Animal husbandry covers a variety of subjects which have direct or indirect impact on the final product. Breeding, feeding, housing, disease control and care all affect the growth and production of animals. Husbandry has been based on superstition and practices handed down by father to son over the ages. Customs regarding the ownership of camels; who is allowed to graze them; and even watering have been ingrained in the culture of the various nomadic people (Gast, et al., 1969; Hartley, 1970; Mares, 1954).
“The maintenance of the fragile ecological balance in the desert requires extreme mobility and endurance of the men and the herds”. These words of Hilde Gauthier Pilters (1979) sum up the difficulties of camel raising under present conditions. The search for food, the attractions offered by encroaching urbanization, and a more sedentary life are causing people to abandon camel holding and turn to easier ways of living (Cole, 1975) that is, until times of drought, when the so-called easier living and rapid turnover of crops and other food animals, die leaving thousands starving. In 1973, during the worst drought for over fifty years, camels suffered the least. An FAO census (1977) taken in Niger, showed a 100 percent loss for cattle, 50 percent loss for sheep and goats and only 20 percent loss for camels.
Traditional camel raising has no future. Camel husbandry must be revolutionized, and camel raising must be shown to be not only socially acceptable, but economically viable. Like the old cultural values, the traditional role of the camel is disappearing, so new and improved methods of camel raising must be initiated that will enable man to utilize the natural ability of the camel to produce milk, meat, fiber, hides, skins and energy in areas where other animals cannot produce, or produce only with difficulty.
Milk and meat yields can also be increased by better husbandry. Planned breeding programmes, increasing the amount of feed, better utilization of feed and a good health programme are as important as understanding the physiology of reproduction, gastro-enterology and endocrinology.
There is often little or no cooperation between the animal scientist and the botanist in trying to achieve the common goal of improving fodder that would improve animal husbandry and provide food for people. Modern technology and changing society can aid camel raising as a source of food in those parts of the world where water and fodder are scarce.
Camel raising must not be abandoned; it is often the only way to utilize vast desert areas (Gauthier-Pilters, 1979). Although considered a highrisk animal, because of its slow reproduction rate (Dahl and Hjort, 1979) the camel is often the only defence against starvation during the perennial periods of drought.
There is a direct relationship between the cultural habits of man and camel holding (Mares, 1954). The nomadic life is a consequence of the need to search for grazing. With the decline in this way of life the social structure of the nomadic community is changing. In traditional camel raising the entire community is together during the cool season, but much time is spent with the camels in aiding mating and calving (Dahl and Hjort, 1979). This is the time when meat and milk are plentiful and access to water and pastures for the animals is easy. During the hot season the families disperse according to their tasks with the various groups of camels. Almost every able-bodied person, from seven years old to the aged, is needed in the search for pasture (Torry, 1973). The pastoral societies thus feel deprived of society's benefits and experience a much lower standard of living (Squires, 1978).
Three alternatives for housing and feeding camels can therefore be considered: (1) The age-old method of wandering great distances looking for feed. But the camels' way of feeding is entirely different from that of sheep and goats, which graze intensively, and cattle, which move slowly and demand large amounts of fluid. Camels never overgraze (Gauthier-Pilters, 1979); they are constantly on the move and take only small portions of each plant. In contrast, sheep and goats graze down to the roots, and goats often climb into trees to obtain feed. In the summer of 1973 in the interior part of middle Mauritania not a single blade of grass was left because of the grazing sheep and goats. (Gauthier-Pilters, 1979). Even in extremely poor vegetation areas the camels did not consume all the feed. Mixed ranching or breeding in the traditional camel areas is virtually impossible because the vegetation is not only dispersed and irregular, but is often unpalatable to other animals. These areas are not suitable for agriculture.
Wandering with camels can be made more profitable by introducing plants into the grazing areas. This can be done by keeping sheep or goats with the camels in order to increase production. The camel, however, shows preference for some plants. In western Sahara in a pasture of forty plants the camel's diet consisted of Diplotaxis pitardiana (Gauthier-Pilters, 1979) forming one third of total feed intake. In western Erg, Cornulaca monocantha made up 65 percent of feed intake, although seven other fodder plants were available. One of the plants readily eaten by the camel is Anabasis arterioidea, which is a hardy, dry plant that supposedly wears down the teeth. Another plant that is preferred in Aristida purgens. This plant is a hardy grower, but dries up quickly in the spring. It covers vast dune areas in Mauritania and western Algeria. For up to five months of the year it is the only fodder available. The dry stalks, leaves and flowers are all nutritious and more succulent pastures are ignored in favor of these plants. Aristida plumosa and Panicum turgidum are also favourites of the camel. Even spiny plants are liked and do not hamper the camel from eating them.
