Interview with Lauren Brisbane
Modern science is gradually discovering the many benefits of camel milk. Compared to bovine milk, it is approximately 10 times richer in iron, 3 times richer in vitamin C and about 50% lower in saturated fat. Recent studies have also shown than it can have a positive effect on patients with autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, crone’s disease and autism. No wonder it is being referred to as “white gold” or “the next superfood”. But where does camel milk come from? While Saudi Arabia and Somalia are the world’s largest producers of camel milk, another country also presents the perfect conditions for camel farming: Australia.
Let’s have a closer look at Lauren Brisbane’s camel dairy farm, located on the east coast of Australia. Her family business, Qcamel, counts 60 camels that graze freely on over 1000 acres of land. Australia sure is a long way away from Europe but the good news is: they deliver internationally!
When, why and how did you become a camel dairy farmer?
I’ve been studying, researching and owned camels for over 10 years. I did a two-year research paper and published it in 2009 about the development of the Camel Industry in Queensland. It was then that my husband and I decided that we would move towards developing a dairy. I like camels, they are an intelligent, soft footed animal and do well in drought. They also co-graze beautifully with cattle and improve cattle weight particularly in drought. But from a personal point of view I just love their intelligence, it’s so much easier to work with an animal that is intelligent. Producing milk was an obvious choice due to the health properties of the milk. It’s the only dairy recommended for children with autism, but in saying that, you also have to be very careful in the way you produce the milk to ensure its efficacy. So we work closely with world renowned scientists who advise us.
Camels require a specific training method to be milked. What does it entail?
For a start you need patience and kindness, nearly all of the camels we milk have never been handled prior to arriving at our dairy. We could tie them up and tie them down, but we don’t. We spend a great deal of time ensuring trust and a partnership. A camel cow will only milk if she is nursing a calf, so we have developed a management technique to double the time in which we milk a camel cow with maximum output – the effort you put in training is very rewarding. It ensures both a physically and emotionally healthy herd.
What happens to male calves once they have been weaned and what about female camels, once their milk production slows down?
Our male calves are very sought after, they are used for commercial use as ride camels or domesticated weed eaters. Most farmers get a kick out of having such gentle camels to co-graze with their cattle. When a camel cow gets too old to produce milk at a reasonable production rate she is retired, but she is still used to produce calves and hopefully new milkers.
Can you tell us about the daily lives of the camels on the farm? What do you feed them?
Our camels are herd managed and pasture fed. We have developed a management technique to ensure our camels NEVER get mastitis, so no antibiotics. They are getting plenty of time to graze in their herd and spend with their calves.
What equipment do you use to milk and take care of the camels? Is it the same equipment that is used in cow dairy farming?
The equipment used to milk a camel is basically the same as a bovine diary but the yard set-up and entry into the milking area differs to suit a camel – they like to see where they are going.
You offer a dairy development service for those who wish to develop their own camel dairy. What does it take to become a camel dairy farmer?
Patience and a reality check. Markets don’t magically appear because you’ve decided to produce a health product. You need exceptional husbandry skills, a better than average understanding of camels, an interest in science, a good food safety and quality assurance program and bloody good marketing skills. Basically when I speak to people, most think they are in for a quick buck and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Like any new industry it takes time, commitment and a long term plan.
What do you love most about camel dairy farming?
The camels, we love our camels. We have fantastic staff, our commitment to our business is holistic, so we spend as much time training our staff as training our camels. We are selective in who we employ. We seek educated, intelligent people with a wider range of skills that we can utilise in our business, you can only grow a business with great staff. We always get a kick out of hearing how much our customers health has improved by consuming our milk: a child speaking for the first time, someone who has been able to return to work or someone who can eat a relatively normal diet for the first time in years. It gives you purpose in what you are doing.
What are your development plans for the years to come?
Suffice it to say that we are not standing still waiting for markets to come to us and don’t intend to just sell milk. We have a great relationship with the artisan community where we live and the Sunshine Coast in Queensland is well known for its fantastic food. We are currently developing additional products to complement our range to offer a variety of exceptional camel milk products.