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Chapter 7: Camels, llamas and alpacas

Unit 57: Camels, llamas and alpaca
Unit 58: Ageing camels by the teeth
Unit 59: Breeding camels
Unit 60: Milk and care of the young camel
Unit 61: Feeding and watering of camels
Unit 62: Surra of camels (trypanosomiasis)
Unit 63: Internal parasites of camels
Unit 64: Skin diseases of camels
Unit 65: Foot problems in camels

Unit 57: Camels, llamas and alpaca

Camels live in Africa and Asia. Camels can live in dry lands where there is little feed and water available. Most are one-humped but in northern areas where there are cold, dry lands two-humped camels are found.

Camels are used for meat, milk, fibre (wool and hair), for transport and for other work and their dung is used for fires. Camels provide everything in a desert environment.

Llamas and alpacas are small camel-like animals from the cold, dry mountain areas of South America. They are used for meat and wool. The llamas are also used as pack animals (to carry loads)

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 What camels are used for.
2 What llamas and alpacas are used for.
3 Keeping llamas and alpacas.

The camel

Camels are cheap to keep as they can live on feed such as thorny bushes which other animals cannot eat. If they are fed and kept well they do not get many diseases.

Camels are used for riding, transport and agricultural work. In some areas they are kept for their milk as they can produce more milk from poor feed than other milk animals. Camel meat is eaten and the fibre (wool and hair) is used. Today in some areas camel bone is used for hand crafts.

Alpacas and llamas

The very fine wool of the alpaca is used to produce clothes and the animals are sheared every year. There are two types of alpaca:

· Suri, which has long fine wool, each animal produces about 2.5 kg.
· Huacayo, which has shorter wool, each animal producing 2 to 3.5 kg.

The wool of the llama is coarse and is used for such things as ropes and saddle bags. The llama is sheared once every two years and gives about 3.5 kg of wool. Llamas are used as pack animals and can carry loads of up to 30 kg for 15 to 20 kilometres a day.

Keeping llamas and alpacas

The animals can breed at 1 year of age but it is better to breed from them first when they are 2 or 3 years old. Both males and females are kept together. The female gives birth in the rainy season, which is December to March, and comes into heat immediately after giving birth.

Llamas can browse and graze, alpacas graze. Both are like sheep and cattle and need water each day. Both the alpaca and the llama use communal dung heaps. The dung of these animals is dried and used for fires. The diseases of llamas and alpacas are similar to those found in camels and ruminants. They can suffer from:

· Mange, tick paralysis and ringworm (see Unit 64)
· Foot and mouth disease and rinderpest (see Unit 75)
· Rabies, from dogs or foxes (see Unit 78)
· Hydatid disease (see Unit 80).

The following units (Unit 58 to 65) are on the camel with some reference made to the llama and alpaca.

Unit 58: Ageing camels by the teeth

It is not a simple task to age a camel. Camels can be aged up to 7 years while llamas and alpacas can be aged up to 5 years.

The camel has 22 milk teeth and 32 permanent teeth. It is different to other ruminants in having two front teeth in the upper jaw. Camels also have a pair of canine (dog teeth) in both the upper and lower jaws which are used to crush woody plants for food.

The first pair of permanent cheek teeth are separate from the other teeth and are dark in colour.

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should be able to:

1 Recognise the milk teeth of camels.
2 Recognise the permanent teeth of the camel.
3 Age a camel from its teeth.
4 Know the age of the llama and alpaca from the teeth.

The milk teeth of the camel

The camel has 22 milk teeth arranged as:

Upper jaw

one front tooth on each side


one canine (dog) tooth on each side


three cheek teeth on each side


Lower jaw

three front teeth on each side


one canine (dog) tooth on each side


two cheek teeth on each side


Ageing camels from the milk teeth

(1) New born:

There are no teeth.

