|Camel breeds in Kenya||Camel Diseases|
|Breeding Practices||Information Source Links|
For information on Animal Welfare and Organic Certification Norms see here
All camels in Kenya are dromedaries or one-humped Arabian camels. Without camels, human survival in dry environments would be much less sustainable. Camels are thought to have been introduced into East Africa by Somali speaking communities over 1000 years ago. These early pastoralists also had cattle, sheep and goats, but camels were better adapted to the dry climate and deteriorating rangeland of Northern Kenya. Historically camels arrived in the region only after deserts had been created by overgrazing and the following land degradation. Perhaps had the camels come before the desert would not have followed, as camels do not deteriorate lands at the same rates as other livestock. They have no hoofs to destroy the fragile soils and they are mainly browsers, meaning grasslands do not become depleted where camels have fed. Camels produce milk throughout the lactation period, whereas cows and small stock dry up during droughts and prolonged drys pells.
Camel breeds in Kenya
The 3 main breeds of camel found in Kenya are Somali, Rendille/Gabbra and Turkana. These are kept by communities who bear the same names as those of the breed. There is a fourth breed of camel called Pakistani which was imported from Pakistani into Laikipia ranches in Kenya in the early 1990s. However, only a few pure Pakistan camels exist while crosses with Somali or Turkana breeds have since moved out of Laikipia to Samburu, East Pokot, Kajiado, Northern Tanzania, Mandera and Marsabit districts. Following is a description of these breeds;
- Good for milk production as it can give 3 to 5 litres in a day
- Milking the camel three times a day guarantees even more milk
- Lactation length is 1 to 1.5 years
Mature body weight:
- Ranges from 450 - 850 kg
- First calving occurs between 4 - 5 years
- Average standing height is 2 metres when mature
- Heavy feeders requiring 8 to 12 hours of feeding in a day depending on feed availability
- Are more comfortable feeding on shrubs because of their height
- More milk and meat
- Matures early
- Cannot be reared in areas with rough terrain or rocky hillsides due to large size
- Suffer more when feed availability is low
Within the Somali breed are four sub-types namely hoor, siftarr, Aidimo and Gelab. These differ in physical, production and adaptability characteristics. While hoor is the highest milk producing sub-type, it is the least hardy. Gelab on the other hand is the smallest in body size, least milk producing but most hardy.
- 1 - 3 litres per day
- Lactation length of 1 to 1.5 years
- Cream or brown
Mature body weight:
- 300 - 550kg
- First calving occurs between 5 - 6 years
- Average standing height is 1.8 metres
- Feed requirements: Less than Somali, requiring 8 - 10 hours of grazing
- Does better under poor pasture conditions and rough terrain
- Tolerate drought conditions better than Somali
- Lower milk yield
- Late maturity
- Lower than Somali and Rendille/Gabbra that is, 1 to 2.5 litres/day
- Lactation length of about 1 year
- Mainly grayish/dark
Mature body weight:
- 250 - 500kg
- Occurs between 5 and 6 years of age
- Average standing height is 1.7 metres
- Feed requirements is less than that of Gabbra/Rendille, requiring about 7 hours of grazing
- Most hardy of all the breeds
- Very agile and able to climb steep lava hills because of small body size
- Least affected under situation of feed scarcity
- Least milk yield and meat
- Matures late
- Of all the breeds, this is the best for milk production
- Produces 4 - 7 litres of milk daily under ranch conditions
- Predominantly chocolate
- Mature body weight: 400 - 700kg
- Invariably drooping lower lip
- It is a heavy feeder
- High milk yield
- Insufficiently tested on rough terrain
- Less hardy
Note: Across all the breeds, males are generally heavier than females
Characteristics of good breeding bull and female
- High milk production capability
- Fast growth rate
- Good body conformation (tall, large body frame and well built), upright in standing, high ability to chase and mount females and
- Adaptable to the environment (feed availability, terrain suitability etc)
- History of producing high milk volume
- No history of diseases
- Good adaptability to the environment
- Good body conformation (slender body and large stomach)
- Well developed and pronounced milk veins
- Large and well set udder with four teats
- Good mothering ability and no history of stillbirths, abortions etc
Recommended bull: female ratio
- The camel keeper should maintain one dominant bull of between 6 to 12 years with one younger bull as his replacement
- However, more than one breeding bull may be required depending on the herd size
- A bull: female ratio of 1:50 is appropriate when sufficient forage is available
- Females become active at 4 to 5 years of age and give birth when about 5 to 6 years old. Although sexual maturity varies with breed, it is very much dependent on management level in terms of nutrition and health
- Males attain sexual maturity at around 5 years but begins to serve actively at around 6 years when their canine teeth are sufficiently developed for fighting
- Camels are seasonal breeders
- The breeding season coincides with the cool rainy period of the year
- Release of the egg (ovulation) in females is initiated (induced) by mating. This means conception only take place during the second mating which should take place after 21 - 23 days when the heat cycle returns.
