The power of camel milk

Chelsea on milking machineIn a world focused on super-cheap cow’s milk it seems unlikely that consumers would choose to pour $30/litre camel milk in their coffee.

But Sunshine Coast camel farmer, Lauren Brisbane, says she sells out every week and can’t keep up with demand.

Lauren’s Q Camel business received its Safe Food accreditation in November 2014, enabling her to sell pasteurised camel milk to the public.

She has customers around Australia who are moving to camel’s milk for health reasons and she works closely with logistics companies to ensure they receive their weekly batch of chilled camel milk.

“The lovely thing about our business we sell out every week and we have forward orders,” she says.

“It’s a big market and we have international enquiries.”

Lauren says the benefits of camels are not limited to their milk, these ancient creatures are also excellent for land management as they love to eat weeds.

“Grass is only 25 per cent of their intake,” she says.

“They’re high browsers. They eat junk – the eat things like prickly acacia which is a huge problem for landowners. They eat woody weeds, they devour them and grow fat on them.”

Lauren first considered running camels as part of a plan to co-graze them with cattle.

That was 15 years ago when she was working for a friend’s Wagyu beef and horse training business.

Lauren could see potential and started studying camels and the opportunities for business. With the help of Queensland Government funding Lauren identified the milk as being the most profitable part of the industry.

The Australian industry was small and Lauren soon found herself chairing the Australian Camel Industry Association.

“I researched this industry for nine years, I looked at markets and whether there was a market requirement for the milk. I found that yes there was and the health benefits of the milk were enormous too. Camel milk doesn’t have the same molecular makeup as other milks. Camel milk heals and helps the human body to attack viruses. It is the one milk that is most tolerated by the human body.

“It’s had incredible results for children with autism. If you remove all other dairy types and just put the child on camel milk the results are amazing. We’ve had a child who was non-verbal and is now making eye contact, smiling and saying words. Their body function starts to normalise. We stay in very close contact with our clients and talk to them all the time about the results.”

Lauren makes no apologies for the price of her milk – she says it costs a lot to produce because camels will only milk while also sustaining their calf.

“The first week we produced it cost us $55 a bottle to produce it. We cheered the week we broke even. We don’t take the baby off the mother so our costs of production are double.

“Camels have a really long gestation and have a baby only every two to three years.”

Lauren says her family only drinks camel milk and describes the flavour as being similar to cow’s milk but with a saltier edge.

“It’s not gamey and when you drink it hits your stomach and you feel a whole lot better. It’s a whole food, you can live on it. It contains a lot of vitamin A and D and 10 times the amount of iron as cow’s milk and three to five times the calcium.”

Lauren says camels are incredibly intelligent animals who will not milk if they don’t like their handler.

“I’m part of their group,” she explains.

“They’re highly intelligent, they have full face and voice recognition and they completely understand what you’re talking about. They are easy to train and even from the wild they can become yard quiet within a week.

“They have a very distinct structure within their matriarchal group. Information is passed from the grandmother to the mother to the daughter and that social structure is incredibly important.


Paddock to Plate

Stock animals: In Queensland camels are stock animals. They’re registered under the stock act. We predominantly get our animals from managed camel herds, they are very carefully chosen.

Milkers: There is an art to choosing a milking camel. Just because they have an udder doesn’t mean they will milk. I’m one of two or three people who can pick a camel that will milk. I have a 100 per cent success rate, I can walk into a paddock and tell you exactly which one will milk.

Babies: The camel gestation period is 13 months. Once they give birth you have to give them time for the baby to be established so we don’t milk straight away. We wait until the babies are viable enough to be separated during the night from their mothers.

Milking: Their social structure is very complex and you have to understand that when you are milking. You have to milk them in order, if you take them out of that order they won’t milk so you don’t want to muck with that. If they don’t like you they won’t milk for you – they will hold their milk up. If someone comes into the milking area who they don’t know they will hold their milk up.

Herd: We have more than 40 camels and 16 are pregnant so our numbers are growing. We know what we have to do and we want to do it slowly. The compliance is very onerous but the camels are the lovely part of the business. You have to understand camels and if you don’t you can kiss this business goodbye. It’s tricky and you have to work slowly and manage each stage.

Benefits: For people to get the benefits from the milk they don’t have to drink a cup a day. They can drink half a cup and it can make significant differences to their bodies.