In Israel, experiments were carried out in growing various species of the salt bushes, Atriplex, and of Cassia, Acacia and Kochia as shrubs and as reapable fodder and as a by-product grown on municipal waste (Forti, 1971; Forti, et al., 1980; Pasternak, 1981). The salt bushes can be grown intensively and are easily introduced into arid and semi-arid areas. In areas, where the average annual rainfall was between 160 to 200 mm, yields in deep loessial soils were generally good to outstanding. In sandy soils and overlaying loessial soils natural selection was severe and only a few species could survive. Atriplex canescens and ssp. linearis seemed to thrive the best. No species survived in deep sand dunes. The extremely rapid development and great density and height of Atriplex breweri and Atriplex lentiformis made it difficult for sheep to graze conditions which would not hamper the camels, but would be preferred by them. This enables camels and sheep to graze together, one complementing the other. Even following heavy grazing the shrubs recovered rapidly, and in the areas harvested by tractor the yields were 2 ton per dunam with three crops per year. As camels and sheeps have a liking for these plants, their introduction into the camel's grazing areas, or grown in pure stands, would allow an increase in herds of camels, and the combined grazing of sheep and camels.
The grazing camel has low feed requirements (Gauthier-Pilters, 1979). They eat 8–12 kg of dry matter a day, about 30–40 kg of fresh pasture with 80 percent water content. But normal daily feed intake averages 10–20 kg fresh feed, i.e. 5–10 kg dry matter a day. The amount most frequently eaten was 6–7 kg of dry matter a day. This is a most important observation when discussing other methods of housing and feeding. In addition, the feed intake observation applies to an animal understanding standard work consisting of carrying 120 kg for 6 hours a day at 5 kg per hour. Camels can thrive for months by eating only 5 kg of dry fodder a day. The minimum ration is about 2 kg a day, recorded in the drought of 1973.
Although water is an essential part of an animal's diet, the camel can survive long periods without drinking, and then replenish the loss in a very short time (Schmidt-Nielsen, 1964; Yagil, et al., 1974). Nevertheless, water needs are dictated nor only by the climate, but also by feed (GautierPilters, 1979). (In autumn, when grazing on Acacia, the camels requires 4 ½ liters of water per day.) This increases to 13 liters in the spring and reaches 30 liters a day when grazing on salty pastures. In sourthern Algeria, during the summer season, eating evergreen bushes supplies the equivalent of 15–20 liters of water a day. Even on dry food, straw and concentrated feed, the camel is unaffected by a lack of water for up to ten days or more (Yagil, et al., 1974). From October to May there is so much fluid in the vegetation that the camel does not require drinking water (Gauthier-Pilters, 1979; Macfarlane, 1977; Schmidt-Nielsen, 1956).
The mechanisms that enable the camel to go long periods without water are those which allow for a low rate of water loss and a high tolerance to dehydration (Gauthier-Pilters, 1979). Even though body weight losses of 40 percent can be found, camels only stop eating after more than a third of the body weight is lost. The rapid replenishment of losses (Yagil, et al., 1974) and the fact that the camels do not muddy water supplies mean a far more efficient utilization of water (Dahl and Hjort, 1979). The same mechanisms allow the dehydrated, lactating camel to produce diluted milk (Yagil and Etzion, 1980). However, water supplies must be readily available as a herd of camels will drink large amounts in a very short time, so that slowly drawing buckets of water from a well will not suffice.
Water is an essential element for lactating animals, both for drinking and for the growth of vegetation. Both sheep (Stephenson, et al., 1980) and cattle (Bianca, 1965) need free access to water for adequate lactation. Lactating sheep and cattle have a much higher obligatory water turnover. Water is also essential to the camel, even though the milk production is unaffected by seven days of dehydration (Yagil and Etzion, 1980). When introducing plants into the camel's grazing areas, vegetation which is drought resistant and requires minimal water must be chosen. When referring to the radius of grazing for various animals (Schmidt-Nielsen, 1965, it appears that the camels has, by far, the greatest grazing radius. This can also be used in planning a better exploitation of the water resources and introduction of plants.
(ii) A second method of feeding camels is to allow them to graze off the remains of cash-crops (Evans and Howys, 1979). This is commonly adopted, but is a very hazardous method and does not allow for long-term planning. Drought will not only wipe out the crop, but may also present a problem in feeding the camels.