- Mating among camels is a violent affair and can lead to injury in females
- A breeding bull should not be allowed to run loose with a small herd of females especially when rutting since it can physically injure the females and the calves,
- Sometimes the female does not voluntarily sit and she is forced to do so by the male who often chases her around, biting her neck, back of the hump, and pressing her down. This may result in severe wounds to the female. It is advisable to make the female sit before bringing the male to mate with her,
- The mating process takes about 15 minutes
- It is also advisable that rutting males are herded by strong, mature and mature people since they can easily hurt children.
- A traditional method of telling if a camel is pregnant, is to stand near it and raise your hand, then check for the raising of the tail and passing of some urine. If it does so, this indicates pregnancy,
- A pregnant camel will also raise her tail when a bull approaches her,
- The camel begins to show this sign 2 - 4 weeks after conception.
Signs of rut in male
- Loss of appetite and condition
- Unusually aggressive and difficult to handle (Chases away all the other males and even humans)
- Frequent urination and splashing urine on the back by flicking the tail,
- Prolific secretion from the poll glands situated behind the ears and rubbing the secretion onto plants as a way of marking its territory
- Protrusion of a soft palatal flap from the mouth (with air, in form of a pink balloon as shown in the picture below)
- Making characteristic noises and continuously grinding their teeth with saliva flowing from the mouth
- Rutting bulls should be separated as they may fight to death
Signs of heat in female camels
- She may become restless
- May show swelling of the vulva and mucous discharge
- Frequent urination
- Making characteristic noise
- May have reduced milk yield
- May sniff urine from other females
- The heat is repeated after 20 - 25 days for females that fail to conceive
Recommended breeding practices and their advantages
1. Avoid inbreeding by:
- Replacing the breeding bull at 12 years when its first daughters becomes sexually mature
- Exchanging bulls with neighbors
- Use of two or more breeding bulls
- Minimizes congenital/inherent problems e.g. deformities
- Enhance calf growth
- Reduce calf mortality
2. Use young bulls below 13 years
- Young bulls have high ability to follow and mount females
- Young bulls come to rut faster after the dry season and serve for a longer period in any given breeding season
- Young and active bulls ensures higher conception rates of females
- Retired bulls can be castrated and fattened for meat or other uses
3. Use females of less or equal to 6 calvings
- These are young females who normally have good body condition
- Produce more milk for the calf and humans and their calves show higher growth rate
4. To upgrade your camels through cross breeding, look for a bull with the traits you desire and not a female
- A bull propagates desired traits in a herd very fast as it has capacity to serve 50 dams in a breeding season while a female can only give birth to one calf at a time
Care of pregnant camels, a month before giving birth
- Closely monitor the camels as this is the most critical stage
- Graze the camels near settlement or boma as they may require some assistance
- Avoid grazing such camels in areas with pot holes, gulleys, rocky areas, slippery grounds since such camels may easily fall down and severely injure themself
- Do not allow the camels to wallow in the soil
- Do not put such camels in sloppy bomas as it is difficult to stand on such a ground
Signs of labor
- Enlargement of the udder
- Sagging of the ligaments at the root of the tail
- Restlessness including lying down and standing up
- Loss of appetite
- Make characteristic noise
- Isolating themselves from other camels
|What the herder/helper* should do||Why|
| Note: If mother dies before two months post birth, the calf rarely survives.
