Gil Riegler looked the part of a traditional farmer with a battered cap and faded jeans as he groomed his livestock for the afternoon milking show.
But he was preparing to squeeze the white substance from an animal that Americans don't generally connect with the process: a camel.
A large crowd gathered in the livestock area of the Orange County Fair hoping to see Riegler milk the desert dromedaries during one of three daily shows.
He warmed up the crowd with camel facts — they have three eyelids, they store all their fat in the hump and they have valves in their ears to keep out sand — and introduced the mother, Bellina, and her 3-month-old son, Bodhi. The crowd looked on with curiosity as the baby camel suckled, but the milk did not flow.
Bellina's udders were empty, but not because of stage fright.
"After two weeks he figured out how to untie my knots," Riegler said, referring to the udder bra meant to guard the milk from the thirsty baby.
Just before the show, Bodhi had gotten hungry. He broke through the bra and drank his mother dry.
Camels can only be milked twice a day, for 90 seconds at a time, and only in the presence of their babies. Riegler said this was the first time during the fair that Bodhi had stolen the show.
The crowd did not seem too disappointed with the lack of lactation and laughed as Riegler's 26-year-old camel, Goldie, nosed her way into the grain box and 5-year-old Sampson kept stealing his hat.
Sarah, 12, Chris, 10, and Nick, 7, D'Amato of Tustin seemed to enjoy the display but when asked if they would drink camel's milk curled their lips and shook their heads no.
But their grandma, who brought them to the fair, had other ideas. "I would try it, but the chocolate seems the best," Bonni Christopher of Costa Mesa said.
Riegler said camel's milk is rich in vitamins and minerals and has many disease-fighting benefits since it's closest to human milk. It is high in insulin and good for diabetics, he added.
"It tastes like cow's milk," Riegler said. "It's sweeter, lower in fat and it has a little saltiness to it — it's just delicious."
Riegler has been working with camels for 20 years and has been milking them for 15. He and his wife, Nancy, own Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona. The dairy is home to 22 camels and claims to be the first camel milking farm in the United States.
Camel milk cannot yet be sold here but the Rieglers — touting its natural moisturizing benefits — make and sell their own soap, lotion and lip balm made from the milk. They also sell camel milk chocolate imported from Abu Dhabi.
The camels can be seen at the OC Fair at 1:30, 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.