(iii) The third method, which has not yet been the subject of research, is raising and breeding the animals in a stall system. The other two methods are cheaper and easier so far as housing is concerned. In the stall system, simple, mobile fencing can be erected that would restrain the animals in the evening (Evans and Powys, 1979). Before discussing the feedlot system an adequate supply of feed must be guaranteed. It is not enough to supply feed for maintenance, but production must also be taken into account. Very detailed tables are available for cattle, swine and sheep holders which supply the energy value of each feed and the amounts necessary for each age and each stage of production. If little feed is available, it may be necessary to maintain fewer animals to guarantee maximum production per animal. This fact is often overlooked by the pastoral tribes and over-grazing often leads to severe damage at vegetation and to smaller and weaker animal.
Introduction of hardy, nutritious plants, such as the Atriplex (Forti, et al., 1980) which can be reaped (Pasternak, 1981) will enable maintenance of camels in a closed area. No problems were encountered, either in fertility or in production, when camels were restrained in a relatively small area (Yagil and Etzion, 1980a and b). Research in plant introduction is at present unconnected with the plants palatability, digestability and utilization by the animal. Housing the animals will not necessarily cost a great deal.
A shaded area is all that is necessary in the enclosed space. This method of holding camels will enable the population to enjoy the benefits of sedentary life such as education and health services, but especially it will allow for greater improvement of the growth and production of camels.
Better production of animal protein can be attained by better use of grasslands, improved pasture and fodder production, and also the improved production capacity of the animals themselves.
The breeding of camels, as carried out today is a high risk because of the slow reproduction rate (Dahl, 1979). Females are six years old when they first give birth, then only calve once every two years. Building up a herd is thus not only expensive, but is a long-term undertaking. This can be remedied by improved breeding techniques. The calving interval can be brought down to eighteen months, similar to that of cows (Knoess, 1976). Shortening of the calving interval can also be achieved by separating the calves from the mothers at an early age and milking the mothers as is done in the case of cows. Calves can already browse at one month of age (Evans and Powys, 1979). The problem of the female camel not giving milk when her calf is not present (Gast, et al., 1969) was also inherent in the Arabian cow (Jonas, 1952), but this can be overcome. Twice-a-day milking will probably allow the camel to transfer her bond to the milker. Bactrian camels are milked without any such problems (Kuchabaev, 1972).
Animal breeding began as an art many thousands of years ago (Rice, et al., 1957). Among camel-herding tribes the best male was selected as the breeding animal, while the other males were castrated or kept separated from the females (Hartley, 1979). However, the selection of the male was not based on production parameters. Livestock improvement depends primarily on the breeder's ability to select the animals in his herd which have received from their parents a genetic make-up which is an improvement on the herd average. But genetic choice for production is not enough; the docility and temperament of the animals must be considered as a factor when building the herd. Culling of females is also essential for herd improvement. The rate of selection depends on the availability of younger and better animals. In choosing animals for breeding the education and training of the pastoral (now semi-rural) community are necessary. Performance records of both males and females are essential.
Records must be kept of body type, growth rate, udder conformation, milk production and fertility the biggest problem in implementing improved breeding is the long time-gap involved on progeny testing. To meet today's standards a female will need to mature at 5 years of age, be pregnant almost a year, then have a further year of lactation before she can be judged. This is a minimum of seven years for a female. Judging a male for breeding will take about the same time. It is therefore of vital importance (a) to obtain earlier sexual maturity. This can probably be attained with improved feeding and management; (b) to use artificial insemination and semen banks at central stations; and (c) to decrease inter-calving intervals. All this can only be attained if advisors and extension workers are able to move among the mostly nomadic tribes. Better housing and feeding will, to a large extent, increase growth rate of the herd. The growth rate of young calves is far greater in the wet season than the dry season (Field, 1979). The heat itself does not depress growth, but poor quality fodder does. Nutritional and environmental restrictions on milk production are countered by mechanisms controlling lactation (Stephenson, et al., 1980). In hot areas, with poor fodder, the balance is tilted to restricting milk production in sheep and cows. In camels, probably in order to guarantee survival of the species, the balance was tilted toward maintaining lactation. Young lambs in the heat must drink water (Stephenson, et al., 1980), while young camels derive enough liquid from their mothers' milk (Yagil and Etzion, 1980). This genetic benefit is important and should be retained when selecting animals for milk production.
Therefore, the third option of management, i.e. stallfeeding, introduction of plants, selection of breeding stock and education and training will give the best opportunity for improving the production of camels. The intensive holding of camels will also decrease the risk run in herding of camels escaping in order to return to the area where they were born, even if this occurs years later and hundreds of kilometres away (Denis, 1970).