Must witness dropping of placenta although retention is very rare; can also be removed manually
|Retained afterbirth in camels may lead to severe post-birth complications|
* It is advisable to call an experienced herder, community based animal health worker (CBAHW) or veterinarian to assist in complicated birth
** The dense milk that animals produce for the first 2 to 3 days after birth
Additional calving management tips If the calf has breathing difficulties soon after birth, do the following;
- Cold water poured over the chest and head has the effect of shock and makes the calf raise and shake the head
- Massaging with two fingers from the eyes along the nose to the nostrils clears out the mucus
- Irritation of the nostrils with a straw makes the calf sneeze and expel the mucus
- Turn the calf upside down (for example by putting its rear legs across your shoulder and get someone to hold them there) with its head towards the ground and massage the chest moving down towards the head
Note: Do not reach into the mouth with your fingers!! This can cause an infection and diarrhea in the calf.
|Management practice||How it should be done||Why|
Allow unlimited access of the calf to the antibodies, vitamins, proteins rich and easily digestible colostrum within the 1st 3 to 6 hours. If the dam does not produce milk, induce the let down by palpating the udder and the abdomen. In the absence of milk from the mother, feed the calf on milk from other camels.
Note: Herders sometimes deny or give very little colostrum to the calves, claiming that excess colostrum causes diarrhea, especially among the second calvers . Research has shown that irregular feeding and bacterial infection causes the diarrhea and not the colostrum. Other causes includes worms and ingestion of dirt
Camel calves need to be protected against cold especially at night. The pen can be made with thick and strong bushes cut from the surrounding. The pen should be swept at least once a week to avoid accumulation of ecto- parasites
Ticks contribute significantly to the high camel calf mortality reported in previous studies. A camel keeper should thoroughly wash young calves with acaricides e.g. triatix once in two weeks or even shorter interval depending on the tick load
| Diarrhea management
Note: Different camel keeping communities use different traditional methods to manage diarrhea. However, these methods are largely ineffective as evidenced by high mortality rates. Effective modern and traditional methods of managing diarrhea as explained under the 'how' column exist.
|Method 1: Rehydration of the calf using a mixture of water, table salt and sugar/honey
Method 2: Traditionally eggs from chickens which interact with camels is used
Method 3: Use of conventional drugs
|Calf management in the first four months of growth||
|Management of the non suckling calves (weaners)||
- Additional methods of managing diarrhea in camel calves (this works in some cases with cattle calves, dose may need to be increased for camel calves)
- Drench with Kaolin (about 2 handfuls in a soda bottle mixed with a bit of cud from the mothers mouth and filled with clean (preferably boiled and cooled) water. Drench at least twice per day until symptoms disappear.
- Charcoal drench: Crush charcoal very finely. Put about 2 handfuls in a soda bottle, fill clean water and shake. Drench morning and evening.
The importance of good nutrition in camels
The importance of good nutrition in camels Nutrition of the camel is fundamental to growth, reproduction and production. Optimum nutrition is essential for it has a profound impact on fertility, foetal growth, birth weight and also the future milk yield. As is the case for humans, good nutrition implies that the camel must get sufficient proteins, energy, roughage, minerals and water.
- Protein is important for growth and milk production
- Energy enables camels to walk around in search of pastures and water
- Roughage enhances feed intake and digestion
- Minerals are important in reproduction, formation of bones, feed digestion and absorption and milk yield, among others
- Water is useful in transportation of food, air and wastes through the body systems
Comparative studies between camels and other livestock show that the camel has lower food intake in relation to body weight than any other livestock species.
