When Jessica Farrar received Pablo, a water buffalo calf, as a Christmas present in 2008, she had no idea where life would take her next, and she still is unsure what kind of future is being laid out for her family.

Today, Jessica and her husband Brian run ME Water Buffalo Co. and have a herd of 22 water buffalo that live on her father’s 300-acre farm on Old County Road in Appleton. Currently, the Farrars raise buffalo for meat, but are in the very early stages of milk production. They recently purchased 18 additional acres near the farm with hopes of building a barn to be used as the dairy facility.

The water buffalo herd is the only one of its kind in Maine. Only about 5,000 water buffalo live in the United States and they are mainly in Texas or in western states.

The couple, who both grew up on farms — Jessica at the Appleton farm and Brian in Montville — always said they didn’t want anything to do with farming in their adult life. It was a chance encounter that led the Farrars to water buffalo.

“But once I saw one I fell in love,” Jessica said.

The following Christmas, her father, Al Green, bought her one for Christmas. She said she began researching the animal, which led her to a similar farm in Vermont and that’s when Brian fell in love too.

Once the water buffalo become acquainted with someone new, they are typically docile, gentle animals, Brian said, as he stroked one animal’s head. They also come running when they are called or when a grain bucket is shaken.

On warmer days, the water buffalo can be found wading in the farm’s ponds. Jessica said the pond isn’t deep enough for them to swim, but they often get on their knees and dip their heads completely underwater. They also have made themselves a mud pit that they roll in to keep the bugs away and keep cool, she said.

Each water buffalo has a name and the Farrars admit they do get attached and have shed a tear or two when one of their favorites is processed, as was the case with a bull named Vern. Jessica said people often ask them why they give them names.

“While on the farm they are loved, well respected and well taken care of,” she said.

Water buffalo need a significant amount of daily human contact because they become feral quicker than other animals, such as cattle, she said.

“They are pretty unique animals and it’s been a long process. Keeping up with the meat demand has been really hard,” Brian said.

The Farrars said the meat has really caught on with people, more so than they ever thought.

“It’s low in cholesterol, low in saturated fat, low in calories and high in protein,” Jessica said. “It’s a very clean-tasting meat.”

Since it’s so lean, Brian said it takes some time to learn how to cook it just right. If it is cooked too much, it becomes tough. Customers like the idea that they know where the meat is coming from, he said, noting about all the news stories lately about “pink slime” and other additives in meat.

The Farrars said it’s been years since they’ve bought beef in the supermarket and they eat water buffalo meat quite often, but said they don’t eat it as much as they would like because it’s in such high demand. There is also a high demand for the milk.

The water buffalo feed on hay and grass; grain is only given as a treat.

“We want to be able to shake a bucket and have them come home,” Jessica said, noting the animals have gotten loose a few times.

The meat is processed at Luce’s Meats in North Anson and she said the company has been great to work with and have been very patient as the Farrars learn the business.

ME Water Buffalo Co. meat can be purchased in Camden at Megunticook Market, 57 Bayview Bar & Bistro, State of Maine Cheese Co. in Rockport, Country Cupboard and Sweet Seasons Farm and Cafe in Washington, and Belfast Co-op and Lost Kitchen.

The farm will be open for tours and more information on Open Farm Day, scheduled this summer for Sunday, July 22, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visit the website at mewaterbuffaloco.com.

The Camden Herald reporter Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at klincoln@courierpublicationsllc.com.