Camels deliver exciting new dairy opportunity

Why camels are the next big thing in dairy


Dairy
MILK MACHINES: Paul Martin with some of the wild-caught milking camels on Summer Land Camel Dairy at Harrisville, west of Brisbane.

MILK MACHINES: Paul Martin with some of the wild-caught milking camels on Summer Land Camel Dairy at Harrisville, west of Brisbane.

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Camels appear set to provide the basis of an exciting new dairy industry in Australia.

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CAMELS appear set to provide the basis of an exciting new dairy industry in Australia, delivering not just high value milk-based products, but also tapping into the global health supplements market. 

That’s the vision of Paul Martin and his business partner Jeff Flood, who are well on track to establishing an 1000 head camel dairy farm in South East Queensland, and are keen to see the fledgling industry flourish.

Already there are 80 camels in milk on the 345 hectare Summer Land farm at Harrisville, west of Brisbane. The business has developed a range of products including fresh milk, cheese, ice cream and even a range of skin care products commonly used to treat eczema and acne. In addition, the farm is a growing tourist attraction, particularly popular with “experience hungry” overseas visitors. 

The appeal of camels goes far beyond their good looks.

The appeal of camels goes far beyond their good looks.

“Part of reason we chose Harrisville is that we are only an hour from Brisbane and an hour and a half from the Gold Coast,” Mr Martin. 

“Tourism is vital, not just because it generates cash flow but because it helps to showcase and expand the industry on a global basis.”

At the retail level camel milk is selling for a jaw dropping $15-$20/litre.

“It’s not what you put on your corn flakes,” Mr Martin said. “Camel milk’s value is nutraceutical, it is being recommended for treating a number of health conditions and particularly in health recovery.

“If it sits on the shelf beside milk it certainly looks very expensive, but when it is priced against more relevant products like probiotics then it makes sense.”

Camel milk cheesemakers Stef Hellweg and Monique Mooney.

Camel milk cheesemakers Stef Hellweg and Monique Mooney.

Mr Martin said managing dairy camel herd was different to managing cattle, but ultimately is was all about good animal husbandry.

“We see 10 litres a day as being very achievable,” Mr Martin said. “The challenge is we are still to understand the genetics. At this stage we can select higher producing females but we no little about the bulls.” 

Young camels at Summerland Farm.

Young camels at Summerland Farm.

Like cattle, camels have four teats. However, the milking cups have to be placed from the side rather than the rear because, as Mr Martin explains, camels can “cross their legs”. 

Another difference is that camels have a 13 to 14 month gestation period. Females would not go back in calf while lactating, he said.

How Summer Land was born

SUMMER Land Camel Farm is the genius of business partners Paul Martin and Jeff Flood, who saw an opportunity to develop a new industry outside commodity based agriculture.

Mr Martin, a former Central Queensland cattle producer and Mr Flood, a physiotherapist with a background in biochemistry, twigged to the idea of camel milk production when they realised the value and scarcity of the product.

“Jeff was wanting to treat some of his patients using camel milk because of its unique properties,” Mr Martin said. “It just wasn’t available. At the same time we had been looking at how we could develop an integrated, decommoditised agricultural business and recognised that Central Australia had this major wild camel herd that was essentially going to waste.”

However, the thinking went a long way further than just milk. Income streams also include cheese, ice cream, skin care products and very importantly, tourism. 

Some $9.5 million has been invested in the business to date including the purchase of the Harrisville property. A further $5m is in the process of being raised to see the dairy reach its 1000 camel target.

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