The Camel Milk Co. Australia sells bottled milk, feta cheese and dried milk powder. They also sell body care products made from camel’s milk.
PHOTO SUBMITTED
The Camel Milk Co. Australia sells bottled milk, feta cheese and dried milk powder. They also sell body care products made from camel’s milk. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    KYABRAM, Victoria, Australia – While Chris and Megan Williams’ occupation falls within the confines of the dairy industry, they are not producing milk from your average bovine. And, despite being a catalyst of sorts, they have developed a flourishing company.
    The Williams own and operate The Camel Milk Co. Australia along with their children – Hugh, 5, Cabe, 4, and Carter, 3 – in Kyabram, Victoria, Australia, where they milk 55 camels in a five aside walk-through parlor.
    “Until we started milking camels in Australia, it was completely unheard of,” Megan said. “There are only 10 camel dairies in Australia.”
    The farm became Victoria’s first and only licensed camel dairy when the Williams launched their business in 2014. Today, The Camel Milk Co. Australia distributes milk, milk powder, feta cheese and a body care line. They will be launching a new product, praline chocolate made with camel milk, in the coming weeks. They also facilitate farm visits.
    Their products are available online and in shops across Australia as well as in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
    The duo decided on camels shortly after meeting one another in 2009. Chris was employed on a cattle station while Megan was away from her family’s dairy farm working elsewhere. Then, the two worked together at Andado Station, Alice Springs, Australia, where they saw wild camels up close.
    “I’ve always had an interest in camels and farming,” Megan said. “Being able to do both is a bonus.”
    In 2010, they moved to Megan’s parents’ farm, married in 2011 and then pursued their own interests in 2014 when they bought 107 acres in Kyabram to build their at-the-time Camel Milk Victoria business, which began with three camels and then grew to include 70 head with 20 camels being milked.
    As demand for camel milk grew, so too did the operational requirements of the farm. At the close of 2016, the Williams had tripled their staff and had outgrown their original farm. They sold their farm site and acquired a 480-acre farm near Kyabram where they installed their current milking system.
    The Williams employ five full-time staff members and own 250 camels. The camels are milked twice a day at 6:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. On average, a camel will give 11-14 pounds of milk per day; however, a few camels are producing between 23 and 27 pounds per day.
    Camel milk is often touted for its health benefits, such as less lactose and a lower fat content with higher protein and believed to aid with skin ailments, amongst others. And, according to Megan, camel milk was being sold for $57 per pound in 2014. Now, camel milk is bringing $30-$34 per pound.
    The Williams process and pasteurize all their milk on their farm and make the milk powder. They outsource the making of the feta, and some of the milk is made into body care products in Melbourne, Australia.
    The Williams have grown their herd through calving on their farm and procuring wild camels from north central Australia. Before wild camels can be milked, they first need to be tamed. Megan said the process can take anywhere from six weeks to four months.
    “Camels can be very dangerous, but understanding their body language is very important,” Megan said.
    When a camel arrives on the farm, they are not touched, only fed. But, by the third day, Megan said the camels will eat out of someone’s hands and receive food as a reward. Then, a halter and rope is applied to teach the camels how to be walked through the parlor. This is done until the camels feel safe enough to stop and eat where they will be milked.
    Camels that are never tamed are culled as pets or are sold to other farms for various uses.
    The gestation of a camel is 12 months with milking following for 18 months and then 18 months of rest. The Williams strive for a year-round supply of milk.
    “Resting the camels is important to us,” Megan said.
    Megan said milking camels will dry up if they do not have their calf suckling on them at all times.
    “Just like human milk or any mammal,” Megan said. “It must have stimulation.”
    While camels produce considerably less milk than cows, their life expectancy can be up to 50 years, with females staying in milk for up to 25 years. Camels also typically have a lower somatic cell count than cows, said Megan.
    “We rarely see mastitis in camels, but if we do we make sure we use the calf to keep the quarter well milked out,” Megan said.
    The milking herd is fed a diet of alfalfa, native grass and oats as well as baled hay and a grain mix. Each camel receives about 40 pounds of dry matter per day.
    “We rely on water to irrigate our pastures and crops,” Megan said. “We have been in drought conditions for some time, and the price of water is extremely expensive. This has pushed the cost of hay and grain up, too. All farmers are in the situation.”
    The parlor system is modified with high railings and roof system to accommodate the tall camels. The milking unit is equipped with specialized camel milk teat cups. During milking, the calf stays with the mother on the other side of the rail system in order to share the milk being produced.
    In Australia, Megan said there are no licensed medications for camels. So, they have had to rely on homeopathic treatments such as garlic, apple cider vinegar, Sulphur and iodine.
    With only four years of raising camels on their resume, the Williams are looking forward to the years to come in the industry they all but began in their country.
    “Farming is a way of life,” Megan said. “We enjoy the fresh air and our animals. It allows our children to grow up with so many opportunities.”