Animal Magic: ‘For a while because the canal was full of buffalo – they had to close it for 24 hours to get them out!’

Roger Alsop tells the story of his water buffalo, from buffalo mozzarella and local ice cream.

Water buffalo saved Napton Farm. ‘The family had farmed here for 400 years, but, with only 80 Friesians, we were too small for modern requirements,’ explains Roger Alsop. ‘I didn’t want to be the one who let it go.’

Fortunately, a nearby farmer had water buffalo: ‘I went for a chat and came back with 20 cows and a bull!’ Now, Roger and Jackie are joined by son Stuart and nephew James Hill. ‘He’s the most photogenic,’ laughs Roger. ‘He’s been “Farmer James” since CBeebies filmed here.’

Napton Farm’s water buffalo with farmer James Hill who has been on the farm since he was three years old. Photograph: Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

Water buffalo have been farmed across Asia for centuries – ‘I believe there are more buffalo milked than cows in the world’ – and the Alsops began by supplying Indian sweet shops for fudge. ‘Going into the middle of Birmingham was a bit different,’ remembers Jackie.

Napton Farm’s water buffalo with farmer James Hill who has been on the farm since he was three years old. Photograph: Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

Now, they supply milk to Laverstoke Park, Hampshire, for buffalo mozzarella: ‘We could sell it three or four times over.’ The rest is made into seasonally flavoured ice cream, sold locally and at fairs.

Napton Farm’s water buffalo with farmer James Hill who has been on the farm since he was three years old. Photograph: Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

Napton’s beef cattle are kept until they are three years old, then driven half an hour to a Cotswold abattoir. ‘The meat is like old-fashioned mature beef, but 40% lower in fat. The milk has the same proteins as goat and sheep milk, so the lactose intolerant can drink it. One woman sent a taxi from Kent once a month for it. £250 on the taxi, £10 on milk!’

Napton Farm’s water buffalo with farmer James Hill who has been on the farm since he was three years old. Photograph: Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

A canal runs alongside Napton and, when they first arrived, the buffalo made straight for the water. ‘We were famous in waterways news for a while because the canal was full of buffalo – they had to close it for 24 hours to get them out!’

Napton Farm’s water buffalo with farmer James Hill who has been on the farm since he was three years old. Photograph: Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library

Buffalo aren’t keen on rain, but love to splash in puddles, like children: ‘They wallow in the mud, which can be fun when it comes to milking.’ Docile, they’re more intelligent than cows, so can be stubborn, but ‘the more time you spend with them, the more friendly they are’.

At one show, calves Boris and Doris joined the ice-cream stand. ‘They were happily fussed over by children all day. They could be therapy animals.’

To find out more, visit www.naptonwaterbuffalo.wordpress.com