Sustainability is at the heart of Summer Land Camels. When biochemist Jeff Flood and grazier Paul Martin heard about the government’s wild camel-culling program, they put their heads together to found the largest commercial-scale camel dairy outside the Middle East. Established in 2015, their 850-acre property on the mineral-rich volcanic soils of Harrisville is just a short drive from Brisbane. They farm bio-dynamically using holistic methods, in harmony with the land and seasons. They now create and sell premium camel milk dairy products, as well as a skincare range, available from stockists and online. The farm cafÃ© and store is open on Sundays, and visitors can take a farm tour and meet the gentle camels.
JEFF FLOOD & PAUL MARTIN
How did you begin farming camels?
JEFF: I wrote three food security white papers. When I was doing that, I was really analysing farming, food production and distribution, because I was looking for security. The whole system was broken, right back to the farmer and the way they treated the soil.
What is your background, Jeff?
JEFF: Biochemistry and physiology double major. Then I did nuclear medicine, then physiotherapy, then a masters of sports physio. Had some physiotherapy practices and sold them off. I was working as a diagnostician in medicine, treating the people that no-one knew what to do with. Then, I went from that to strategic advisory for corporate and government because it is actually, believe it or not, very similar. You are taking a set of symptoms, diagnosing what the problem is and coming up with a treatment plan.
I called Paul and said, ‘I want to start an agricultural asset management and advisory company. We can’t fix the world, but I want to do something that is part of showing there is a way of doing this better –
more sustainably.’ Paul said, ‘You wouldn’t believe it, I was going to call you in the next twenty-four hours to say the same thing.’
What is your background, Paul?
PAUL: Agriculture. I went from school to Gatton.
We had a 15,000 acre farm. My father was president of the Cattleman’s Union at the time and not at home a lot, which gave me a massive opportunity to make decisions myself, at a young age. The thing was, I was making decisions and they were all turning out badly because of the weather. There was a Grazing for Profit School on and, at the time, I thought it was a bit of a joke: ‘Grazing for profit! How can you graze
if it doesn’t rain?’ Anyway, I went to this course and had an absolute epiphany about the way we were grazing. It showed us how to run it as a business, but overlaying that on regenerative grazing practices, based on the Allan Savory principles of how big herd animals in Africa were able to be sustained during similar rainfall patterns over thousands of years.
JEFF: Pretty much mow, fertilise, mulch, move on. My family were out near Wowan. When my grandfather came here from South Africa, he was telling my other grandfather to do this rotational grazing he had seen in Africa. They only had about 1200 or 1400 acres.
He said, ‘Don’t have all of these big paddocks. Put lots of fences in and keep moving them.’ So, they did that, back in the ’50s. They increased the carrying capacity of the property out there. I remember Pop
saying the neighbours said, ‘How do you have all of these cattle?’, because they had five to ten times as many cattle as everyone else, plus they had pigs and chickens and crops. All of these things on this little
bit of land. They were asking them how they did it and he said, ‘I just keep moving them.’ But, they just thought he was mad.
So, I think we were destined to do something.
When I called Paul, I’d been studying all of this for years and I’d just written these food security white papers, and I thought the whole system was broken. We both had similar but also quite different reasons to fill it right out. But it all comes back down to the soil.
PAUL: The change for us was shifting from the animal to the grass. When you focus on animals, you are trying to feed those animals for as long as you can, and when you run out of grass, you are going, ‘Well, I am going to bring feed in.’ Basically, any money youmake in the good years, you give away in the bad years, feeding these animals. So, once we said, ‘We’re grass farmers’ – which, I suppose, if you take a step back, we’re into the soil, but, we’re primarily growing grass – whatever animal we use to turn that grass into meat to make money, we can choose. I mean, we’re obviously into beef. But, once you become a grass farmer, you are going to nurture your paddocks and ask, ‘How do I grow the most grass? How do I get the highest yield of grass?’
I suppose, for the layman thinking of lawn, if you only mowed your lawn once a year, you’d end up with a pile of lawn, but if you mowed it as it grew, and kept mowing it through the summer and a little bit in the winter, you’d end up with a pile four or five times as big. Because grass will only grow so high and then stop growing. That is the principle of how we rotate and graze. High-speed growth during summer, we might do quick rotations, then we rest it. It is all about recovery. You are not watching the rain. You look at long-term averages to set your grazing plan up, but it is all about, as it doesn’t rain, you need longer rest.
So then, you need fewer animals.
