In picturesque Stirling-Rawdon, Ontario, there’s a home where water buffalo roam and tourists come in and out all day. I know because I was one of them on a recent sunny day. My wife Amy and I and our two young sons live in Belleville, which affords us the privilege of roaming rural Eastern Ontario highways anytime we choose. And a drive to experience new sights and try new things in Hastings County is never a bad choice, given its proximity to home, its rolling green hills and mind-calming farmers’ fields.
We also have enough parenting experience to know two things; our kids love animals and we have to get them out of the house. So an afternoon at the Ontario Water Buffalo Company seemed like a great idea.
The farm is operated by Martin Littkemann and Lori Smith, who started it in 2008, not long after touring water buffalo farming facilities in Italy. Wanting to try something different, they purchased 40-Italian bred water buffalo from Vermont, started milking and before long they had a herd of hundreds.
The farm is now such a jewel to the community that Stirling holds an annual Water Buffalo Festival for visitors to sample food from the farm and other neighbouring businesses, with this year’s event set to take place 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15. The farm also offers guided tours by appointment, and customers to its store, The Buff Stuff Store, are welcome to take self-guided tours around the property.
In front of the store is a small pen in a shaded area where a few water buffalo are held. Our boys were thrilled to see two buffalo in this pen as soon as they hopped out of the car. The buffalo were calm, which made us feel comfortable to stick our hands out for a few gentle pets. On the day we visited, a sign outside the store said, ‘In queso emergency, pray to cheeses.” How can you not love that?
The store was no bigger than an average home’s kitchen and that was kind of nice. We didn’t feel quite like customers, but rather friends or family members who had stopped in for a visit. Lori dropped in briefly and showed our sons some buffalo artifacts on display, which included a water buffalo skull. We bought gelato made from water buffalo milk and ate it at a picnic table outside, underneath the calming leaves of a weeping willow. It tasted great and it certainly felt a bit healthier than chain-restaurant soft ice cream.
Though guided tours are available when pre-booked, we opted for the self-guided route, and the store employee encouraged us to walk in front of the house and visit the pens just south. There, the four of us took photos and appreciated the beauty of the animals as they moved about calmly, in some cases sticking their noses slightly over a wooden fence, as if they wanted to say hello. A pen with dozens of big animals can sometimes seem unsettling for parents with a toddler, but that wasn’t the case here. The buffalo were calm, unintimidating and, I suspect, accustomed to visitors like us.
This is when a sudden rain storm began to fall, forcing us to scramble back to the car. So fittingly, we had wet t-shirts as we left the water buffalo farm, but this a small price to pay for a new experience; and a chance to see something we don’t see every day.
The drive from 3346 Stirling-Marmora Road back to Belleville takes about 30 minutes. The visit for a young family, however, provides a memory worth tucking into a photo album and keeping forever.
Storyteller: Stephen Petrick. Hometown: Belleville, ON
Stephen Petrick is a rustic roamer who enjoys seeing new sights and is fascinated by the small villages that are scattered across the Canadian Shield. While in his younger days he was more adventurous — he once spent a year travelling overseas — he’s now more of a van driving dad. He enjoys family outings to rural parts of Ontario and feels it’s important for his sons to see and experience the beauty of Canadian nature and culture.