There is a saying that goes, “A dog is a man’s best friend.” Well, in Jim Cobb’s case his best friend isn’t a dog, it’s a camel named T’eau Joe (pronounced Toe Joe). Some days he and his year-old Bactrian camel are seen strolling around the village of Coventry.
Mr. Cobb and his wife, Mary, explained how they came about being the proud owners of what they understand is the only camel in the Northeast Kingdom.
“For Christmas Jim had a choice between a TV or a camel,” Mrs. Cobb said. “He chose the camel.”
The couple turned to the internet in search of a camel. That search took them to a camel breeder in Michigan. Once they decided to buy a 10-month-old camel, the Cobbs had to arrange shipment to Vermont. That problem was solved, though, when they learned that David and Kathleen VanGelder, who raise Alpacas in Irasburg, planned to be within two hours of where T’eau Joe was located. Since they were pulling a trailer they use to transport alpacas, the VanGelders agreed to swing out of their way and pick him up and bring him to his new home in Vermont. Mr. Cobb’s “Christmas present” arrived at their farm on March 1 and life hasn’t been the same since for them.
The young camel is far from alone on the Cobbs’ property which is located on the Heermanville Road in Coventry. To keep him company, there are more than 60 alpacas, some of them award winners on the show circuit, and a llama, which keeps guard over the much smaller alpacas.
T’eau Joe and his alpaca friends
Whereas dromedary camels, which are native to the Middle East and North Africa, have one hump, Bactrian camels, which are native to China and Mongolia, and are found in parts of Russia, have two humps.
The Cobbs chose to buy a Bactrian camel because with the thick layer of hair over much of their bodies, they are better equipped for Northeast Kingdom weather than dromedary camels.
Its former owners said there is an adjustment period to new surroundings for some camels, especially ones such as T’eau Joe who had only recently been weaned from his mother. However, that wasn’t the case with T’eau Joe.
“He was calm and he just wanted food and to know what everybody was up to,” Mrs. Cobb said. T’eau Joe brought with him one bad habit — well, not really that bad, more of an addiction — saltine crackers. Although his main diet is grain, hay, and grass, the same as the alpacas and the llama, his previous owners had given him crackers as treats.
“If we let him he’d eat a whole box of them,” Mrs. Cobb said. However, she said they limit him to only a few at a time as a special treat. When he sees one of his new owners reaching for the crackers he begins to shake and jump about with anticipation.
Although the Cobbs were thrilled when T’eau Joe arrived, the other animals on the farm weren’t so impressed. They kept a safe distance from the gangly, energetic, two humped beast.
“He actually tried to approach the alpacas first,” Mr. Cobb said. “He wanted to play but they were afraid of him at first because of his size.”
The alpacas are guarded over by Buttons, a big white llama. He patrols the grounds looking for intruders who might try to injure or kill his much smaller cousins.
“Alpacas have no way to defend themselves so they can only run from danger,” Mrs. Cobb said. “Llamas are natural protectors of alpacas.” If a predator, including a fox or a coyote, should sneak into the pen, Buttons would do whatever he had to do to protect the herd, even if it meant stomping and kicking the intruder, sometimes to death. “He is like a big baby sitter to them.”
However, while Buttons is typically fearless in the face of danger, that wasn’t the case when he first spotted T’eau Joe.
“He was afraid of him,” Mrs. Cobb said. “He looked at the size of him and ran. Everything Buttons has guarded has been smaller. He didn’t know what to think of him.”
However, she said in time Buttons and T’eau Joe have apparently come to a mutual understanding about their roles on the farm. “The camel knows Buttons is boss,” Mrs. Cobb said. “I think Buttons knows that although the camel is big, he is young.” As for the alpacas, they now enjoy T’eau Joe’s presence.
Alpacas, llamas, and camels are members of the camelid family. Unlike cows and members of the deer family, camelids don’t have hooves. They have two toes on each foot. The toes have a toe nail, and each foot has a soft pad on the bottom. Whereas hoofed animals have a tendency to tear up the ground, members of the camelids do not.
The young camel’s transition has gone smoothly, the Cobbs said. They talk about how inquisitive he is of the world around him and how excited he is to experience new things.
“When I take him for walks sometimes he jumps around like a dog he gets so excited,” Mr. Cobb said. One thing that T’eau Joe doesn’t like is cars coming up from behind, so when Mr. Cobb sees a vehicle coming, he makes sure the camel sees it well in advance.
The sight of a camel walking along the roads of Coventry has caused a lot of stares. “The people who have never seen him before are surprised,” Mr. Cobb said. “They stop, open their window, and start a conversation.” Others take photos of this unusual sight.
The pair often walks down to Martha’s Diner in the village on the weekends when families, including children, are there, he said. “Everybody likes seeing him.”
But the walks aren’t only to give the young camel attention; it’s also to give him exercise. “He just likes walking and looking around,” Mr. Cobb said. “He likes seeing what he sees.”
“He has such a sweet personality,” Mrs. Cobb said. Because by the time T’eau Joe is an adult he’ll weigh about 1,500 pounds and stand eight feet at the shoulders (he weighs about 400 now), a friend of the Cobbs, Dan Nash of Derby, who until recently owned his own herd of alpacas, is training the camel, including dropping low enough to allow a rider on his back. They also hope to have Neal Perry, a horse trainer from Brownington, work with the camel.
T’eau Joe’s new humans also keep in contact with his former humans in Michigan. The Cobbs tell them how he is doing and seek advice about the finer points of raising a camel. They also praised John Simons, a veterinarian from Orleans, for educating himself in becoming a doctor to a camel.
The Coventry couple raises alpacas for their prized wool, which is sheared once a year. Each animal yields about three to five pounds of wool. That wool is typically transformed into various high quality items such as clothing and blankets. In addition, the couple sells alpacas and boards some for other people. They also have an alpaca-themed shop at their farm. However, the couple said they have no intention of raising camels, and camel hair is of little value. Instead, they view T’eau Joe as a pet that they plan to keep until parted by death — his death or theirs. Camels live 30 to 50 years.
“We plan to keep him for the duration,” Mrs. Cobb said. “That’s why we want to make sure he is trained and good around kids. I’ve joked to my daughter that I’m going to leave him to her in my will.”
Once T’eau Joe is trained, the Cobbs’ plan is to have him become a popular sight in area parades and at other events, such as the Orleans County Fair.
No, there is nothing like a man and his camel, or for that matter, a woman and her camel.