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18 September, 2020

Ships of the Desert Repurposed in Fight Against Prickly Acacia

GULF COUNTRY camel enthusiast, Paul Keegan has reignited the argument that graziers should be using the "ship of the desert" as a way of eradicating the noxious weed prickly acacia as well as its woody relatives.


Mr Keegan, who won the iconic camel race, the Boulia Cup, in 1998, drew interest at the Desert Channels Queensland (DCQ) Supercharging Recovery event last week when he said a mob of 15 to 20 camels could save producers thousands in weed management costs.

“I’ve kept camels for 30-odd years, for both racing and breeding,” Mr Keegan said.

 “By far their greatest benefit though is in land productivity and suppressing woody weeds.”

 Prickly acacia (Acacia nilotica) is one of Australia’s most notorious weeds due to its invasiveness, potential for spread, and environmental and economic impacts, according to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

 More than 6.6 million hectares of arid and semi-arid Queensland are infested with prickly acacia, costing the State’s grazing industry an estimated $5 million a year.

 Mr Keegan said while cattle passed a high proportion of viable seeds and distributed them widely in fertile seed-raising deposits, camels digested prickly acacia seeds fully and prevented their germination in the paddock.

 “The adult prickly acacia produces up to 170,000 seeds, but camels will mop these right up and then grind them down in the cud,” Mr Keegan said.

 Mr Keegan said a recent University of Queensland study had also shown beneficial micro-organisms were transferred from camels to cattle when the two were grazed together.

 “This biota improves the ability of cattle to digest lower quality grasses and plants,” Mr Keegan said. “So it’s clear, running camels is a huge bonus, especially in dry periods.”

 Landholders David and Christine Batt, of Nuken, north-west of Winton, have waged war against prickly acacia for almost 30 years.

 Mr Batt said within just a few good seasons, prickly acacia had begun to choke out country on the 30,000 acre sheep and cattle property. He said camels had since proven highly valuable.

 “I first heard camels were good on the prickly bushes 20 to 25 years ago, and I went out to Boulia to get a load of wild camels,” Mr Batt said.

 “I’ve found the camels really hammer into them during the dry but have the tendency to move onto pigweed and herbage once seasons turn around.

 “For this reason, its best to fence them onto the prickly acacia,” Mr Batt said.

 Mr Batt said he and his wife had pushed the invasive weed back into defined areas using a variety of control methods including basal bark spraying and had now entered into an agreement with DCQ to launch a final attack.

 Mr Batt said the enterprise would receive State funding for prickly acacia control as part of its partnership with DCQ.

 Mr Keegan said he had owned about 300 camels from Mount Isa to Winton and were trained in a process not dissimilar to weaning, where they were taught to become familiar with infrastructure and come to his call.

 “The camels are no good to me if they don’t come to a bucket of feed or come when I call,” Mr Keegan said.

 “Chasing them around the flat is no good, and they need to be treated with respect.

 “I’ve shifted my camels some 14 kilometres in the past with just a bucket of feed,” Mr Keegan said.

 Mr Keegan said camels caused no trouble to existing stock, and at costs of between $300 to $1000 a head across a lifetime of 35 to 40 years, camels were a sound investment. 

 “You don’t need to overload your property,” Mr Keegan said.

 “One bull to a mob of 15 to 20 cows is a sound breeding ratio, and once you’ve spent as much time with them as I have you will realise they are a unique and frankly amazing animal.”

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