PERRY — It's hard to say who was groaning the most — the baby camel or Wynona Passow.
Lanky legs and neck sprawled too far forward, then too far backward. That black, furry newborn was going to stand and nurse somehow, Passow decided.
The mother camel blinked long, dreamy eyelashes and watched carefully as Passow coaxed the big baby to the mother's side.
"The females are lovely," Ralph Passow said, watching his wife try to turn the baby toward the patient mother. "But the male camels will kill you."
About 30 minutes earlier, Ralph Passow had helped the camel deliver by tugging on the baby's legs. Wynona's usual task of getting mom and baby together began soon after and continued, off and on, more than an hour later.
Ralph, 72, and Wynona, 69, have been raising camels for a decade. It all started after Ralph Passow became allergic to the chemical weed killers used on their 1,200-acre ranch north of Oklahoma City. He read that camels had been used in Kansas to eat briars, thistle and other weeds. On a trip to a camel farm, he reached over to pat one.
"It cost me about $20,000 to pet one," he said.
They went home with three gawky giants, and the herd has grown to more than 30. The Passows found that camels are not only good for eating thistles; people rent the dromedaries for birthday parties and other events for $500.
Customers from Chile, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and numerous states in the U.S. have bought camels from the Passows. This year, the couple sold 11 camels at $2,500 for the males, which become placid once they're castrated, and $4,500 for the females.
A man recently bought one of the Passows' expectant camels with plans to test the milk's effectiveness against Alzheimer's disease. Though the Alzheimer's help has not been scientifically proven, it may point to a developing market for camel milk.
People are drinking the milk for its nutritional value, and researchers are investigating whether it can help people with diabetes. One report estimates the potential camel products market as high as $10 billion.
The Food and Drug Administration recently added camel milk to its list of salable agricultural products. An FDA spokesman said the milk can't be imported into the U.S. until tests for drug residues are completed, a process that took six years for water buffalo milk.
Ralph Passow grimaced and kept his eyes on his wife and the newborn camel struggling several yards away.
"No," he said when asked if he's ready to get out the milk bucket and start collecting the milk for human consumption.
More groans escaped both Wynona Passow and the little camel. They tumbled to the ground in a mass of gangly limbs.
At last, she got the baby up and helped it take a few sips of his mother's milk. Wynona Passow spread the milk on her fingers so the baby could lick it off.
"Ouch!" she said. "He bit me."
Grubby and worn out, she finally shuffled through the grass to join her husband in a few minutes of rest while the mother camel and her baby rested nearby. Asked if she'd ever tried camel milk, Wynona Passow made a face.
"No," she said. "After you hit that smell and you stick your nose in the glass and that same smell hits you, no thanks."
Ralph Passow said they're getting too old to take on something more than caring for the cattle, the miniature donkeys, the horses, the camels and the farm equipment. They don't care to add daily camel milking to the list of farm chores.
Asked when they might retire, Passow said not yet.
"I probably won't retire until I die. I've got quite a few people wanting me to do that," he said with a laugh. "It's kind of good to aggravate people."