For a dairy farmer with a difference, the fight with wild camels in Western Australia is a long way from a small town in Germany.
Dr. Max Bergmann lives with his wife and young family in Morangup near Toodyay and tames wild camels for his camel dairy.
With only 2-3 percent vision, the legally blind farmer, Paralympic and researcher uses innovation and technology to advance his business.
After completing his PhD in Plant Physiology, Dr. Miner in a Country Life.
“I’ve always done what I love … now the camels too,” he said.
“I just really like farming and I love driving the tractor.
“Just because I’m visually impaired doesn’t mean you can’t do it. There are ways and the technology is absolutely amazing.”
At Dr. Bergmann was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 8 and his eyesight has since deteriorated.
“I have a blind spot in the center of my eye and I only have peripheral vision,” he said.
Dr. Bergmann sources wild camels from the outback in Central Australia and trains them to milk in his mobile dairy.
The majority of milk is used in a number of skin care products, as well as freeze-dried powders and some for drinking.
Dr. Bergmann said he was often asked how he worked with camels.
He said it takes planning, structure and trust.
“I think the camels definitely connect differently to me than a sighted person,” he said.
“I just trust them. I think I have this inner trust and not be afraid guess, and I’ve never had a real problem. “
Dr. Bergmann said he used the technology available and noted movements around the mobile milking system.
“Exactly three steps to the left, one step forward and then you touch this rope, you do that, it just takes getting used to,” he said.
“Which, of course, I don’t like, when things are not in the right place, I suddenly look like a blind man.”
He’s also set up systems to help him find his way around the property.
“We have big white corflute blue signs on all of our fences and I’ve placed them strategically,” he said.
He had an automatic GPS control system built into the tractor to navigate the farm.
“When you’re on the bigger machines and we do the cutting, you have the GPS technology you know, you could literally put a monkey in there these days, you just press a button and the tractor is perfectly straight,” he said called.
“I always say that technology is a good time to be blind.
“I was doing my PhD on a computer that had a screen reader, you know, the technology is just fantastic.”
However, sometimes the simple ideas are the best.
Dr. Bergmann said developing Australia’s first mobile camel dairy took some innovative thinking.
“I’m blind, legally blind, it’s pretty hard for me to make plans and drawings. When we designed this system, I actually had to imagine it,” he said.
“I have this vision like I was always ‘I’m a blind man but I have a vision’ so I had to come up with the whole system of how it worked and how I did it was by actually playing with my kids .
“We used a few Legos and we set up the yards and the milking system and played through the different scenarios over and over again.”
Drive for sustainability
Dr. Bergmann said the mobile milking platform was born out of a desire to be more sustainable.
“We created a decentralized system, so instead of bringing the cows to the dairy, we are now trying to bring the dairy to the cows,” he said.
“It is this innovation that enables the camels to stay one hundred percent on the pasture.
Dr. Bergmann has a special bond with his camels and said they had wrongly earned a reputation for being bad-tempered spitters.
“I always call them the gentle giants because they are so warm,” he said.
“They are not flight animals, so very different from horses or cows.
“All of psychology is more like a dog, so imagine you like dogs and you have hundreds of them.”
“They come up to you and some of them, you know, when you have a right partner, they come and
cuddle … and it’s just great to be around. “
While everyday life on a camel farm is hectic, Max finds his motivation and determination to continue on the paddocks every day.
“When your favorite camel shows up and lays his head on your shoulder, you just close your eyes for a moment, it’s just that magic that they’re so calm … it just carries over to you. That makes me feel like you are are doing the right thing. Just keep doing what you are doing. “
Chris Kerr is a winner of the ABC Regional Storyteller Scholarship, a partnership initiative with International Day of People with Disabilities.