Searching for camels is similar to a wild-goose chase. It goes on for at least an hour as the tractor revs its engine through thickets of dried grass and broken trees.
The owner of the camels calls them out by name in a tone similar to a mother calling her children for dinner. She waves around a bag of fresh peanuts, the camels’ favorite snack. This is not a zoo, a carnival or a desert in the Middle East, but a farm deep in the hills of Rudy.
Drama Dairy is not your average farm. It is a place where animals roam free, and every creature has a purpose. This farm will soon be the sole focus of Jennifer Millican’s life, as she dedicates her time to serving others and raising camels. Wednesday, Shiva, Eve and Julian have become her pride and joy, and they will help her achieve her dream of starting her own camel milk business.
“My goal is healthy milk, and for healthy milk you have to have healthy camels,” Millican said.
According to Millican, the healing properties of camel milk is developing a new market for individuals diagnosed with diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism. The milk acts as a substitute for insulin for people who are allergic to synthetic insulin, it aids in memory retention for people with Alzheimer’s disease, and it elicits responsive behavior in people with autism,
The demand for camels has grown steadily over the years, but this is not a business that will take over the nation. The limited access of resources, lack of knowledge, and high funding requirements will be the defining points that keep the camel from becoming the next cow.
The overall process of owning camels is not a cheap endeavor. You can’t build a business with only one camel. The price of just one camel can be in the thousands. The Millicans started their business with four camels and will sell their camel milk locally.
In Arkansas there are restrictions and guidelines governing how much and where a producer can sell camel milk. These rules restrict the Millicans from selling their milk products anywhere but the farm. As of now, advertising has been through word of mouth. Millican says that once the operation is up and running, they will establish regular hours at the farm for milk sales. Unlike cow milk, camel milk will be sold frozen in glass bottles.
“We can sell 500 gallons of it a month. Camel milk sells by the ounce--coming to about $100 to the gallon. It’s not cheap, but it’s really bought more for therapeutic reasons,” Millican explained.
While in theory the idea of selling camel milk sounds like an easy job, several obstacles have come their way. The camel milk business is one that requires a lot of time, effort and knowledge in order to be successful.
“The camels have been the most challenging animal I have ever owned because they are so different than any other animal. But they have also been the most rewarding and the most fun,” Millican said.
The biggest obstacle she has faced is breeding her camels. Lack of information on camel breeding has added to the challenge. For sure - there is no milk until the breeding dilemma is solved.
Millican has observed that camels are like humans. To breed they have to have a connection or mutual liking for one another. She bought Julian, the male, for the purpose of breeding her oldest female Shiva. So far, Shiva and Julian are not exhibiting a mutual chemistry. She hopes that there will be more attraction between Julian and the youngsters, Wednesday and Eve, as they become old enough for breeding.
“There are a lot of challenges, and you have to be dedicated. At this point, every three months I go, Have I lost my mind? Is it really worth it? And I think the answer is, Yes,” Millican said.
While the camel milk market is steadily increasing, this is not an operation that is easy to begin. The business requires a lot time, investments, equipment, knowledge, and land to become successful. Despite the healing properties, and the limited market for individuals with certain diseases, camel milk is not likely to become a household staple.
Drama Dairy Cast of Characters:
The name, Drama Dairy is a word play on the type of camel, Dromedary, a camel with a single large hump. Even though the farm will be producing and selling camel milk, all Millican’s farm animals serve a purpose. Rather than being constricted in cages, and placed behind fences, the chickens, cats, donkeys, dogs, sheep, and camels are able to roam free, and act as one big family. The animals on Millican’s Drama Dairy farm, were named for the large personalities that make them unique. Each one has distinct characteristics that define them as almost human. The biggest personalities of them all are the camels, Shiva, Wednesday, Julian and Eve.
For more information on Drama Dairy, contact Jennifer Millican 479-420-6989
by Lauren Randall
Photos by Sarah Treece