Conquering the Untamable – Camel Farming in the Outback

Conquering the Untamable – Camel Farming in the Outback

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It makes farming in Ireland seem like a breeze.

In Australia the desert is big. Very, very big. Many a farmer has tried and failed to run cattle through drought country. So the next best thing could be to keep animals that are already adapted to the harsh climate.

By Nicole Buckler

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Outback farmer paddy McHugh and one of his loyal subjects.

There’s not a lot humans can do with a big, wide, long desert. Or is there? According to Paddy McHugh, an Australian camel entrepreneur, the stark Australian deserts of the outback hold a lot of promise for agriculture. Especially if what you farm – namely, camels – are completely suited to the impossibly harsh conditions.

Paddy himself suggests that he cannot be called a camel farmer, seeing as camels utterly refuse to be farmed. Instead, McHugh tends to round up wild camels, and sells them to a wide range of international markets with wildly different uses for the desert beast.

At present Australia receives enquires for camel meat and live sales from Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, United States of America, Belgium, China, Brunei, Thailand and Kuwait. So if Paddy had his way, he would convince humans to stop running animals in a desert that are not suited to the conditions, and instead just go with what naturally thrives in the region. “This is an industry crying out to be developed. It is a classic win-win situation. Australia is the only country in the world with feral camels. Some 600,000 plus animals roam the most remote parts of the country, not only surviving but doing extremely well in a land where 70% is classed as arid. They are being needlessly slaughtered as a form of pest control. This is a total misconception and one that needs to be rectified. Why are we eliminating an animal that does so well in this impossibly dry country when world demand for the product is very strong in meat and milk?”

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Catching wild camels… they put up a good fight.

McHugh’s feral catching operations saw him become the first in Australia to run camels through an export-licensed abattoir for the European market. And he also believes that in time, farmers can run camels and cattle together, because what they forage for only partially overlaps. The camels mostly don’t eat what the cattle do and vice-versa. Camels also carry a ruminate bug that can be passed onto cattle, which assists cattle to consume harder fodder and gives them the capability to succeed in more marginal country.

Says McHugh, “Camels can be farmed alongside cattle and sheep with very little or no modification to property infrastructure. The husbandry is similar and handling techniques only slightly different.” It seems like an excellent solution to the eternal problem of farming cattle and other animals not adapted to the harsh desert environment – the constant need for water and food. The camel does not need to be babysat with extra water and supplemental food in times of constant drought. Farming camels makes cultivating the desert seem almost easy!

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Rounding up wild camels isn’t exactly a piece of cake…

McHugh has been working with camels for over 35 years, and says there are many challenges still ahead. “We need to convince the general public of the benefits of camel agriculture – meat, milk, bio medical. Other problems are bureaucracy and its stupidity, and of course that it is a ‘sunrise industry’ in Australia.”

So has it been a profitable operation for most of the time? Says McHugh, “Off and on…but it’s been a very good way of life for me. I have travelled the world with it and met the richest and the poorest people on the planet – all very profitable for the soul! But it is a potentially very profitable market. In the last 2 years I have received over 1000 enquires from 34 countries.”

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McHugh could be mistaken for an Irishman, in name and in look, except that he loves his desert environment.

So while not everyone wants to set up a farm deep in desert country, Paddy McHugh loves it and has no plans on going anywhere else. So does he see many Irish people out his way? Apparently not. “No Irish people come to buy camels but there is a very good friend of mine who owns a big property in the Northern Territory with heaps of camels on it. His son-in-law is Irish and lives on the property.”

I think that’s the most far-flung Irish person we’ve heard of at Old Moore’s Almanac. Anyway, does any of this make you want to try the camel lasagne on sale in Alice Springs? I think, yes.

 

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