Water buffalo Ramini Mozzarella finds new home on Sonoma’s Green Acres Ranch
They look like menacing beasts, weighing up to 600 pounds, but they are as affectionate as dogs if treated with affection and care. And nostalgic feelings are welling up among any longtime Sonoma residents who spot them at the Green Acres Ranch in Sonoma these days.
Indeed, 30 purebred Italian water buffaloes now graze on 80 acres of the 500-acre property that for decades housed cattle. Sonomans Dr. Dario Marioni and James Millerick, rodeo operator and B-52 aircraft commander, were co-owners of the cattle, which was part of Go Broke Cattle Co. When Millerick died in 1996, the 80 acres were leased to Tony Knect. , who used the land to graze his beloved Clydesdale horses until 2018.
“Returning dairy cows to ownership after 100 years is close to my heart,” said Michael Millerick, son of Rose Scarafoni Millerick, who married James Millerick in 1944.
Today, Michael Millerick now co-owns the land with his sister, Pamela Millerick Hellen. “I have a strong sense of history and family. When I was in high school, I hung out on my grandfather’s old dairy farm [Joseph Scarafoni] and we hunted fowl all over the property.
The water buffaloes were recently transported to Green Acres Ranch from a dairy leased by Ramini Mozzarella in Tomales, which produces buffalo mozzarella and ricotta. Ramini’s lease has a limit of 50 animals, so owner and co-founder Audrey Hitchcock needed to find additional pasture.
The 30 water buffaloes at Green Acres Ranch are Hitchcock’s “dry” herd, meaning currently non-lactating.
“These animals are my ‘motherhood,'” Hitchcock said. “All of these daughters are expected to calve this year and will become my next dairy herd.”
Hitchcock got in touch with Michael Millerick through Sonoma real estate agent Mark Stornetta. Realizing Hitchcock’s plight, Millerick offered Hitchcock a lease to graze buffaloes on the Sonoma property, bordered by Highway 121 to the south and Highway 116 to the west. The bison were moved to the property, which remains available for purchase, this month using large horse and cow trailers.
“Our lease is for three months, but Michael and his family have indicated they are hopeful we can stay longer,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s a great pasture for them. It’s low and flat, so the soil should retain moisture longer. Hopefully the grass will retain nutrients longer. In the short time we have been there, I have fallen in love with the place.
Last summer, California’s devastating drought was drying up of local pastures at Beretta Family Dairy, among others, but the rains that followed helped alleviate the severity of the problem.
Hitchcock says that upon entering the pasture, she feels transported to a thriving and very special natural habitat.
“You almost forget it’s in the middle of Sonoma,” she said. “There are great blue herons, egrets, foxes and rabbits, to name a few. What I love most about my business is being part of the ecosystem. Egrets, in particular, have a symbiotic relationship with cattle. They like to sit on their backs while hunting.
“The buffaloes move about by grazing and disturb the insects and frogs which the egrets eat. The egrets sit on their backs from a good vantage point, waiting for the insects and frogs, and are moved as the buffalo moves around. At the same time, they can help the buffalo by eating ticks and other insects that might burrow into the buffalo. It’s a win-win relationship.”
Water buffaloes are native to Southeast Asia and the United States, and their milk quality is twice that of cows.
“It’s double the fat of butter and double the protein,” Hitchcock said. “So water buffalo milk produces a much richer cheese.”
Since co-founding Ramini Mozzarella with her late husband, Craig Ramini, in 2009, she has developed a deep fondness for her water buffalo.
“If they experience human kindness, they reciprocate,” she said. “They are incredibly friendly and love human interaction. However, if they don’t know you or are frightened, they can be dangerous, so strangers should not enter their pasture without being accompanied by me.
How long the herd stays at Green Acres Ranch depends on their finding a new home for the water buffalo in Tomales. Her lease on the land ends in October and she does not have the option of renewing it, so she must find a place by then for at least 50 of her water buffaloes.
“The Green Acres Ranch isn’t big enough for all 80 animals, so I’m again in an almost desperate situation where I’m looking for a place for Tomales’ 50,” she said. “I would love to buy a dairy, fix it up and make it our permanent home. If I can’t find one by October, I’ll just have to find a pasture where I can keep them until I find a new dairy. If I can’t even find pasture for them, I will have to sell them and give up.
Ramini Mozzarella had to erect pasture fences in Sonoma to keep the buffaloes, the community and the vineyards safe. It was a huge undertaking that Hitchcock couldn’t afford, so she started a GoFundMe campaign. Contributions can be made to gofundme.com/f/a-home-for-29-buffalo.
Contact the reporter, Dan Johnson, at [email protected].