- Foraging camels spread over a large area thus minimizing pressure on a particular forage species and area i.e. low trampling and soil disturbance,
- The cleft on the upper lip helps camels in diet selection i.e. removing leaves from stems and picking acacia pods from the ground,
- On the average, protein content of diets selected by camels is higher than for other livestock,
- The long legs and neck enable camels to browse up to 3 m above the ground, a height not reached by other livestock
- Due to their specific forage preferences and feeding at higher levels, camels are rarely in direct competition with other animals (notably cattle and sheep) for grazing and therefore a combination of these species results to increased productivity per unit of land
Suitable camel feeds
Given the opportunity, camels prefer to feed on shrubs and trees (browsing). However, in the absence of browse forages they can comfortably live on herbs and annual grasses. The concept of planted forages is not applicable in the Kenya situation where camels are reared under extensive free range systems. What is practical is to manage the natural forages in a way that promotes growth of palatable and quality shrubs that camels prefer. Keeping a mixture of camels and small stock or cattle where possible helps in maintaining the required forage composition.
- A camel requires 8-10 hours of grazing daily to be satisfied. This depends on breed, body size and feed availability
- In an ideal situation, camels are able to select a high-quality diet that provides all the nutrients required by the body
- Camels are also able to survive on low quality fibrous roughages. They adapt well to different diets and dietary conditions
- During the dry season, when other forages are scarce, camels can browse on the green tips of trees (e.g. Acacia sp.) that other livestock species do not, enabling them to survive droughts,
- It is worth noting that there are some plants that can poison camels e.g. Capparis tomentosa and Solanum spp and areas where such plants are concentrated should be avoided.
Some important range forage species for camels
|Growth form||Local Names|
|Acacia tortilis||Tree||Abuk Abak||Dahar||Etir Ewoi||Ltepes||Dadacha|
|Acacia nilotica||Tree||Bili Madow||Gillorit||Ekalapelimet||Ilkiloriti||Burquqe|
|Indigofera spinosa||Dwarf shrub||Rufile Maratel||Khoro||Emakwi||Lkitagesi||Korategala Kiltipe|
|Salsola dendroides||Dwarf shrub||Darran-ad||Hadum||-||Aduung||Durte|
|Boscia coriacea||Shrub||Ghalangal Dakkiyah||Yoror||Erdung||Serichoi||Galgacha|
|Balanites aegyptiaca||Tree||Kullen Kidthi||Kulum||Eroronyit||Sarai Ilbulei||Badhan Baddana|
|Salvadora persica||Shrub||Adde Athei||Hayei||Esekon||Sokotei||Aadhe|
|Cordia sinensis||Shrub||Mared Mareer||Gaer||Edome||Ilgoita||Madeera|
|Barleria Spp||Herb||Gamaadiis Odarol||Geidow Sucha||-||Lkurumbule Sucha||Maadek Shiisha|
|Blepharis linarifolia||Herb||Quarda Yumarook||Lemaruk Harja||-||Emarak||Kutumbule Baraata|
The camel ruminates, chewing cud mostly at night, but though there are similarities in stomach construction, the camel stomach has only 3 chambers with no clear distinction between omasum and abomasum. Studies show that camels digest cellulose better than other ruminants. Further, camels have lower metabolic rates than other livestock, helping them to utilize their feed very efficiently and minimize water intake.
- Mineral deficiencies adverse affect productivity of camels
- Camels are known to prefer grazing and browsing on salty plants, suggesting higher requirement for salts.
- Pastoralists are aware that camels require salt and some make efforts to take their camels to naturally occurring salt sources.
- Suggested salt allowances under normal dryland conditions range between 30 and 60 g/day. A camel working hard in the hot season may need as much as 140 g of salt daily.
- However, research has shown that camels suffer specific mineral deficiencies due to complete lack or inadequate levels in the natural sources, which suggests need for properly formulated and balanced minerals for camels. One option is to buy industrial chemicals especially those containing phosphorus (dicalcium phosphate), calcium (calcium carbonate) copper, zinc, selenium, magnesium (copper sulphate, zinc sulphate, magnesium sulphate) that will supply key and commonly deficient elements and mix them with natural mineral licks or other livestock salt available in the market. The mixing ratio however needs to be guided by an expert as it depends on the difference between what the camels can get from the grazing resources and their daily requirements. Regular moving of camel herds to places with natural salts (water, licks or plant) for supplementation do help to some extent.
