We are heading to the Ukrainian village of Horinchovo, Khust Raion, Zakarpattia Oblast. Horinchovo is an ancient village with a rich history. Various sources mention the village as far back as the middle of the 14th and 15th centuries. Its fame comes mostly from the military events which took place there.

Nowadays it is known as a place where a unique eco-farm appeared, where not only domestic animals are kept, but also quite a few wild animals and exotic birds. The special microclimate in the area allows all the animals to adapt perfectly. But it’s one thing tocollect animals that are unusual for home farms, and another one to be able to raise and properly care for them.

So, meet eco-farm “Raiskyi Kutochok”. Vasyl Shymon is the owner of the grounds. He is 46 years old. He was born and grew up in Horinchovo. After graduating from sports school, he joined the army, where he was assigned to a sports company. Successes in martial arts inspired the young man to take up sports professionally. For three years in a row (from 1993 to 1996) he took an active part in the CIS Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Championships and won prizes.  He lived mainly abroad, but always remembered his native village.

Vasyl Shymon – the owner of the eco-farm

“There was a collective farm, Bilshovyk,” recalls Vasyl Shymon. “More than 10,000 people worked there. They were not only our fellow villagers, but also people from other villages. In 1996 the collective farm ceased to exist. Many people left their homes in search of work and went abroad.”

Vasyl, on the contrary, after his victories in big sports and foreign travels, dreamed of returning to his native village and setting up a farm there. And when he met his love, he finally decided that his family would live in an environmentally friendly place. Vasyl Shymon started his business with breeding goats and sheep, but later buffaloes became the centrepiece of his farm. It seems that fate has made him turn his attention to these rare animals.

Here is what he says about this: “My wife gave birth to my fourth son, and after that the doctors found out that she had anemia. We went to all places we could, we turned to all doctors, we tried various treatment methods, we even traveled to Israel. But nothing helped. Someone advised to start drinking buffalo milk. My wife tried to take it and we saw the result! That’s when I realised what I was going to do next!”.

Vasyl’s family then added buffalo milk and buffalo-based products to their daily diet. This helped not only to cure his wife of anaemia, but also to greatly improve the health of all the members of the family. After all, buffalo milk is not only tasty, but also very healthy. It is rich in vitamin A, B group vitamins, ascorbic acid, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium.

In addition, buffalo milk does not contain casein and is easily digested by the body. And if you compare it to cow’s milk, it contains much less cholesterol, which is important for health, especially for blood vessels. That is why this milk is recommended for those who have problems with blood pressure, gastrointestinal tract, lungs, and it is also an excellent tool for general strengthening of immunity.

Vasyl Shymon, the owner of the eco-farm, willingly tells not only about the useful properties of milk, but also about the story about how the buffaloes appeared in Zakarpattia.

“They were also brought to other regions and people tried to breed them, but they only took root in Zakarpattia. That’s why they are called Carpathian Buffalos,” explains Vasyl.  

The Carpathian buffalo belongs to the so-called Mediterranean subspecies of buffalo. At the beginning of the twentieth century, these sturdy animals were in virtually every third farm in Zakarpattia. But in the 30s they were destroyed by the communist authorities, because they were not adapted to the conditions of the newly created collective farms. Mechanisation and industrialisation diminished the buffalo’s role in agricultural work as well. And, in general, for many farmers it became much easier to keep regular cows than buffaloes, which required special treatment.

And, indeed, the buffalo is a hard-nosed animal. Oddly enough, though, male buffaloes can allow you to calmly approach them, pet them and even sit on their backs. “Loyal henpecked husbands”, the locals joke about them. The females, on the other hand, are suspicious of strangers, and if there is a calf nearby, it is better not to approach at all.

Carpathian buffalo is less demanding in its feed ration than any dairy cow breed. It is satisfied with a simple, fibre-rich feed. In addition to daily grazing, one adult buffalo needs several kilograms of grain, beets and carrots in summer. And in winter – more than 30 kg of hay, more than 5 kg of porridge and vegetables a day. There are also peculiarities in the care of such cattle: an animal shall be treated twice a year with a special anti-mite agent, kept clean, and, of course, well pastured. Raising the population is no easy task either. Buffaloes can calve only once every 2 years, because they carry a fetus for up to 11 months.

Pastures are a very important part of the eco-farm, as it is mainly there that the buffalo feed. The fields on Vasyl Shymon’s farm are not treated with any chemical agents, being fertilized only with organic manure left by animals. During the day, the owner keeps the buffaloes in the pasture, and only takes them to their own barn for the night. That is why their milk is very healthy, as the animals walk daily in the fresh air, and their ration is based on nourishing environmentally clean grass. Vasyl has the same approach to making cheese from buffalo milk – no chemicals!

The farmer proudly tells us:  “We now make three kinds of cheese with buffalo milk. Italians come to us and say: “Is that your mozzarella?..” I think in a few years we’ll be able to teach them how to make cheese.”

Vasyl Shymon’s farm is open to everyone. The owner says there are sometimes up to a hundred visitors a day. Some come to buy wholesome buffalo milk or cheese, and some come as if they were visiting a zoo. Because there really is a lot to see. In addition to buffaloes, Vasyl has deer, pheasants, peacocks, ducks, sheep, chickens and horses on the farm.

But among such a variety of animals and birds, the visitors pay special attention to ostriches, in the breeding of which more and more farmers are engaged in Ukraine. Interestingly, in neighbouring Poland there are already over 200 farms with these exotic birds. The thing is that at first glance this thermophilic bird is quite unpretentious. It adapts to mild climate quite quickly. Not to mention the benefits of dietary meat and eggs of ostriches!

Vasyl Shymon is constantly developing his farm. He wants his native village to be even more attractive to tourists. So that new jobs are created for locals. He also plans to breed a few more species. But he keeps in secret which ones exactly at the moment. The only thing he complains about is the lack of state support for farmers engaged in breeding of rare animals in Ukraine. The same cannot be said about Europe. For instance in Bulgaria, Italy and Romania there are special programmes to support farmers who breed buffalo. Thanks to this support, some farmers already have up to half a thousand animals on their farms.

“There is not enough support from the state … It’s hard for us now … Although Ukraine is the most promising country where farming can be developed. But a real farmer must be goal-oriented, work, work and work again,” Vasyl Shymon is convinced.

The farmer’s future plans are to increase the herd of buffalos to be able to produce even more healing milk and cheese. The local “Brynza Festival”, held every May in the village of Horinchovo with Vasyl’s support, also promotes cheese production. Other farmers and cheese makers gather there with their products, as well as tourists. And among Vasyl Shymon’s most ambitious dreams is to renovate the abandoned administrative buildings of the collective farm and to set up a children’s camp “Little Farmer” on their basis.  This will give the children access to eco-farm where they can be taught how to care for animals and run the household.

This concludes our journey to the Ukrainian village of Horinchovo in Zakarpattia Oblast. But a special project to get acquainted with interesting eco-farms continues. Next we go to the Balkans to meet a farmer from Montenegro. As part of an eco-relay between our heroes, we will hand over to him a gift from Ukraine – buffalo milk cheese from Vasyl Shymon.

Presenting a gift, getting acquainted with a new eco-farm and the incredible Montenegrin nature – all this you will find in our next story. Don’t miss it!