017, they bred the first Swamp x Murrah buffalo in Laos. She's really cute.
For the farmers, renting their bulls is a win-win - the Buffalo Dairy feeds, vaccinates and cares for their buffaloes and pays them a monthly rental fee. Any calves that a mama buffalo may deliver will also belong to the farmer. As well, the AI program is helping to increase the genetic health of local buffalo population.
This is real sustainability with lasting development impacts.
You can get the full tour and hear all about the Dairy, including visiting the gorgeous calves in the restricted area. Note that you'll also get to wear an attractive jumpsuit and gumboots.
Aside from the Buffalo Dairy's actually dairy work, visitors can get up and close with all the animals. To see how they can and should be kept and to interact with them. And not just buffaloes either but pigs, birds, and rabbits.
Kids will adore climbing into the clean and well kept enclosures to feed the animals and follow them around.
And there's the buffaloes themselves. The mama milking buffalo are in a separate enclosure and they love their food. So, the Dairy supplies a generous amount grass and bananas for small (and large) people to feed them.
They also enjoy a good bath so you can climb into their enclosure and turn on the hose. Don't be alarmed by their huge shaggy heads and big curving horns, they're really quite gentle and sociable.
But to really fall in love with the Laos Buffalo Dairy, nothing beats bottle feeding the calves.
And when all this tough work is done, there must be ice cream. Buffalo ice cream that is.
But don't leave empty handed! The Dairy has a fully equipped kitchen where chef Rachel whips up fresh buffalo mozzarella, ricotta, buttermilk, yoghurt and cheesecakes. Other buffalo products are in the works, including a buffalo blue!
Message the Buffalo Dairy on Facebook before your trip to place your order; the mozzarella is $30/kg and comes in a secure plastic container. I've been able to take it onboard as carry on luggage to Vientiane twice. Yay for cheese-friendly airport security.
Yep, visiting Luang Prabang just got even better.
The Laos Buffalo Dairy is on the way to Kuang Si Falls. A tuktuk ride will take about 35 minutes from Luang Prabang. Just ask for the Buffalo Dairy!