Future Farm Lab Vol. 7: Brits Abroad (Farming)

My final farm survey in Mesendorf, a beautiful village surrounded by rolling hills, with grasses which support rare butterfly and grasshopper species, was a large buffalo farm on the outskirts of ‘town’. 

Huge, echoey and unusually clean sheds housed beautiful buffalo with large inquisitive eyes. The water buffalo is a calm animal, more reminiscent of the hills of Nepal or villages in India than a large farm on the outskirts of a Transylvanian village.

Unlike the other farms we had surveyed, this one actually had security staff present - who agreed to show us around as the owner wasn’t present.

The farm was eerily quiet and it quickly became clear that the story being explained to us in romanian - english compromise (a struggle from both sides) was quite a grim one. The buffalos stay in sheds for 9 months after being calved, in order to be milked easily each day and to restrict movement, increasing milk yields. Their calves are separated after birth and killed regularly, though there were a few on death row that we were permitted to visit.

These calves are generally quite weak, lacking the crucial milk from their mothers following birth, though they are available to buy for 150 LEU (£30) to local villagers wanting a buffalo. Unusually for this area, there were a few buffalos in smaller more traditional farms within Mesendorf and I imagine they would have been bought from this farm. 

We were told that the buffalos can live up to 20 years, and each time they run out of milk during their life, they will be put back in calf, returned to the fields to gestate and brought in once again to provide milk once they give birth. A repetitive cycle, aimed only at serving the masses and producing milk, at the cost of the animals themselves.

The contrast to the back yard farms we were used to surveying was striking, it was impossible not to feel sad while showing the students round and explaining the life cycle of these doomed buffalo. 

Where we were used to seeing animals work with the villagers as part of a family - often getting 5 star treatment compared to the people themselves, these buffalo were exiled from the slow village life that their surviving offspring, bought by villagers and introduced to families, had become so used to. 

Milk cows walking home after a day at the field in Viscri, Romania, in a much more traditional display of Romanian farming. 

Obviously this story from the buffalo farm is not drastically different to the milk production we are used to in the UK. Give or take a few details. Having been living in a kind of wonderland these past few weeks, it was a drastic bump back down to earth to see the industrialisation of farming creep in towards the outskirts of ancient saxon Romania. The most amusing fact about this farm? It’s owned by an Englishman. 

It's sad and sobering to see our Western farming methods creep towards this impoverished and impressionable region, at the cost of their own biodiversity, which is currently a major draw for the upcoming tourism trade.

While the animals have good conditions and are clearly well looked after, it’s the method of the farming which seems to warn of a depressing future for this area. I can’t argue that this buffalo farm is likely to be more productive than the buffalos in villagers’ backyards, and also provides jobs for the area. But it just seems at odds with how this region of the world has and continues to develop. 

I have no specific answers here - I’m not sure which route is best for the future of Romanian saxon villages. I just hope that there is a way to slow the industrial development of places like Mesendorf, enough to try and find a compromise that brings wealth to the region while conserving their truly unique way of life, and biodiversity to match. 

Sophie Ann Perry