Wild camel dairy milks export opportunity

Liz HobdayAAP
Marcel Steingiesser is promoting the benefits of camel milk and farms wild herds.
Camera IconMarcel Steingiesser is promoting the benefits of camel milk and farms wild herds. Credit: AAP

Buying milk is more complicated than it used to be, with oat milk, buffalo milk, and even pistachio milk on the supermarket shelves.

But how about camel milk?

"Without a doubt people are curious and wanting to give it a go," co-founder of Good Earth Dairy, Marcel Steingiesser, told AAP.

Camel milk isn't as sweet as that of dairy cows, but it's full of micronutrients and does not have some of the allergens present in cow's milk, he added.

Australia has the world's largest herd of wild camels, with an estimated 1.2 million spread over more than a third of the mainland, destroying farms and competing with native animals.

When a major camel cull attracted global media attention in 2011, Mr Steingiesser saw an opportunity.

He's spent the past six years and more than $6 million developing ways to commercialise camel milk, using animals that had been running feral and would otherwise have been culled.

In 2015 the former chemical engineer founded Good Earth Dairy in Dandaragan, north of Perth, with cameleer Stephen Gepper.

Milk from the farm can be found on supermarket shelves in WA, while there are also camel dairies in NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

"Our goal is to ultimately make it a staple," Mr Steingiesser said.

The farm has 40 animals producing about 300 litres per week, with 50-60 calves on the way.

Contracts are in place to catch another 120 wild animals for the dairy in the next few months.

But without the centuries of breeding and domestication that come with dairy cows, the animals can be a challenge.

"You have laid back camels - and potentially aggressive camels ... we have ways of making them relaxed," Mr Steingiesser said.

He's coy about just how a camel farmer should tackle a grumpy dromedary, claiming his methods are part of the company's valuable intellectual property.

While in Australia camel milk is regarded as a niche product, it sells for a premium overseas, fetching about $20 a litre, and 300g tins of milk powder selling for $100 in China.

After crowdfunding $1.2 million and securing government grants, the next step for Good Earth Dairy is raising $10 million to expand into infant formula production.

Rabobank senior dairy analyst Michael Harvey noted alternative milks are becoming more prominent in the dairy sections of supermarkets, thanks to consumers motivated by health and wellness.

"The rate of growth is really strong but it's coming off a very low base," he told AAP.

Mr Harvey said that although these new milks create competition for traditional dairy, they mostly compete with each other for shelf space.

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