(2) One month:

Upper jaw:

2 cheek teeth on each side

Lower jaw:

one cheek tooth on each side 2 front teeth

(3) Three months:

Upper jaw:

1 canine, 3 cheek teeth on each side

Lower jaw:

3 front teeth, 1 canine, 2 cheek teeth on each side

(4) Six months:

Upper jaw:

1 front, 1 canine, 3 cheek teeth on each side

Lower jaw:

3 front, 1 canine, 2 cheek teeth on each side

Ageing camels from the milk teeth

The permanent teeth

There are 34 permanent teeth. These are larger than the milk teeth and are arranged as follows:

Upper jaw

one front tooth on each side


one canine on each side


six cheek teeth on each side


Lower jaw

three front teeth on each side


one canine on each side


five cheek teeth on each side


Ageing camels after 1 year of age

1 year

Upper jaw:

4 cheek teeth on each side

Lower jaw:

3 cheek teeth on each side

2.5 years

Upper jaw:

4 to 5 cheek teeth on each side

Lower jaw:

3 to 4 cheek teeth on each side

3 years

Upper jaw:

5 cheek teeth on each side

Lower jaw:

4 cheek teeth on each side

4.5 years

First permanent front teeth are showing

5 years

Milk cheek teeth replaced by permanent teeth, 2 replaced on each side of upper jaw, 1 on each side of lower jaw.

5.5 years

2 more permanent front teeth on lower jaw

Upper jaw:

6 cheek teeth on each side

Lower jaw:

5 cheek teeth on each side

6 years

Upper jaw:

1 front tooth and permanent canine through on each side

Lower jaw:

permanent canine through

7 years

Full set of permanent teeth

First cheek teeth on both jaws are black

The canines appear at 6 years of age and by the age of 7 are very large. These teeth in the upper jaw can be 4 centimetres long. The lower ones may be cut off by some camel owners. Camels can live to around 40 years of age but from 15 years of age they will have difficulty with hard feedstuffs as the front teeth wear and begin to spread.

Ageing the llama and alpaca

It is difficult to age llamas and alpacas after 5 years of age. There are 32 permanent teeth. The first permanent cheek teeth appear at 6 to 9 months of age with another pair showing by 2 years of age. The first permanent front teeth appear at 2 years, the next at 3 years and the last pair at 3 to 6 years.

Ageing camels after 1 year of age

Unit 59: Breeding camels

The camel is unlike other animals as the female only has young every two years.

During the breeding season the male camels rut and become aggressive and dangerous.

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 Rutting in the male camel.
2 Heat (oestrus) in the camel.
3 Pregnancy in camels.
4 Giving birth (parturition) in camels.

Rutting in the male camel

The male camel becomes mature and will mate at 6 years of age. There is a breeding season (time) when mating takes place. The breeding season depends on availability of pasture, rain and cold and will vary from region to region The male and female camels become restless and difficult to handle in the breeding season.

During the breeding season the male ruts. The signs of rutting are:

· The back portion of the roof of the mouth is pushed out of the mouth like a pink ball (this only occurs in the one-humped camel).

· The testicles become bigger.

· Glands on the neck behind the head begin to produce a brown, bad smelling matter.

· The animal will spread out its back legs and using the tail sprays urine over its back legs.


The male becomes difficult to handle and dangerous when rutting. It will attack other animals and people. Some animals, especially older males, constantly rut and become a problem. Such animals should be castrated and if there are any male animals that will not be needed for breeding they should be castrated at an early age. Ask your veterinary officer to castrate these animals.

Heat (oestrus) in camels

The female comes into heat for the first time when she is 3 to 4 years old. The camel can continue to breed until she is 20 to 30 years old.

The female will show a desire for mating over a 3 to 4 day period during the breeding season. If she does not become pregnant she will come into heat again every 28 days and will have 5 periods of heat in any breeding season.

The signs of heat in the female camel are:

· She becomes restless and separates from the other animals.
· Sprays urine using the tail.
· The vulva becomes wet and swollen.

Mating or mounting

The male mates with the female when she is kneeling on all four legs. Mating (or mounting) takes 10 to 20 minutes. It is advisable to help a young inexperienced male to enter the female.

