Frank the Camel has one hump...and friends!

By JAMES PHILLIPS,

It’s Hump-day, and there is a possibility you will see a camel cruising down Hwy 80 through Forest and Morton for a Wednesday roll around town. 

Believe it or not, you do not have to travel half-way around the world to see camels up close. They can be found right here at home. That’s Right! Camels in the middle of Mississippi, a fact that truly surprised practically everyone that has heard.

Frank and Friends Camel Dairy is locally owned and operated and not only has one camel, they have 10. The newest member of the herd was just welcomed on May 7 and has been named Buford.

The camel dairy is owned and operated by Jimmy and Tonia Goldby with their sons Cody and Clint. Located approximately one-mile northwest of Morton on Barker Rd, the dairy was the first ever camel dairy in the State of Mississippi, the first ever in the Southeast U.S. and only the third camel dairy nationwide when they opened.

The Godbys have turned their love of camels into a business that serves the local area and reaches a large portion of the Southeastern U.S. Frank, the couple’s first camel and star of the herd, steals the show every time he shows up to an event or when visitors come to the dairy. 

“These are camels, that is Frank,” Jimmy explains. His resume includes birthday parties, parades, private events, commercials, fundraisers and believe it or not — wait for this one — a pie eating contest. 

Frank is extremely friendly and truly seems to enjoy being the center of attention especially in a crowd. The Godbys got Frank when he was five weeks old. “We drove to Texas and loaded him up in the back of a minivan” Jimmy recalls, “from that point on Frank did not see another camel for three or four years and was a lap-camel.” They believe this is the reason he is so friendly and so great in crowds.

On a warm Saturday afternoon Frank was the star of a 12-year-old’s birthday party.  He was right in the middle of a group of 20-or-so kids and adults interacting with everyone. Even posing for pictures and ready to give every party goer as many rides as they wanted.

Jimmy insists Frank knows when it’s showtime, “some days he acts like he does not want to do anything you want him to do but when we get there he turns it on and he knows it’s showtime.”

Frank spends a lot of time on the road, Tonia said, “we traveled 2,800 miles last December.” They travel so often she has a hard time keeping up with how many miles they travel to appearances these days. On this past Saturday, it was a birthday at the dairy and they will be headed to New Orleans for a parade this next weekend. 

Traveling on the road is where they have some of the best interactions.  “It takes 45 minutes just to get gas when we have Frank” she said.

Even truckers who see all the roads have to offer are surprised by the sight of Frank rolling down the highway in his trailer with the wind in his hair. Tonia adds, “when we are driving and pass 18-wheelers we watch in the mirrors because we know the truck is going to swerve and when they do we know they see Frank.” It would be practically impossible to miss him since he is eye level with the truck drivers when riding in his trailer. 

Frank is the star, but he and all nine friends are ready to load up and go to any event where their presence is requested.

The Godbys got into the camel business by pure chance Tonia explains, “My mother’s Sunday School class wanted live animals for a nativity scene and I was able to find every animal except a camel.” It was that search for a live camel that led to the purchase of Frank. “I searched all around and found out we could buy a camel for the about the same price as renting one. We did all the possible research and found Frank in Texas and that is how it all got started,” she said.

All the camels owned by the Godbys are Dromedary Camels, which simply means they have one hump. One fact that might seem surprising is the relatively long lifespan of these gentle giants which can weigh-in at 650 to 1,300 pounds. The average lifespan of a Dromedary Camel is 40 to 50 years.

The camels are very low maintenance animals. The vast majority of their diet comes from grazing in the field. Jimmy explains, “they can live off eating just briars but around here it is like a huge buffet for them.” And the Mississippi heat does not even phase them as they are built to wander the desert in continuous triple digit temperatures.

After purchasing Frank, they later added more camels and this led them to discovering the benefits, and the demand for, camels milk. Each female camel can produce milk for up to 2 years after giving birth. The Godbys learned the milking process through research and by trial and error.  Tonia states, “it took the whole first cycle of producing milk for us to finally get it figured out.”

These days they have the milking process down to a science and simply have to direct the camels into the stall and begin the process. The highly intelligent animals simply follow their every direction. Both Godbys believe the camels always understand exactly what is going on. 

The family’s refinement of the milking process has also led to additional byproducts of the camel’s milk. One product is a camel’s milk lotion they are now producing and selling at the dairy.

They agree that each individual camel has their own personalities and the whole herd gives them non-stop memorable moments. The hardest part with having so many candid moments is trying to always have your camera ready to catch them. “We have ten-thousand-dollar moments all the time and I try to keep my camera ready but I still miss a whole lot of the best ones,” says Jimmy.

The future is looking bright at Frank and Friends Camel Dairy. With demand for camel’s milk, soap, lotion, camel rides, birthday parties and the overwhelming request for appearances at an all-time high the family, and camels, are staying very busy.   

The search to find a live camel for a nativity scene is ultimately what led to Frank being brought to Mississippi. His arrival led to the creation of Frank and Friends Camel Dairy, so was Frank a nativity “God send”?   The only ones that can answer that question is the Godbys. To them, life is good at Frank and Friends and while the hours are long and the work is hard the family truly enjoys every day with their camels.