Compared to other livestock, the camel is the most efficient in water utilization in the body by being able to reabsorb most of the water in the intestines and kidney leading to dry feacal pellets and concentrated urine, avoiding water loss through evaporation, among others. Camels also have capacity to utilize metabolic water by recycling urea. Water requirements in camels depends on the water content of the forage and accessibility to water but is lower in relation to body weight than other livestock species . During wet periods, camels get sufficient water from the feed and may not require direct watering. However, during dry seasons and drought periods, camels require regular watering, the recommended interval being 5 to 8 days. Watering intervals longer than this leads to dehydration which interferes with the functioning of the body systems and may reduce productivity. Watering intervals during drought of up to 14 days have however been reported. Dehydration in camels could be tested by the skin elasticity. This is done by grabbing and pulling out the loose skin e.g. the neck or lower part of the abdomen and then you release. If the skin reverts back to it normal position quickly, it suggests that the animal may not require water. However, if the skin takes long to revert to its normal position, this suggests significant degree of dehydration.
Supplementary feeding in camels
Under normal circumstances camels, can get enough and quality diet from natural vegetation. This implies that in traditional extensive systems with enough browse and water, extra feeding may not be beneficial. However during periods of feed scarcity or under peri-urban production systems, supplementary feeding would certainly be beneficial to camels particularly the pregnant, lactating and calves.
- Supplementation can be achieved through harvesting and storage of some feed material e.g. acacia pods especially for the settled households.
- The nutritional quality of natural vegetation is highest at the time when vegetation is beginning to dry up and this would be the most appropriate harvesting time.
- Grass hay, minerals supplements and concentrates like dairy cubes could be bought from the market and fed to camels. However, this may prove expensive and only affordable for a few high yielding breeds like Pakistani.
Management differ among different camel keeping societies, but all try to keep a predominantly female herd. The camels are usually kept in thorny enclosures over night, where they can be inspected, milked and generally looked after and kept safe from predators.
Where camels are kept as part of a mixed herd, the watering intervals follow the other animals, but where camels are kept separately, watering intervals may be increased gradually up to 2 weeks, enabling camel herds look for browse from a very large distance from water sources.
Well fed camels, which are kept away from areas with biting flies and tsetse flies rarely become sick, but droughts, excessive rains, lack of browse and other debilitating factors can lead to diseases in camels.
Symptoms and Treatment
TrypanosomiasisNot all trypanosomiasis parasites are transmitted by the tsetse fly. Trypanosoma evansi (thryps) is a very serious camel parasite mostly spread by biting flies. The parasite replicates in camels, horses, dogs, cattle, water-buffaloes and elephants. Equines and dogs are susceptible and usually die from the infection. Cattle sheep, goats and antelopes often become infected and act as asymptomatic carriers.
Symptoms: Thryps affects camels of all ages, with a higher incidence of disease in sub-adult camels shortly after weaning. Many environmental and host factors have impact on the course of the disease such as other infections, nutritional status, age, pregnancy, previous exposure, etc. If the several of the following symptoms are present in an animal, it is wise to get it tested and if positive, get it treated:
- Visible weight loss, the hump starts drooping
- Lack of appetite
- Swellings (oedema) may appear on feet, brisket, underbelly and eyelids
- Fluctuating body temperature with initial peaks of fever up to 41°C
- Mild diarrhea
- Different smell of urine
Diagnosis: The best tool for diagnosing thryps in the field is a battery-operated mini centrifuge for testing the camels blood. Such equipment should be operated by a vet or other trained animal health officers.
Treatment: The best drug to combat thryps currently is Triquin. In order to calculate the correct dose the approximate weight of the sick camel must be known (see Bodyweight estimation).
NOTE: Triquin is only meant to treat camels. Do not use on any other animal. Examples are known of goats being injected with this drug and dying immediately.