Mating or mounting

One male will usually be mated with 5 to 7 animals although good males will mate with more than this and can mate with up to 70 females in one season. In one day a good male can mate two to three times with up to three females.


When a female camel is pregnant she will run away from any male which approaches her. After 3 to 4 months or more of the pregnancy your veterinary officer will be able to check the female internally.

Pregnancy lasts 390 days in the one-humped camel and lasts 406 days in the two-humped camel.

If there is plenty of feed available the young camel can be taken from its mother at 6 weeks of age and she can be mated again to produce young the next year. However productivity is low for most camels and they usually produce one young every two years.

Giving birth (parturition) in camels

The signs that the female is about to give birth are similar to those in other ruminants. The female becomes restless, the vulva is swollen and she will separate from the other animals. Birth commences with the appearance of the water bag followed by the two front legs and the head.

The size of the newborn camel is dependent on the size of its parents. The average calf weighs around 35 kilograms and the male is larger than the female. The camel born in dry (bad) years will weigh less than the young animal born in a good year.

The mother does not bite through the navel cord neither does she lick and clean her baby, but she will help the young to find the teats to take milk. The camel is a very good mother and does not like anyone to go near her young.

If the female loses her young she will become very distressed. In order to keep the female producing milk the skin should be taken from the young camel and stuffed with straw. The female will continue to produce milk for her "baby".

Neither the one-humped or the two-humped camel will accept orphaned young. Orphans will have to be reared by hand.

In llamas and alpacas pregnancy lasts for about 1 year. Both the llama and alpaca will easily accept any young animal and foster it with no difficulties at all.

Unit 60: Milk and care of the young camel

Young camels start to eat grass at 2 to 3 months of age and can be weaned by 4 months of age.

Leaving the calf to suckle for longer than this reduces the amount of milk available for people.

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 The production of young from the camel.
2 The importance of colostrum.
3 When to wean the young camel.
4 Milk yield and quality.

The production of young from the camel

A female camel will usually give birth to one young every 2 years. This means that a female will normally produce 8 young throughout her life. This is a very poor rate of reproduction.

Many young camels die before or soon after birth because:

· The mother was not fed well during pregnancy.

· Some camel owners do not allow the calf to take colostrum.

· The male and female were related with perhaps the same mother and father. This is called inbreeding and will result in the production of dead or weak young in any type of animal. You should keep a record of the males used for breeding to try to avoid this happening.


It is essential for the young camel to take colostrum from its mother in order to be protected against some diseases. The mother produces colostrum for 4 to 5 days after birth.

Many camel owners do not allow the young camel to freely suckle because they believe this causes the young to suffer from belly pain and diarrhoea. Some owners will prevent the young camel from taking any colostrum and this can lead to its death. You should allow the young animal to take colostrum.

When to wean the young camel

The young camel will start to eat grass when it is 2 to 3 months old and can be weaned when it is 4 months old. Many owners leave the young camel with its mother until it is at least a year old. If it is weaned early care must be taken to introduce it slowly to solid food in order to avoid diarrhoea developing and also to prevent it picking up internal parasites.

There are two methods used to prevent the young camel from taking milk from its mother:

· The udder is covered with cloths which are held in place by ropes passed over the back of the mother.

· A cord or rope is tied around the teat.

Tying the teat is not a good practice as it can result in damage to the teat and the development of mastitis (disease of the udder).

Milk yield and quality

If the young camel is allowed to suckle from its mother for 1 to 2 years the amount of milk available to the owner is reduced. If it is not allowed to suckle whenever it wants, milk can be taken from the mother and the young animal can be gradually weaned to solid food. A young camel that is allowed to take milk whenever it wants becomes fat and may have difficulty in walking. It will also suffer when it is finally taken from its mother.

The camel can produce milk for 9 to 18 months. Camel milk contains the necessary proteins, sugars, fats, minerals and vitamins for the young and is a valuable food for people.