Another benefit of stall holding is that disease prevention and control can easily be carried out and this will also greatly improve productivity. Internal and external diseases cause a high mortality rate among young camels, and are the cause of abortions and reduced milk and meat production (Evans and Powys, 1979; Mustafa, 1978; Richard, 1979). Feed would be better utilized by healthy and parasite-free animals. The diseases or health hazards of camels are as follows:
Camel pox is the main viral disease. There are regular outbreaks among the young camels. It is mainly a benign ailment seen mostly on the lips, head and other soft parts of the skin.
Rinderpest. In the open, camels are fairly resistant to outbreaks of rinderpest. Experimental injections with the virus give a relatively small increase in body temperature and an immunological response.
Foot-and-mouth disease is sporadically found, but on the whole the animals are unaffected. Even in wide-spread cases of the disease among cattle, no antibodies were found in the camels. A virulent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, which greatly affected sheep, goats and cattle did not affect the camels, although they were in close contact (Evans and Powys, 1979).
Anthrax which causes a swelling of the superficial lymph glands and almonellosis are two acute bacterial infections found in camels. Camels with severe symptoms of anthrax have been killed for food without causing an outbreak of the disease.
Brucellosis is not a well-identified clinical entity. Abortions are frequent but have not been found to be caused by brucellosis. Although tests have not been conclusive, brucellosis appears to be a bigger problem than previously considered. More intensive husbandry will increase incidence of this disease if no proper preventive measures are taken.
Corynebacteriosis is widespread. On slaughter, lung abcesses caused by Corynebacterium are often found. Pericarditis and pleurisy are complications which are often observed.
Pulmonary-affection-complex or, as it is known, dromedary respiratory disease complex can be caused by rickettsia, virus and pasteurella infections.
Rickettsiosis: could be an important zoonotic disease. This was determined serologically because, as yet, it has not been demonstrated clinically.
Parasitic diseases are dominant in camels, both internally and externally. Trypanosomiasis can cause deaths, but is manifested as a chronic, periodically febrile disease. It leads to abortions, premature births, and inability to feed the young. Reproduction is thus greatly reduced. The causative organism is Trypanosoma evansil.
Helminthiasis hydatidosis is endemic in certain areas of the world. Large cysts are found in lungs, liver and spleen. It is a zoonotic problem of proportions far greater than has been documented and further research is needed. Prevention and treatment are simple.
Myiasis is a seasonal problem, as are camel bots, which are found in the nasopharynx.
Mange is caused mainly by Sarcoptes scabiei and was mentioned in the first literature available on camels.
Ticks are a great problem. They can be found on the entire body, but usually concentrated under the tail and in the ears. Adult Hyaloma can be found deep in the ears. Spraying kills the ticks and prevents further spreading.
The main actions to prevent these ailments are:
Systemic treatment against trypanosomiasis
Vaccination against pyogenic diseases
Vaccination against camel pox
Vaccination against anthrax
From what has so far been said in this chapter it is clear that the main reason for the decline in camel pastoralism - the long period of time needed to build the herd and the slow improvement of the herd can be countered. Either controlled grazing or stall-feeding makes it possible to improve holding, feeding, selection and the control of parasites and diseases. All these factors will increase the value of the camel and reverse the trend of giving up camel herding in favour of growing cash crops or sheep raising. Sheep, goat and even cattle rearing can be undertaken in conjunction with camel raising. This will offer the benefits of quick-growing and rapidly reproducing animals that are very susceptible to drought and relatively slower developing animals that can continue producing food for man even under severe dry conditions.
The price of camels is comparable to that of cows (Evans and Powys, 1979), although scarcity of camels is raising this price. The direct upkeep of camels is far less than cattle, as they subsist on inferior quality fodder. However when conditions are acceptable cattle are preferred because of camels' slower maturing rate. There is no question that in areas where both feed and water are readily available cattle are more profitable, but no comparative study has been done on production of cattle when feed quality or water quantity is low. When drought exists cattle are soon annihilated (Rice, et al., 1957). Sheep and goats are also far more susceptible to drought than camels (FAO, 1977). The holding of camels, in addition to cattle, sheep and goats will, therefore, increase the utilization of plants grown on meager water resources, while in times of drought, when other animals must be slaughtered, the camel will continue to provide milk and meat for man. This will prevent the high rate of human mortality associated with the loss of livestock (Seaman, et al., 1978).
It is possible that intensive holding of camels will give rise to new problems. Veterinary and agricultural supervision of the herds will provide advice and assistance in overcoming any cause that could affect the growth, health and production of the animals. Education and training are the keystones to establishing a self-sufficient source of animal protein for human nutrition.
Water hole for camels in the desert