I can’t think of anything much lovelier than spending time on a historic farm deep in the Cowichan Valley, steeped in the silence and early summer greenness of the countryside. Fairburn Farmstay and Guesthouse, near Duncan on Vancouver Island, exceeded every vision I had for such a getaway, thanks to the additional experience of interacting with a very unique species of farm animal.
Fairburn Farm was homesteaded in 1886 and over the years has been home to a variety of characters and a multiplicity of livestock. For the past six decades; however, the enchanting 130 acres (53 hectares) has been home and livelihood to three generations of the Archer family. Darrel and Anthea and their adult children, Richard and Maryann (and their spouses), combine efforts to operate a mixed farming and hospitality business.
The farmstay portion of the operation is centred on the beautiful rambling farmhouse, complete with generously-sized gathering places, comfortable bedrooms and the requisite of every fine home of that era – a large verandah with sweeping views of the bucolic surroundings. The battleship linoleum in the upstairs hallway continues to endure, and the original windows still open and close with ease, indicative of the fine craftsmanship in the house.
We arrived at the farm late in the afternoon, greeted by big old friendly Apollo, the farm dog – and by a group of inquisitive water buffalo, the aforementioned ‘unique species’. Fairburn was home to the first water buffalo dairy herd in Canada, with an importation of 18 animals in 2000. The farm is now home to 100 of them, including a milking herd of 45.
Once settled in and welcomed by Maryann, we headed out to Bird’s Eye Cove Farm near Genoa Bay for their pizza night dinner. More pastoral wonderfulness, combined with a great relaxed ambiance and unique pizza combinations that included – you guessed it – Fairburn Farm water buffalo mozzarella cheese.
We dawdled back to Fairburn towards dusk and spent an hour on the verandah enjoying the chirping of frogs and evensong of birds – a perfect, relaxing end to a busy day.
Morning found us up early to toss down a quick cup of coffee prior to heading up to the milking parlour, where we watched a dozen of the water buffalo patiently waiting as they were milked. The newly-enlarged facility was making ‘the girls’ a little antsy, but it was interesting to see the efficiency of the operation. From there we trailed Anthea to the barn where the calves are bottle fed, and then it was on to the highlight of the morning – a visit with some of the heifers, who were very curious and friendly. They are truly delightful animals with, I am pretty sure, a sense of humour. Every one of them has a name, reflecting the affection lavished on them by the Archers. We talked and scratched heads and visited, and were thoroughly but gently investigated by the heifers. By the time we were done, I had had my rugby pants mouthed and nibbled and my hoodie was covered in water buffalo slobber. Note to visitors: don’t wear your best clothes around these lovely creatures.
Back down to the farmhouse for a filling and locally-produced breakfast created by Maryann. Fruit salad, home-made zucchini muffins, coffee, farm fresh eggs, toast made from True Grain Bakery bread, water buffalo sausage and the best blackberry jam – it was the essence of summer in a jar. The meal left us replete and ready for the new day’s adventures.
Due to time constraints, we were unable to take advantage of the farm walking tour map produced by Maryann, but one day we will return to explore the farm and have another visit with the water buffalo.
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