Moving 50 camels from Port Germein to Robe was no easy feat for Warwick and TJ Hill, Humpalicious, but after settling in the South East two years ago, and building the world's first renewably-powered camel dairy, the pair are pleased with their decision.
Humpalicious was officially established by the Hills in 2016, with the move south made in 2017, as the lease of their 200-hectare property at Port Germein ended.
"Neither of us had been to Robe before, but we absolutely loved what we found here," TJ said. "We had always wanted a farm near the ocean, the town itself was beautiful, and the people were so supportive - it all went together so well."
The pair bought a 40ha block of vacant land, downsized their herd from 75 to 50, and took 12 return trips to cart the herd 650km south, moving them in a custom-made cart mounted on a 1989 model truck.
Moving to land that had previously been used for cropping and to run sheep, Warwick said the first few months were an intense effort of building yards and basic facilities.
While in Port Germein, the camel milk had to be taken to Port Pirie to be processed, but starting from scratch in Robe allowed the Hills to set up everything they needed on-farm.
"We've built a dairy and a pasteurising room, and when we found out it was going to cost $100,000 to connect to mains power, we thought we'd invest that money into renewables, so the farm is run entirely run off-grid, on solar and wind power," TJ said.
"We did everything ourselves, we had the know-how but didn't have the money, so we used our own capabilities to make everything.
We're not in it this venture for the money, we enjoy it, we have a good lifestyle, every day is different and we love working with the camels.
"It's satisfying doing things yourself, when you're finished and sit back and know how it's been done, that's great, but it's really energy consumptive, at the end of each day we'd just fall in a heap and think how we were going to do it all again the next day.
'It's very satisfying seeing the achievements, but we've got a long way to go to do all the things we can see that we can do here."
Thirteen camels in the herd are milked, each being milked about four times a week, with milking taking between five and 15 minutes.
"Neither of us came from dairy milking backgrounds, my grandparents had a few cows that they handmilked, for us it's all just been camel experience and trying to learn how to milk them," Warwick said.
"Camel udders and teats are highly variable, they are wild animals and they don't always match the equipment in the way Holsteins do, that have been bred for years."
Some new triangular cups have recently been installed in the dairy, which Warren said had been touted as the "best on the market".
Each milker has a calf, with the rest of the herd made up of pregnant females, and two riding bullocks, which will be used as the tourism part of the business continues to grow.
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In summer and through to Easter, milking tours were run, with a tea room having been set up, serving camel-milk gelato, among other delicacies. More than 1000 people visited Humpalicious during summer, and TJ hopes to have the riding bullocks in action for the coming summer.
"To start with, we'll walk the camels around the farm, but if they're solid and doing well and we feel we can trust them, we'll take them down to the beach, that's the eventual goal, the council is very supportive of that happening," she said.
While Robe is a far cry from 'traditional camel habitat", TJ said the camels had mostly adapted well to their new home, with many growing bigger humps and thicker wool.
EXISTING CAMEL DAIRIES EXPECTED TO EXPAND
With Robe's Humpalicious being SA's only camel dairy, and one of less than 15 across the country, Warwick and TJ Hill are expecting existing businesses will thrive in the next few years.
"Probably in the next few years, the existing dairies will likely reach their potential, rather than lots springing up all over the place," TJ said.
TJ is hoping that the health benefits of camel milk become more widely known in the next few years, as existing dairies expanded.
"It's non-allergenic milk, people who can't have milk from cows, goats or sheep do well on camel milk," she said.
"There is also something in camel milk that diabetics respond to very well, they haven't found what it is but acts like insulin, diabetics can take camel milk to help stabilise their blood sugars.
Despite the many hours of manual labour put into setting up the Robe farm - the only renewably-powered camel dairy in the world - Warwick said it was a thoroughly enjoyable venture.
"We're not in it this venture for the money, we enjoy it, we have a good lifestyle, every day is different and we love working with the camels," he said.
"All the animals are on a first name basis, we know them all very well."
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