JEFF: Your animals are a mower. Is my mower too big for the grass I have at the present time? Yes or no. No? I actually need a bigger mower. Alright, well, I need more animals here to mow my lawn. Do I need more or less fertiliser? You are using your animals to optimise grass growth, and to do that you have to optimise soil condition. More manure, more urine, more mulch. Just think about your own garden,
except you are doing it on a huge scale with lots of animals. That is the basic foundation of all grazing.
Our whole principle is sustainability, right back to the soil. If you are thinking like that, then you are not pesticide-ing, herbicide-ing, fungicide-ing and suicide-ing the country, are you? You are doing everything you can to nurture that soil to get the right biomass to convert that through into the best amount of protein or milk or whatever. Everything comes back to the soil.
So, sustainability is paramount.
JEFF: Absolutely. That is the way we farm here. Are weeds a problem? Sure, weeds are a problem, but you can deal with them with white vinegar and just using animals. Zero chemicals, and we are doing it bio-dynamically, which means we are trying to stay somehow conscious and aware of cycles – natural cycles that perhaps we don’t even understand properly – and we are trying to look after the soil. We are not trying to force Mother Nature to yield us what we want; we are wanting to work with the soil and with biomass and with the animals and with the conditions to yield a bounty that is due to us, rather than forced. We have to be honest: it presents huge farming challenges and market challenges, but one thing in Australia that we’re very good at – you give a good farmer a challenge, he’ll solve it. I’ll say, ‘Paul, I want the camel milk to be the best-tasting camel milk in the world.’ Eighteen months later, we have the best-tasting camel milk in the world, bar none.
JEFF: My son had very bad eczema when he was young, so I did a meta analysis and research on the topic of atopic dermatitis. I decided I needed camel milk for my son and I couldn’t get it in Australia, believe it or not. I couldn’t get it in from overseas.
Nobody had a camel dairy fourteen years ago.
My absolute speciality is your innate immune system, which is your skin and your gut – your barrier to the external world – and all of the bacteria and fungi that live on it. While I am off becoming a specialist medically, Paul is off becoming a specialist agriculturally. When we’re talking about the camel, we’re talking about it at the same time, but we’re both thinking about it slightly differently. I am thinking about how I can get the gut flora from the camel into humans, and which ones should be in there or not, and what effect does that have. Paul is thinking about how to improve the gut flora of that animal through the feeding regime and make sure that animal is totally expressing it’s camel-ness, perfectly, so we get the purest, best milk, and the best meat, for us to consume, to allow us to thrive.
Can you have camel milk if you are dairy intolerant?
JEFF: If you are dairy intolerant, you can have camel milk. You have to have an allergy to mammalian protein to not have camel milk. People with issues with milk typically have casein issues, or the enzyme you lack to break the bond between the lactose and the protein attached to it. But, with camel milk, if you can have human breast milk – because it is made exactly the same way as human breast milk in the mammary gland – if you can digest lactose from humans, you can digest the camel lactose.
PAUL: Camel milk has an issue with being branded an alternative milk product – almond milk, soy, goat and so on. But it doesn’t sit there in the shelf. No-one is buying camel milk to put on cereal or in tea or coffee; they buy it because they’re unwell or use it for their own wellness. It is a pro- and prebiotic for the gut.
You’re also producing a skincare range?
JEFF: The skin care is absolutely amazing. We started with the soap. We gave it to some people to try, people who had psoriasis. Six weeks later, they called me and they had no psoriasis. It has an amazing effect on your skin, clinically. So, then we went on to moisturisers and spent the last two years analysing the skincare industry. We thought, if we’re going to do skincare, it is going to be all natural. You can eat our day cream, night cream, moisturisers, hand cream. There’s nothing bad in them, and they’re going to deliver the right outcome to your skin, which is encouraging natural flora on your skin, plus cleaning, moisturising, repairing.
How many camels do you have at the moment?
PAUL: About 500. We aim to milk around a thousand females. The weather conditions, we find, don’t affect the camel’s milk production that much. Cold to hot to windy – you don’t see much change in the yield. If we introduce a new person, however, we can see a drop of twenty per cent. This is because of how the milk is expressed. Camels, like humans, need oxytocin to express the milk. So, we have to be very careful of how we introduce people to our animals.
You need to remember they were in the desert only eight to twelve months ago. They are very alert with what they see with their eyes – body language and even body shape. It is very much about working with a herd animal. All herd animals have eyes on the side of their head and all predators have eyes at the front of their head; hence, we’re predators. So, we have to work with them with our body language.
These guys have spent the last 150 years surviving in the desert. In our favour, they were probably domesticated for thousands of years before that, and that is why I’ve found, working with them, they naturally want to chill out.