Other important camel diseases are:
Skin Diseases of Camels
- Camel Pox
- Sarcoptic Mange
- Bacteriological skin infections
- Abscesses of the skin and external lymph nodes
Gastrointestinal helminthes of camels
- Liver Flukes
List of Laboratories for analysis of camel diseases
- Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Marsabit; P.O Box 147-60500; Tel.+254 069 210 2040; Fax +254 069 210 2220
- KARI, Trypanosomosis Research Centre; P.O. Box 362 - 00902 Kikuyu; Tel. +254 66 32960/4; Fax +254 66 32397; E-mail email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
- KARI, National Veterinary Research Centre; P. O. Box 32 - 00902 Kikuyu; Tel. +254 066 32106/2, 32000, 32703; Fax +254 066 32450; E-mail email@example.com
- Analabs, Kenya Limited; P. O. Box Nairobi
Information Source Links
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- Engelhardt, W., Haarmeyer, P. and Lechner-Doll, M. (2006). Feed intake, forestomach fluid volume, dilution rate and mean retention of fluid in the forestomach during water deprivation and rehydration in camels (Camelus sp.). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part A, 143:504 - 507.
- Evans, J.O., Simpkin, S.P., Atkins, D.J. (eds) (1994). Camel Keeping in Kenya (The Camel Handbook). Range Management Handbook of Kenya Volume III, 8, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Development and Marketing, Range Management Division Nairobi 1994.
- Field, C.R. (1988). Characteristics and physiology of camels. In: S. P. Simpkin Camel Production, A series of lectures given by FARM-Africa at Nairobi University pp 23
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- Gitao, G.C. (2006). Camel Husbandry: A Practical Guide to Camel Husbandry. Intermediate Communnications Ltd., Nairobi (Kenya).
- Glücks, I.V. (2007). The prevalence of bacterial and protozoal intestinal pathogens in suckling camel calves in Northern Kenya, Freie Universität Berlin, Mensch und Buch Verlag, Germany
- Guliye, A.Y., Noor, I.M., Bebe, B.O., and Kosgey, I.S. (2007). The role of camels (Camelus dromedarius) in the traditional lifestyle of the Somali pastoralists in the arid and semi-arid areas of northern Kenya. Outlook on Agriculture, 36(1):29 - 34.
- Heller, R., Lechner, M., Weyreter, H., Von Engelhardt, W. (1986). Forestomach fluid volume and retention of fluid and particles in the gastrointestinal tract of the camel (Camelus dromedarius). Journal of Veterinary Medicine, Series A 33, 396 - 399.
- Hülsebusch, C.G., and Kaufmann, B.A., (2002). Camel breeds and breeding in northern Kenya: An account of local camel breeds of northern Kenya and camel breeding management of Turkana, Rendille, Gabbra and Somali pastoralists. Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) Nairobi-Kenya
- Kuria, S.G., (2004). Mineral nutrition on settlement (manyatta)-based milk camel herds among the Rendille community of northern Kenya. PhD Dissertation, University of Nairobi-Kenya
- Köhler-Rollefson, I., Mundy, P. and Mathias, E. (2001). A field manual of camel diseases, Traditional and modern health care for the dromedary, ITDG Publishing, UK. ISBN-10: 185339503X
- Lechner-Doll, M,, Rutagwenda, T., Schwartz, H.J., Schultka, W., Von Engelhardt, W. (1990). Seasonal changes of ingesta mean retention time and forestomach fluid volume in indigenous camels, cattle, sheep and goats grazing a thornbush savannah pasture in Kenya. Journal of Agricultural Science, 115:409 - 420.
- Manefield, G.W., and Tinson, A.H., (1996). Camels A Compendium, IN: The TG Hungerford Vade Mecum Series for Domestic Animals, Series C, No 22, University of Sydney Post Graduate Foundation in Veterinary Science
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- Rutagwenga, T., Lechner-Doll, M., Scwartz, H. Z., Schultka, W., Von Engelhardt, W. (1990). Dietary preference and degradability of forage on a semi-arid thornbush savannah by indigenous ruminants, camels and donkeys. Animal Feed Science and Technology. 31, 179 - 192.
- Schwartz, H.J., and Dioli, M. (1992). The one-humped camel in Eastern Africa: A pictorial guide to diseases, health care and management. Verlag Josef Margraf, Weikersheim (Germany). ISBN-10: 3823612182
- Wernery, U., and Kaaden, O.R., (2002). Infectious Diseases in Camelids, Blackwell Science Berlin Vienna, Boston, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, London, Melbourne, Oxford, Tokyo 2nd Edition. ISBN 3826333047, 9783826333040
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