Raising Camels For Milk Production
The potential for high milk production undoubtedly exists, but a lack of organized research efforts supplies only a glimpse of possible production. Knoess, using average or poor quality camels in Ethiopia, reported that Afar camels on irrigated alfalfa pasture produced 2,847 kg for a 14-mo lactation.
Promising research results from one trial indicate that effects of dehydration and high air temperatures do not affect milk production adversely. Israeli camels, with some supplements, continued to produce 6 liters of milk per day during the hot summer with once weekly watering.
Williamson and Payne estimated that the lactation record (16 to 18 mo) of a well-fed and managed cow should range from 2,722 to 3,620 kg. Few milk production trials have been completed with adequate controls and significant numbers of cows. Lactation averages have not been based on more than 10 records, the average size trial being five camel cows or less.
In general, lactation records for camels vary with species, breed, country, habitat, and management.
It is difficult to measure the daily milk yield of the dromedary under pastoral conditions because cows may be milked once, twice, or even 6 or 7 times per day, depending upon the customs of each tribe. The presence of nursing calves also confounds accurate measurement of daily yields.
The average length of lactation for camels is 12 mo, but this may vary from 9 to 18 mo (8, 16, 23). It is common practice to breed camels to calve at 2-yr intervals. The average length of gestation for dromedaries is 1 yr. Knoess (15), working with camels under intensive management, concluded that calving intervals of 18 mo are possible.
Comparisons are few of lactation records between African indigenous cattle (Zebu type) and camels under similar conditions and management. Spencer (28) in Kenya estimated that 20 Rendelle camels gave as much milk as 80 Samburu cattle.
With a conservative estimate of 5 liters per day per camel (Table 1), the camel compares favorably with the average indigenous Zebu cow in Kenya, which averages only 1 to 1.5 liters per day under similar conditions. In addition, camels and cattle do not compete for the same forage; therefore, their milk production in a multi-species herd is an extra source.
The composition of camel milk is similar to milk from cattle and goats. The composition of milk from different livestock species is in Table 2. It is rich in vitamin C (5 mg/100 ml); higher in iron, copper, manganese, carotene, and vitamin E than dairy cattle; similar to sheep and cattle in calcium; but lower in phosphorus compared to milk from dairy cattle. A comparison of the essential amino acid concentrations and whey proteins revealed few significant differences between cow and camel milk.
Camel milk contains 70 calories/100 g. For some yet unexplained reason colostrum is not fed to newborn camel calves in many nomadic societies. This practice probably contributes to high calf mortality (30 to 50%) of camels.
Milking camels under intensive management has been suggested by Knoess and Mukasa- Mugerwa. Knoess reported grazing camel cows in lactation on irrigated alfalfa pas-ture with no bloating or other adverse effects.
Although there appears to be no known reason why camels could not be zero grazed and managed under confined dairy conditions, this research has not been conducted.
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