A mob of 68 Northern Territory water buffalo have arrived in Tamworth ahead of their debut at the Nutrien Classic, which kicks off today.
Months in the making, the new drought management strategy aimed to ease the pressures of sourcing cattle for the pre-work and sale demonstrations.
The steers and spayed heifers were selected from Katherine, Northern Territory, and spent time at the Nebo property of leading campdrafter Pete Comiskey who educated and trained the young stock for about 10 weeks.
Those working the animals in the back yards also learnt how best to handle the buffalo, which will be under a water sprinkler set up in Tamworth to reflect their natural environment.
The entire Nutrien Classic requires about 3500 head of cattle, with about 1300 of those used for pre-work and sale demonstrations alone.
Mr Comiskey said he was very excited about the new concept.
"There are people in all the states up and down the eastern coast chasing these animals as training tools," he said.
"They are very low maintenance, they are very quiet animals to have found and we are very excited about the next week of competition."
Nutrition was an important part of the training. The water buffalo were supplemented with one kilogram of Prydes feed each day and given AD and E minerals.
Water environments like dams were used as a reward during training.
"We would do a big semi-circle in an arena and out through a gate and into a bog hole and that increase," he said.
"It was about making them comfortable on their own. It's more or less like an extended weaner program with cattle."
The Nutrien Classic has become one Australia's biggest campdraft and sale, hosting up to 500 competitors, 300 horse handlers, 5500 daily visitors and more than 491,000 livestream views across the nine days.
Nutrien Classic's Mark Barton said there had been an apprehensive response from vendors who hadn't yet worked with water buffalo before.
"We will put them in pens in the warm up arenas over the next few days so people can get used to them," he said.
"Byson are probably consistently recognised because you can get them on patterns. We have tried to make these guys more natural so they just know to bend off a horse.
"These young buffalo are a lot less intimidating to these young horses."
The water buffalo will be offered for sale after the event at $1800 plus GST.
Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson secured $5000 in funding to transport the water buffalo to NSW.
"I have to congratulate the organisers for thinking outside the box as these buffalo have been properly trained and educated to be used instead of cattle for pre-events works in the lead-up to the Classic," he said.
"They'll have mister-sprays in their pens to keep them cool between events and they're loving the dam to wallow in and green grass at the equine centre."