THERE’S only really one question to ask the woman who plans to turn 11 wild camels into one of Australia’s newest camel milk product businesses.
How do you milk a camel?
‘‘Very carefully,’’ said Michelle Phillips, who brought five wild female camels and six babies from Victoria to the historic Denman property of Piercefield just before Christmas, and has been fielding questions from locals ever since.
She hopes to milk the adults, raise the babies and breed some more, and is keen to speak to cheesemakers about a boutique line of camel cheeses. After that, Mrs Phillips is thinking about camel milk hand creams, soaps and moisturisers.
But first she has to earn the trust of the adults, who go by names like Pamela, Marilyn, Dolly and Bryn.
‘‘We named them after big-breasted women,’’ Mrs Phillips explained.
Wild camel estimates in Australia vary from 300,000 to 1million, and the most recent feral camel management program cost the federal government $19million.
The 11 camels at Piercefield, which were rounded up in the desert between South Australia and Western Australia, were almost certainly destined for an abattoir. Today they’re hand-fed chicory and spend lazy hours in the sun enjoying the spectacular Upper Hunter view from Piercefield’s highest point.
‘‘They’ve landed at camel heaven,’’ Mrs Phillips said. ‘‘They’ve got the best views in the Hunter.’’
The idea for keeping and milking camels started five years ago when a friend whose son has cerebral palsy spoke about trying to obtain camel milk for him.
In 2006 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation gave it the stamp of approval, and confirmed its nutritional benefits. Camel milk is rich in vitamins B and C, iron and unsaturated fatty acids.
While early research shows camel milk has health benefits for people with insulin-dependent diabetes, the Dietitians Association of Australia said research showed the health benefits for people with autism, breast cancer and Crohn’s disease was not as promising.
Mrs Phillips knows there’s a market for camel milk. The challenge now is to work out how to get it.
Later this month a camel expert will spend a week at Piercefield to teach her how to engender trust in her camels, and she hopes to be milking her first camel by Easter.
Some time in the future, after the camels are settled enough to be placed on milking machines, she plans to import male camel sperm from the Emirates.
‘‘Camels from the Emirates produce much more milk than Australian camels, and we don’t want to get a bull. They’re the crazy ones,’’ she said.
Pamela, Marilyn, Dolly and Bryn are noisy eaters, occasionally kick, but have yet to spit in anger.
‘‘They’re placid, harmless animals. People in other parts of the world have been relying on camel milk for a long time, so it’s not as far fetched as it seems,’’ Mrs Phillips said. ‘‘They’re part of the family now. Pets with benefits.’’