Former West Australian agriculture minister Kim Chance is hoping to tap into demand for camel milk by building a commercial dairy on his property near Dandaragan, north of Perth.
Topics: animals, food-and-beverage, rural, Dandaragan-6507, Australia, WA
MARK COLVIN: The estimated 300,000 wild camels roaming Australia's outback could be the key to a new and possibly profitable industry.
Feral camels play havoc with the environment and are a constant source of frustration for pastoralists. But a former West Australian agriculture minister wants to milk feral camels on his property near Dandaragan, north of Perth.
There is demand for camel milk, but the venture comes with significant challenges.
Lucy Martin has more.
LUCY MARTIN: It's similar to cow's milk, with a slightly salty kick.
Camel milk might not be to everyone's taste, but it's surprisingly popular, and at $25 a litre, it's known as "white gold".
Former West Australian agriculture minister Kim Chance is looking to capitalise on the demand by building Australia's biggest commercial camel dairy on his farm in the state's mid-west.
KIM CHANCE: We're looking at about 220-225 camels lactating at any one time, so that means we would have about 450 camels on the property. All of our financial projections are done on a five litre per day per camel yield.
LUCY MARTIN: That's more 1,000 litres of milk per day.
The camels will be captured from the desert around Laverton and transformed from outback ferals into calm milking machines.
Mr Chance again.
KIM CHANCE: The people that we have linked with have perfected a means of domesticating the camels to the extent that they can be machine milked.
LUCY MARTIN: The company behind the project, Camilk Australia, will sell pasteurised milk direct to customers and in some specialty shops.
Some unpasteurised milk will also be sold, but it must be clearly marked not for human consumption.
Kim Chance again.
KIM CHANCE: We hope we don't have to look to export for some years yet. The scope of the market is obviously something that's going to be proven in time, however we have an extensive database of people who've indicated that they will be clients. And that database is in the thousands.
LUCY MARTIN: Dr Mike Laurence from Murdoch University's College of Veterinary Medicine says setting up a camel dairy will present some significant challenges.
MIKE LAURENCE: Infrastructure has got to be the first one. Building a dairy to accommodate large numbers of large animals such as camels is going to take quite a lot of careful planning.
So just building the facilities is probably one big thing. The second one is managing their reproduction. I mean, getting milk from an animal, a mammal, is about reproduction, so that's something that a lot of people don't have a lot of experience in, is camel reproduction.
And looking after their health, that would be the other key challenge to running this fairly intensive program that's been suggested.
LUCY MARTIN: The United Nations estimates there's more than 200 million potential camel milk customers worldwide, and the industry could eventually be worth $10 billion.
That hasn't gone unnoticed in Australia. One WA company already produces unpasteurised camel milk, while a Queensland company sells pasteurised milk on a small scale.
Dr Laurence says more players in the market means more research and development.
MIKE LAURENCE: What drives research into animal production is where there is a viable industry. So if it looks like camel dairying is going to become one of the emerging industries in our state, then the research dollars will flow. And I think it will be a cycle that feeds on itself.
LUCY MARTIN: The Shire of Dandaragan recently granted planning approval for the dairy, and the next step is for Camilk Australia to secure investors.
Kim Chance again.
KIM CHANCE: We can be in production within two months if everything falls correctly, and if our trigger point on the capital-raising is reached. We're actually very close to that trigger point.
LUCY MARTIN: The other challenge: finding enough camels.
KIM CHANCE: There has been rain in the fringe between the desert and pastoral country, and obviously that's great news for pastoralists, but not great news for us, because it means the camels move further into the desert. And the flow of camels might be a bit intermittent.
LUCY MARTIN: Despite the challenges, Mr Chance is confident the dairy will be underway within two months.
MARK COLVIN: Lucy Martin.
Updated 5 May 2015