The International Day for Women and Girls in Science is Wednesday 11 February 2021. We work with a number of scientists, one of whom is the amazing Dr Margie Bale BVSc MRCVS, Camel Vet Extraordinare!
To celebrate Women in Science, we interviewed Margie about her journey to date and what she loves about working with Camels around Australia and around the world.
When did you decide that you wanted to work in Science and as a vet in particular?
I grew up in Toowoomba and whilst I was surrounded by animals , I never really thought I HAD to be a vet. I was a curious child and interested in all things science. I performed well at school and then was able to choose any pathway at University. I wanted to be a research scientist, to work in a lab on vaccine projects and disease control. There were certainly different study avenues to get to this path; Medicine, Veterinary Science or a straight Science degree. My sister had studied Medicine so I thought, why not do something different? So I enrolled in Veterinary Science at The University of Queensland. After the first week of veterinary school …I had absolutely found my people.
How do you describe your role/ what you do when you meet someone new?
This is always such a fun question. I am proud to say I am a Production Animal Veterinarian. The next question is “Which animals in particular?” The fun starts when I say “Camels.” “What …really, are there Camels in Australia?”
What do you love about your job?
Every day is something different. Literally no day is the same. There is always a new problem that needs solving. The challenge of not only working with a very large animal and having to often “MCGYVER” up a solution, I find thrilling. Then there is the fascinating physiology of the animals themselves. Learning more and more about these animals and working on projects to develop health management systems for this new industry is what keeps me going.
What is one of the challenges?
One of the biggest challenges I face daily is misinformation. There is a lot of misinformation out there about Camels’ behaviour, biology and health care in general. Over the years a lot of people have speculated about camel systems and extrapolated information from other production species, however the camel and camelids are totally unique and usually require tailor made solutions. You have to work with people that are open minded and see the potential in the industry as a whole.
How did you get started with working with Camels?
I was working at the University of Queensland Large Animal Clinic and as part of this work each year we would act as the Veterinarians for the EKKA (the Royal Queensland Show) in Brisbane. This involved living onsite and working with the multispecies of show animals that had travelled to the RNA Showgrounds. It was an incredibly busy time- 24 hours on call and literally staying with animals in their pens. The Cattle Superintendent there at the same time was Paul Martin (Founder & CEO of Summer Land Camels). In the days that I was working we started chatting and he said he was interested in and planned to start a camel dairy. I was genuinely excited and my first response was that I thought it was a great idea. I think that took him by surprise as most people had never even thought about such a thing. I had worked with camels and camelids often in the past and almost flippantly said, “Well, if you need a hand with any questions about health care, just give me a call.”
Turns out he took me up on that …a lot …Over the next 6 months, I left my University job and pursued Camels full time as I saw it as a unique opportunity to expand my knowledge and curiosity for something different. I simply wanted to learn more, as much as I could.
Can you explain the work that you have done in conjunction with Summer Land Camels and other Camel dairies around Australia/ the world?
Everything I have done collaboratively at Summer Land has been ground-breaking as these animals have never been utilised commercially at this scale in Australia before. Indeed this really is a world first as the population of the camels in Australia are considered feral, so had no training or selective breeding. It is all fascinating work.
From Setting up health systems for the camels to management systems. The unique characteristics of these animals don’t initially lend themselves to fitting straight into a bovine dairy model and so everything from training, milk collection, processing, calving, health protocols and nutrition - we felt it was important to do it correctly. As a flagship dairy of this type in Australia, we felt a responsibility to the animals to have the best science and the best practices available. Collaboratively we have worked on projects such as developing diets for the camels, behavioural enrichment, farm management systems and indeed veterinary procedures. Many of these are a first and born out of necessity.
I collaborate with a group of international camel veterinarians a few times a year to discuss aspects of camel health and production. Visiting the large dairies overseas and working with their veterinarians has shown me that the Best Practice approach we have at Summer Land is getting noticed.
What particularly interests you/ fascinates you about Camels?
Their physiology and their adaptability to the environment are truly fascinating to me. They are a perfectly designed survival species for marginal country and their ability to survive and thrive in harsh environments is remarkable.
What are your thoughts on the future of Camels in Australia?
Firstly, we need to normalise the camel and tap into their production potential. I see them as Australia’s most underutilised resource. We need a regulated industry and a willingness of farmers in marginal areas to seriously think about managing camels for production. I believe this is driven by developing markets locally and tapping into established international markets for camel products.
What would be your advice to a girl or young woman who is interested in a career in Science/ vet science?
Don’t think that you must know exactly what you want to be when you are at University or indeed at graduation. Lived experience and saying yes to every opportunity will guide you to the area that will ultimately be your passion. Always stay curious. Vets are some of the most curious people I know. Laugh a lot also. Sometimes you really do end up in some ridiculous circumstances as a large animal Vet.