Experience 3: Farmhand
I’ve always been a dog person, but I can definitely say that I’m now a camel person too. They’re such cool animals. I love them!
This week I was a farmhand at Summer Land Camel Farm. Situated within the beautiful Scenic Rim in South East Queensland, the sustainable and ethical production of camel milk and camel milk products is their passion.
What did I do?
It’s not so much a case of what did I do at the farm, but what didn’t I do? Work on the farm kicks off at 6.30am and on day 1 I arrived just in time to see a beautiful sunrise over the distant hills. What a way to start the day!
After meeting some of the team and learning how to stay safe around camels (don’t stand behind or sneak up on them), I spent 3 hours raking poo in the camel yards. The funny thing is I quite enjoyed it! Not only is the location of the farm truly spectacular, but I was also able to meet many of the animals along the way.
My favourite that morning was a camel named Bertha. She’s affectionately known at the farm as the ‘selfie camel’, because she loves to pose. When I was raking her yard she followed me around like a puppy. Every now and then I’d stop to give her a gentle pat on her face or neck, and just like my dog Lexie does, she’d close her eyes and move her head closer to me for more. So gorgeous!
Interestingly, this camel was wild until she was brought to the farm a few months ago. To me that’s the really special part of the Summerland story. They muster camels from Central Australia and Western Queensland, where camels are in such large numbers they are regarded as a pest, and transport them to the farm where they are trained and tamed. Wild camels naturally see humans as predators, so time and patience is needed to make them feel comfortable and safe with people.
Other jobs I did throughout my week on the farm included:
- Working in the cheese processing room to cut and package Persian Feta (it’s delicious!)
- Camel training – I was able to walk the most beautiful 6-week-old baby camel on a lead, and watched the camel trainers in action with some of the more recently acquired animals (standing on the other side of the fence for safety)
- Helping the trainers to move two camels to their new paddock at a completely different section of the farm – that was fun!
- Cleaning water troughs
- Emptying bags of pellets into the feeding troughs (good way to make camel friends)
- Weeding around the farmhouse café
- Disposing of broken pellet bags
- Cleaning the café in preparation for their Sunday trading
Although I was allowed to have a quick peek at the camels in the dairy, I wasn’t able to assist in that area as I hadn’t been around the camels for long enough. Apparently milk production is greatly reduced if a new person is in the dairy. The camels need to feel relaxed and happy when they’re being milked, and I guess they feel a little shy under the watchful gaze of strangers.
I had some time at the end of the working day just to enjoy hanging out with some of the camels. They’re great fun to interact with. The ‘teenage’ camels (around 9 months old) were so inquisitive and adorable. They gently smothered me with kisses – or were perhaps just trying to eat my hair! Another day I watched one of the trainers helping a newborn camel to stand, trying to get her to suckle from its mother. It was so wobbly on its long, skinny legs!
I really loved the variety of jobs I was able to do on the farm, and had such a good time with all of the staff. Lots of laughs, and never a dull moment!
What did I learn?
Considering I’ve never been on a working farm before…I learnt a lot! From the business side of things, it was interesting to hear about where the idea for starting a camel dairy came from, how it developed to the stage where they were able to start production, and how they are planning to expand and grow the farm and business over coming years.
There are many health benefits of camel milk, I’ve discovered. I first heard about this when I did the farm tour with my family a couple of weeks ago (as an aside..my kids loved it and can’t wait to go back!). Check out Summer Land Camels Instagram and Facebook pages, where they are revealing a list of 100+ Reasons their camel milk is so good for you inside and out. Interesting stuff! Best thing about that is, you don’t have to feel guilty about eating the cheese or ice-cream they sell in their cafe!
I learnt about all the different roles people have on the farm, from volunteer to paid positions, and didn’t realise I was going to meet so many awesome people from such different walks of life. I really valued that everyone is happy to work hard, work as a team, and do whatever is needed on the farm at any given time.
The trainers taught me so much about camel training methodology. It’s generally a pretty slow process! But I could see their joy with little successes. For example, one trainer was able to pat a camel’s neck with a brush for the first time without it bucking or pulling away. They currently use a pressure-release system with the new camels, whereby they put pressure on (eg by pulling gently on a lead) and as soon as the camel does what they want (eg step forward) they release the pressure, which is essentially a reward. I saw this method used when getting the camels to wait at a gate instead of rushing through it, and taking a step or two backwards. I really enjoyed watching the trainers in action, and to see just how dedicated and patient they were with each camel.
The beautiful natural landscape, the people, the teamwork, the variety of jobs and hanging out with camels made my time at Summer Land Camel Farm the perfect week for me. I loved it! When my children are old enough I’d like them to take a week out of their school holidays to go and experience farm life as there’s so much they could gain from it. Of course I’ll be going with them so I can do it all again!
If you’ve ever considered a career in agriculture, visit my Interviews page or click here to read my interview with Paul Martin, Director of Australian Wild Camel Corporation.