A Guide On Camel Farming In Kenya
Kenya has about 1.06 million camels. Camel milk production is estimated at over 340 million litres valued at over Kshs 8 billion at the farm level. Camels thrive in the harshest of Kenya’s agro-ecological zones and are generally able to withstand the frequent droughts which decimate cattle, goats and sheep populations. This unique adaptation makes it possible for camel to continue producing substantial quantities of milk thus providing the most suitable avenue through which increased livelihoods of communities living in these arid lands can be sustained.
This potential has been recognized by a number of pastoral communities who were previously keeping cattle, but are now adopting the camel as a diversification strategy.
Camel Breeds In Kenya
Kenya camel breeds are named after the communities that keep them. These are Somali, Rendille/Gabbra, Turkana and Pakistan. Pakistan breed is an exotic, mainly found in ranches in Laikipia district. Brief descriptions of these breeds are as follows:
Largest in body size (average 550kg), average milk yield of 4.5 litres, heavy feeder, does not fit in hilly terrain, largely creamish in coat color and genetically distinct.
Compared to Somali breed, it is smaller in size (average of 350kg) and lower in milk yield (average 2.5 lts daily). It does well under poor pasture conditions and rough terrain. Coat color is mainly cream or brown. It is genetically distinct.
Compared to Somali and Rendille/Gabbra, it is the smallest in size, (average 300kg), lowest milk yielder, (average 1.5 lts), lightest feeder, fi t in hilly areas, largely grey in coat color and genetically
Camel Milk production
In order to produce milk, the female must be successfully mated and a calf must be born alive. The young calves can be a source of meat, especially those young males which are considered unsuitable for breeding. Old males and unproductive females are also a source of meat.
The Pakistan camel breeds produce the highest quantity of milk, with a daily production of between 4 and7 litres of milk under ranching conditions. However, despite high milk yield, they rely on heavy feeder programs and cannot survive the harsh desert conditions and rough terrain witnessed in the North-Eastern counties in Kenya.
The Somali breeds are classified into four subtypes: Siftarr, Hoor, Gelab, and Aidimo. The Hoor camels produce the highest quantities of milk . The Somali camel breeds are the second-highest milk producers, producing about 3–5 litres of milk daily, with a lactation period between 12 and 18 months.
The Rendille and Gabra camels have a milk production yield of between 1 and 3 litres of milk a day and have a lactation period of between 12 and 18 months.
The Turkana camel breeds produce less milk than the Somali, Gabbra, and Rendille breeds, with a daily production of between 1 and 1.25 litres of milk. The Turkana breeds have a lactation period of about 12 months. Additionally, the Turkana breeds take a longer period of time before attaining maturity compared to other camel breeds.
Camel meat: high in protein and low in fat
Camel meat is a source of animal protein in many African and Asian countries, especially in areas where the climate adversely affects the production efficiency of other animals.
The male dromedary carcass can weigh 400 kilos or more. The carcass of a male Bactrian can weigh up to 650 kilos. The carcass of a female camel weighs between 250 and 350 kilos.
The meat yields depend on the age, sex, feeding condition and general health of the animal. Camel meat tastes like coarse beef. In old animals the meat is tough and not tasty. The brisket, ribs and loin are other preferred parts of the carcass.
Research shows that the culinary and cooking practices in several African and Arabian countries have evolved to prefer camel meat to other meats because of the medicinal benefits, its availability and/or affordable price.
Camel meat is healthier because the carcass contains less fat and has lower levels of cholesterol compared to other meats. It is also relatively high in polyunsaturated fatty acid compared to beef. This is an important factor in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, which is linked to saturated fat consumption.
Camel Breeding In Kenya
The most important characteristics that camel keepers look for are high growth rates and milk production potential. These desired characteristics can be spread faster through breeding bulls since one breeding bull has the potency to serve 50 dams in a breeding season.
Various strategies may be used to ensure high quality of camel herds.
Most camel keepers keep breeding bulls until they die of old age since it is taboo to castrate
them. Inbreeding often occurs and can be avoided through.
- Timely replacement of old breeding bulls
- Keeping two or more breeding bulls
- Exchange, sale or slaughter of old bulls
- Castration and fattening old bulls for loading.
Use bulls below 13 Years
Bulls below 13 years have:
- High trailing power
- High service rate
- Come to rut faster after the dry season
- Serve for a longer period in a breeding season. This results in high female conception rates.
Avoid breeding old females
Females of less or equal to six (6) calvings normally have
- Good body condition
- Produce more milk
- Their calves grow fast.
Beyond sixth calving, there is an increase in calf mortality and poor conception rates.
Camel calf management for larger herd in Kenya
Camel calves are important in that they are the future camels, without which the herd cannot grow and neither would milk be available. Under traditional pastoral production systems mortality rates of up to 60% have been reported among calves aged below three months. This high mortality has been mainly attributed to diseases like diarrhea, tick paralysis and competition for milk with humans, among others. Several strategies can be used to increase camel calf survival rate and the subsequent herd size.
Tips for ensuring a healthy calf at birth
- Healthy parents with known history
- Parents that are not inbred lines
- Mother that has not calved more than 5 times
- Bull that is not older than 12 years
Management of the mother, a month before birth
- Provide adequate quality forage, water, manage diseases, avoid long distance walking & ensure calving near boma
- Graze the mother in areas free of potholes, gullies, hills & stagnant water
- Keep close watch of the mother to avoid predation & straying
How to manage birth
- Ensure calve is expulsed when the mother is lying & check if the calf is breathing normally
- rigger breathing by pouring cold water over the chest, massaging the nostrils from the eye to remove mucus incase of breathing problems
- Strip umbilical cord off contents & and tie loosely
- Place calf in front of the mother to facilitate acceptance
- Assist the calf to suckle within the first 6 hours to acquire passive immunity and pass the first faeces
- Incase of calf rejection, smear dam with birth fluids around the nostril or isolate from the herd
with the calf and scare it to facilitate acceptance
Milk feeding to the calf
- Control competition for milk with humans
- Allow calf to suckle two teats for the first two months of growth
- Provide extra milk from other camels incase mother is a low yielder
- Foster calf to another mother incase of rejection or death of mother
- Control mastitis for good udder health
- Let the calf follow the mother to grazing field for the first 3 months
- Reduce milk allowance to calf after five to six months especially if forage quality is good
Water and feed provision to the calf
- Introduce the calf to forage as early as at one month of age by allowing it to accompany the
mother during the day
- Ensure access to quality forage
- Introduce the calf to water after 2 to 3 months and provide water after 3 to 5 days
- Do not walk the calf far away from boma
Manage critical diseases & parasites
- Control tick paralysis through regular washing with acaricides depending on the tick load, shaving and hand removal
- Treat diarrhoea using sulphur based drugs e.g S-Dime tablets
- Stop diarrhoea by giving charcoal solution or eggs from chicken that interacts with livestock
- Return water lost through diarrhoea by giving a solution of honey and salt
Recommended calf weaning procedure
- Wean at one year of age and above
- Wean gradually
- Provide more water to calf after weaning
- At weaning, deworm calf and wash with acaricides to remove external parasites
- Cover the weanners trypanosomosis drugs once a year
- Graze the weaner on quality forage and provide minerals
- Monitor growth progress for three months after weaning
Benefits of these practices
- Guarantees a living and healthy calf at birth
- Reduces risk to the mother
- Enhances calf survival and growth rates
- Result to increase herd size
- Improves household food security
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