Animal Health & Nutrition
Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. He provides livestock production advice.
Got Heat Stress? Milk Camels
Mar 25, 2012
I recently visited a 2,000-head camel-milking farm in the United Arab Emirates, where camel milk is processed and sold throughout the region.
In the Dubai desert, the camels at Camelicious Dairy are unfazed by the 130-degree heat. In fact, their milk production often goes up in the summer.
I recently visited this 2,000-head camel-milking farm in the United Arab Emirates, where camel milk is processed and sold throughout the region. Dr. Peter Nagy, manager of Camelicious Dairy (Emirates Industries for Camel Milk and Products) conducted a tour of this state-of-the-art milking facility and processing plant. Flavored camel milk and camel milk chocolate are their primary products.
There are two types of camels: the less common two-humped variety (Camelus camello) and the much more widely distributed one hump (Camelus dromedario) or Dromedary, which Camelicious raises and milks. They have always had an important socio-economic bond with humans in the Middle East and Asia. They are companion animals used for racing and even beauty contests as well as for milk, meat and transportation. Camelicious Dairy is one of the first to expand their role to commercial milk production.
Camels are uniquely adapted creatures. They are ruminating animals but are classified in a different suborder than ruminants. They have a three-compartment forestomach. The compartments are just called C1, C2 and C3. The large C1 compartment is lined with a stratified epithelium in the dorsal part and a glandular mucosa in the ventral part. There are no papillae, like in a rumen. The C2 compartment is comparable to the reticulum, and C3 is an elongated tube-like compartment. Their digestive system is uniquely adapted to survive on low-protein, highly lignified browse from trees and bushes. Their ability to conserve water is imperative, since there basically is none in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula.
The camels at Camelicious give an average of about 6-8 liters (1.5 – 2 gallons) of milk per day. They have a 20-month lactation but are with their calves for two months after freshening, before the milk is harvested. They are very persistent milkers, with a 90% persistency coefficient over their lactation. Camel milk is typically lower in solids than bovine milk (2.5% fat, 2.8% protein, 4.3% lactose). They don’t eat much for a 1,250 pound animal. They are offered 8 lb. of wheat bran and 13 lb. of alfalfa hay at Camelicious Dairy.
People like me have offered advice on how to increase milk production by feeding the camels more like dairy cows. Dr. Nagle tried increasing their energy by feeding more grain. It didn’t work. They still gave the same amount of milk. They just partitioned the extra nutrients as stored energy in their hump and they put on weight. You may have had a cow like that at one time. But that’s what they are supposed to do as camels. I suppose one would have to breed some of the camel out of them to try to change this. And I’m not sure if that is a good idea.