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“There’s no manual”: Michelle Philips and camel farming

Being a farmer in New South Wales requires dedication, good management of resources, a strong connection to the community and most importantly a passion for the animals under their care.

For traditional livestock like cattle, sheep and pigs there are countless resources on the web as well as experienced farmhands that could teach budding farmers how to take care of their animals and maximise their productivity. But for Michelle Phillips, the owner of Muswellbrook Camel Milk, that is a New South Wale’s first camel dairy farm, it was considerably more challenging to start this business.

Michelle decided to start a camel farm both because of her love of animals, describing herself as the kind of person who would ‘pull over on the side of the road and get a turtle to safety’, and due to the nationwide culling of feral camels in Australia between 2009 and 2013. While Michelle was happy that the major culls have stopped and acknowledges the damage that they caused to the environment, she was still disappointed by the treatment of
the feral animals in Australia.

Feral camels that are captured by farmers have two options available to them, be rehomed and work for the tourism industry, or be slaughtered. Ordinarily most Australian camel farmers capture their stock in the wild and domesticate them, but for Michelle her first addition to the farm was a group of camels that were being sent to an abattoir in South Australia.

‘It was just such a shame that these beautiful creatures were being destroyed.’Since 2013 the dairy had grown from just the handful of camels that were saved from the abattoir to just over one hundred strong, the two herds grazing and frolicking in a spacious paddock. Getting to that stage wasn’t easy for the passionate farmer. Because few people in Australia raise camels as a primary export finding adequate resources and training to care for camels was difficult, even on the Internet.

‘It was daunting to buy something that you don’t know anything about.’The first time she acquired meaningful experience and a true appreciation for the animals was a humble camel ride tour in Coffs Harbour, much to the surprise of the people who ran the tour.

‘There heaps of people were ring up wanting to do some work experience but they’ve never turned up.’- Michelle recalled.

In spite of these difficulties starting up, she’s managed to become a strong member of the community, with her hosting tours of the farm for the local schools and nursing homes in Muswellbrook and Denham. Dairy products have also been recognised for their substantial quality, with her farm winning gold in the 2017 Queensland Food & Wine Show for Cheese and Dairy Produce with their milk and silver for their camel haloumi. On top of being a high quality product in its own right, camel milk has the potential to help those with physical or mental disorders.The passion for her unconventional herd, the dedication to understand her livestock on her own and her connection to the community gave her the opportunity to make a product that could make a lot of people’s lives easier.

To learn more about the surprising health benefits of camel products, tune in to 100.1FM
on the 17 th of July from 12:00am.

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