NSW camels sought for new meat brand

NSW camels sought for new meat market plans

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Got a herd of camels on your property? This is for you.

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New South Wales producers are being encouraged to tap into a new camel management program that's already fielding strong expressions for an export meat brand into America.

Camel advocate and large animal vet Margie Bale is leading a new campaign to stabilise and develop the genetics of the animal considered a pest in a bid to better utilise the protein source.

Early discussions to supply a high-end product to Somalians in America indicated demand for a 40 foot container load a month, for one buyer alone.

Ms Bale has been solely-focused on treating camels for the last five years and noticed their meat potential during a visit to Cunnamulla, Queensland, where she was tasked with castrating 80 camels.

Even on marginal country the camels were fat, had healthy calves and recording growth rates of up to 1kg/day eating mulga.

Since then Ms Bale has been gathering information and data around appropriate management techniques, creating a crush side pregnancy test and exploring the potential for eating quality meat assessments.

The camel genome has already been mapped out for genetic selection purposes but more work was needed around appropriate management.

Where previously a mismatched herd of camels would be mustered, put under stress and sent to an abattoir, Ms Bale wants to provide a product that consistently meets specifications and eating quality standards similar to the MSA grading tool used for other red meat.

Rather than running the animals just as 'big goats', Ms Bale intends to work and support producers supplying to the brand with best practice advice including handling and travelling.

"In a feral situation they are going to destroy things, they are going to compete with cattle, the whole thing is going to be a problem but managed behind a fence well with proper nutrition and data just like cattle; the same thing can be done," she said.

A meat supply chain would work harmoniously alongside the growing dairy industry, she said.

"The dairy industry needs a beef industry to feed into because where do the calves go? Where do the cull camels go? That's been the problem," she said.

"We have just got to get clever about getting an integrated industry and the only way that can start is if we get a market for the meat and do it properly.

"If you can get people to eat kale I don't know why you can't think outside the box with other things."

Not only have camels proven their survivability through recent Australian droughts, they can be run on a property and still meet the requirements to collect carbon credits

She already has connections to one of the largest managed herds at Cunnamulla and has linked up with camel dairy operators interested in the new meat market including Paul Martin, co-owner of Summer Land Camels, Harrisville, Queensland.

He currently runs about 600 camels for cheese, milk and skincare products but is already advertising in The Land for prospective camels to build his numbers.

In the past, landholders have mustered their camels for Mr Martin who would purchase any female animals, semi-domesticate them and integrate them into his breeding program.

However, because camels are considered pests, they are not allowed to be let go once yarded.

Now Mr Martin may be able to use those wasted males for meat and send them to other properties at Cunnamulla or Winton where they will be tamed and killed at about 550 kilograms through a Brisbane abattoir.

"If you have got a very good beef weaning program that's no different," he said

"They get set in their own boundaries but we move them a lot and then that is not a problem."

There are the challenges of freight and processing costs, which can be twice as much as beef due to single deck height restrictions.

But Mr Martin said there had never been a better time to promote camel meat as beef prices rose and China looked for supply to fill the impact of African Swine Fever.

"This is an opportune time, while beef is probably going to be worth quite a bit of money it allows us to position ourselves (in the market)," he said.

"We are going to have to be cheaper than them.

"When beef is $5/kg it's hard to do anything with camel, but with a beef carcase at 8.50/kg now we can start playing in that space and people are looking at us.

"The other thing is with the pork in China people are looking at alternative protein and alternative fat so can we utilise camel if we don't have pork fat?"

Coronavirus had already impacted his business with the inability to operate his usual on-farm tourism and the reduction in flights making it difficult to transport their cheese into Philadelphian markets.

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