The Advantages Of Camels Over Other Livestock

The Advantages Of Camels Over Other Livestock

Unique anatomical and physiological characteristics of camels enable them to exist, reproduce, and produce meat and milk during periods of drought, poor grazing, and low management.

Long muscular legs allow camels to cover great distances; camels in caravans walk up to 40 km per day with 200 to 300 kg of baggage. This capability for rapid, sustained movement is evident in their browsing; they never stop moving for more than a few seconds while feeding, even when rangeland forage is available.

Camels possess a height advantage over other livestock. Camels can browse at 3.5 m above the ground; thus, they compete only with the giraffe for browse. This characteristic makes them excellent for multi-species herds composed of low browsing goats and grazing sheep and cattle. Evans and Powys reported that camels actually improved the rangeland through better brush control not obtainable with goats and cattle alone.

Camels possess a fatty hump that is used for maintenance when grazing is poor. Heavy keratinized, prehensile lips that are split, and long incisors that allow browsing of thorny vegetation not utilized by other livestock and wildlife are advantageous because much of the Sub-Sahara browse is composed of thorny species like Acacia. The camel folds its external nares flat to keep out blowing sand. The eyes of camels are protected from the intense sun by a supra-orbital arch, thick, long eyelashes, and translucent eyelids that allow camels to walk through sandstorms with their eyelids shut.

Large turbinates (.1 m 3) that cool moist air to resorb fluids lost from lungs during expiration further enhance water conservation.

Physiological Advantages

The camel has the lowest rate of water loss of any indigenous livestock species. In hot summers less than 1 liter of urine is excreted per day. The reasons for this remarkable trait include a) the ability to store heat without water loss to the environment through sweating; b) special kidney modifications that allow
for increased concentration of urine without diuresis; and c) inhibition of thyroxin production during periods of dehydration which decreases pulmonary water loss and reduces basic metabolism.

In the summer when temperatures exceed 40°C and the water content of forages no longer meets most or all of the camel’s needs, a 3- to 4-day interval between treks to the well can be maintained without adverse effects to health. Camels can withstand 20 to 30% weight losses from dehydration and replace those losses in 10 to 15 rain at a well.

The Advantages Of Camels Over Other Livestock

Oval-shaped erythrocytes (instead of roundshaped ones) expand up to 200% their normal size as camels drink rapidly at crowded wells. Cattle, sheep, and goats do not have this capability for rapid and complete rehydration, and they are restricted, therefore, to grazing that is closer to water. This situation has led to overgrazing, desertification, and high livestock mortality when numbers of these ruminants have exceeded the carrying capacity of the surrounding rangeland.

Mobility of cattle, sheep, and goats is most affected by their required 2- to 3-day watering interval.

Adaptation to low protein diets through urea recycling is another unique attribute. Urea recycling was high in the gastrointestinal tract of camels on a low protein ration. The extent of recycling increased from 27 to 86% of total urea turnover as dietary protein decreased from 13.6 to 6.1% in one trial in Iran.

Engelhardt and Rubsamen suggested that camels have an absorption rate in their forestomach that is several times faster than the sheep or cow. This ability to reabsorb quickly endogenous urea could operate as an efficient survival mechanism when dietary protein drops.

It also could increase the efficiency of lactating camel cows as compared to other lactating ruminants although this comparison has not been made.

The camel is capable of a diurnal rise in body temperature of 6°C, which allows the animal to work or graze unstressed by high air temperatures. Instead of dissipating all its heat during the hot part of the day by sweating valuable water, the came1 stores heat during the day and then loses it slowly during the night,
thereby keeping warm during the often cool nights. This ability to complete 6 to 8h of grazing during the middle of the day is important if livestock herds must be gathered and guarded from predators and theft at night.

Cattle often suffer from inadequate forage intake in hot climates, because they rest during the midday and are penned at night, which does not allow them enough time to graze.

Camels maintain an active reproductive status up to 20 yr of life. Therefore, in spite of late puberty (5 to 6 yr) and calving intervals that approach 2 yr, camels are still capable of producing as many or more calves as most indigenous cattle under typically sparse and dry range conditions.

Behavioral Advantages

The camel has an undeserved reputation as a stupid, stubborn, and mean animal that only nomads can utilize. Camels can be handled, restrained, and trained easily for any domestic purpose and are trained easily for riding, baggage, and draft. It is possible to break four camels for riding in the time it normally takes to break one horse for the same purpose.

Camels are friendly and docile if they are kept in managed herds; they can be trained easily for hand milking. The camel can detect good pastures and wells. It also can remember where to find them again, even when they are several hundred kilometers away. Camels possess a strong mothering instinct, which is important in the dense African bush.

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