Australian Geographic

White gold

JUST HOURS OLD and unsurprisingly wobbly on his new hooves, the rich black bundle of buffalo fur huddles against his mother’s 530kg frame. Naturally protective, she sniffs the top of his newborn fluffy topknot and focuses, with ears pricked, on the sound of the two approaching vehicles. Thick grass, still swamped from a generous Top End wet season, is no challenge for either driver as they plough through the lush field. “Easy. Easy there, girl. Easy does it,” Bob McDonald croons reassuringly. “That’s the girl.”

We’re outside Darwin at Beatrice Hill Farm, Australia’s only buffalo research and development facility, where Bob is acting general manager. He and his colleagues Jared Palmer and Travis Messner separate the cow and calf using their four-wheel-drives. “Calving is when the real work begins,” explains Bob, as his hand caresses the mother’s hide. “From day dot, we tag the calves and this little fella’s a good 44kg,” Bob says, his voice brimming with pride as he reassures the new calf, now tagged, calling out for his mother. “She’s right here, mate.”

Mother and son quickly rejoin the maternity ward resting in a nearby mud pool. “We document the calf’s birth weight, as well as the mother’s tag number, then we continue recording the calf’s and dam’s weight at 100-day intervals,” Bob explains.

“An ultrasound test determines the calf’s rump fat measurement at about 6–9 months, which is significantly heavier than cattle at that age. Calves are weaned when they’re at least 200kg, and

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