Did You Know?

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I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but we have camels. Thirteen of them. We had fourteen but one was either struck by lightning or bitten by a snake, either way the end result was the same.

One of our neighbours firmly believes our 13 camels are the reason it won’t rain and has hinted that he would be happy to take one off our hands, however I’m not sure about the reason for his offer; I think he saw the cooking segment on TV earlier this year which encouraged us all to exchange the baked leg of lamb for one of camel and just invite a few more dinner guests! End result; same.

I must say, looking at them in the yards the other day, the idea does not appeal to me and I would certainly need a much bigger oven than the one I’ve got….I do need a new stove though….

Back to the live camels. We had them in the yards to put a National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) tag in their ears. An interesting exercise, although the boys would probably use quite different terminology! And I shouldn’t say we – I kept a safe distance, issued baseless warnings, offered useless instructions and played amateur photographer.

I’ll go back a few steps and explain a bit about our Camelus dromedarius or Dromedary; Arabian camel and what we have learned since they arrived here in March 2012.

Firstly you need to be licensed to own camels because they are a Non-Indigenous Animal and records must be kept and annual returns provided. The application process is quite involved, for good reason, but not as onerous as first anticipated.

Having got all the paperwork out of the way I will tell you they are all de-sexed males; meaning they are very well behaved, at least as far as male camels go! They don’t like being separated and will fret if parted from each other, they require a different style of mustering to cattle or sheep and will more often follow the vehicle rather than be guided from behind. They do not like going through new gate-ways, no matter how wide and much patience is required whilst attempting this activity!

Why do we have them? They apparently love anything with a prickle, including mimosa, box thorns, Bathurst burrs, etc. and utilise around 98% of what they eat. Seeds are supposedly sterilized when they pass through the camel’s gut, so it was originally part of an experiment in slowing down the spread of these weeds, but the camel to mimosa ratio favours failure at this point in time.

Camels browse rather than graze, except for new grass shoots (none of those at present), they like salt-bush but not enough to overgraze and did develop a liking for the mix we were feeding the cattle earlier in the year. I’ve also been warned to keep them away from my fruit trees!

So, back to my tale about Camelus dromedarius (dromedarii?), yards and tags. My initial concerns regarding how the camels would behave in the yards were quickly allayed as was my consternation about how they would get under the braces on the gateways; they simply ducked their head and the few inches of hump that was taller than the brace just “squished” down and bounced back up again. AMAZING! They didn’t seem worried at all about that part…..once they eventually went into the race!!! Remember what I said about gateways….

Even the process of tagging didn’t seem to faze them as much as I anticipated, although there was the odd attempt at biting whoever was doing the tagging, but once freed from the cattle crush and allowed to escape to the adjoining yard and the company of the other animals, they quickly calmed and were even somewhat inquisitive (or concerned) about what was happening to their counterpart in “that trap”.

I have to say I was impressed by my boys’ patience which (mostly) lasted for the duration and by their willingness to get in the same yard with such large animals who, equally as impressive, did not display any of the traits I had heard and feared they might. Their lack of aggression towards Jeff and the boys, considering this was only their second time in our yards and not being used to human contact at such close quarters, has given me some new found respect for the much maligned “ship of the desert”.

That doesn’t mean, though, that I’ll be sailing on one any time soon!

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Blueprint for a conversation – by Guest Blogger, Joy Beames, State Agricultural and Environmental Officer

The view from my porch

Wine and conversation on our verandah

Attending a recent National Farmers Federation forum and workshop titled “Blueprint for Australian Agriculture” in Canberra recently I travelled through dry country for most of the way and came through some areas that had received a storm. It seemed like the storms followed the hills around in several areas making quite a contrasting green and brown patchwork pattern.

The forum was a very interesting process with participants breaking up into groups to try and get ideas happening to progress Australian agriculture and “Brand Australia”. The agenda arrived a few days before the event and I was a little puzzled about the world café process that was to be used. It is, according to the agenda document, an ongoing conversation that deepens at each round. People scatter to different tables after each conversation, giving the opportunity to share ideas with others and to meet the stated need for peer groups to mingle. The process works with guiding questions at each table encouraging people to think about what is already working well and how more might be done.

I was obviously one of the dumb ones in the room as I thought that I was to move from one themed group to the next so I began with Natural Resources. However that was not the way it worked at all. Each participant had to select a themed group and then rotate tables in that sector only. I had intended to be in the ‘Agriculture within Society’ but that was not to be. It was however a very interesting and productive exercise. What was interesting is that many of the participants were salary or wage earners who don’t have to rely on the weather and produce markets to earn their income. There were people there from several government departments and private sector companies e.g. chemicals, banking etc. They are all part of the agricultural scene certainly but sometimes their understanding of some of the challenges faced by the farming community was not evident. What was also evident is that they were not responsible for paying their way to attend these forums as they are quite happy to travel all over the country to attend numerous follow up workshops.

The big word used in the natural resources sector was sustainability. We all know that we have to be sustainable or we don’t survive but there are times when implementing strategies to improve our natural resources is not able to be the top priority. Sitting on our front veranda at night with my husband Ken, sharing a glass of wine and conversation, it has become evident in the past few weeks the stock feed has been visibly diminishing and the grain trails that have been laid are very obvious as the stock continually graze those areas. Our top priority at the moment is keeping the sheep alive by supplementing their feed and keeping the water supply available for them. Once we get some good rain and pasture growth then we can think about improving our natural resource base.

All in all the whole exercise was very worthwhile and I believe that it can only be of benefit to Australian agriculture. Well done to the NFF for highlighting the issues.