The quality and quantity of milk produced by the camel will depend on the availability of water and feed, how often she is milked and when she gave birth. A camel will give 4 to 12 kilograms of milk daily. The milk will be sweet or salty in taste depending on the plants the animal feeds on.

Camel milk is a rich source of vitamin C and forms an important source of this vitamin for desert people who are unable get this vital vitamin from fruits and vegetables.

Camel milk may be the only available milk in desert conditions where other milking animals cannot be maintained. In some countries camels are kept for their milk which is not only used for drinking but can be made into a number of foods. If camel milk is mixed with the milk of other animals e.g. cow, goat, it can be made into cheese, yoghurt and butter. Milk from the two-humped camel is used for cheese and butter.

Unit 61: Feeding and watering of camels

Camels can eat hard and thorny plants which can not be eaten by other animals.

Camels can stand thirst for a very long period.

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 What plants and feed camels can eat.
2 How much water camels need.
3 How much salt camels need.

Feeding camels

Camels are like goats and can browse, eating bushes and the branches of trees. Like cattle and sheep they also graze on grass. The camel browses or grazes for 8 hours each day and will take another 6 to 8 hours to chew the cud. They can be fed like cattle and will eat straw, hay, silage, grains and cakes.

The camel can eat sharp, thorny plants which other animals cannot eat. Camels can reach branches of trees and bushes to a height of 3 metres. The camel eats these woody plants by using its strong canine (dog) teeth to crush the wood.

In dry seasons when feed becomes scarce the camel can live off the fat which is stored in the hump. It can survive in this way for a very long period and will lose weight as the fat is used. A camel can lose up to 200 kg in weight during this period.

Camels recognise poisonous plants growing in the area and will not eat them. However if the camel is moved to a new area where different poisonous plants are found then it may eat those plants.


The camel is well known for its ability to withstand thirst and to go without water for a long time. The camel can do this because:

· It can change its body temperature to as low as 34°C and as high as 41°C
· Camels produce small amounts of urine which is (concentrated) thick

If the camel is kept near a water point or a river it may drink small amounts of water daily. In cold weather, and when green feed is available, the camel may not drink water for months because it can get all the water it needs from the plants.

In dry seasons camels drink up to 60 litres of water every 10 days. A thirsty camel in a hot dry season can drink up to 200 litres of water in one go.


Salt is very important for the camel. It needs eight times as much salt as do cattle and sheep. A camel needs 1 kg of salt a week and it is advisable to leave salt with camels every week.

Unit 62: Surra of camels (trypanosomiasis)

A well kept and well fed camel will rarely suffer health problems which the owner is unable to deal with.

Surra (trypanosomiasis) is one of the diseases of camels for which you may need veterinary assistance.

You may need advice from the veterinary officer about treatment of the disease and he may need to take blood samples from the animal in order to check for the disease.

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 What is surra.
2 How does surra spread.
3 What are the signs of the disease.
4. Treatment and control of surra.

What is surra?

Surra is a very common disease of camels and it has many different names in the areas of the world where it occurs. The disease is caused by very small parasites, called trypanosomes, which live in the blood of the animal.

How surra spreads

The disease is spread by flies, e.g. horse flies, which bite the camel and carry the parasites from one animal to another. These flies cannot live where it is cold or dry and are found near water or around areas of dung. Camels should be kept away from such places especially when the flies are common after rain.

Signs of the disease

All camel owners are familiar with this disease. Sick animals may develop a fever (see Unit 70) and do not eat. They are weak and the belly and legs become swollen. Pregnant animals can lose their young. If animals are not treated they can die within a few weeks of showing the first signs of infection.

Other animals may stay sick for many months or even years. They are weak and the hump becomes smaller and smaller. These animals can develop skin problems and most suffer from lung diseases. They will usually stand facing the sun.

Treatment and control

If you believe that an animal in your community has surra you should immediately ask your veterinary officer to examine it. He will take blood smears and samples for checking. You may need to take blood samples yourself to send to a laboratory (see Annex 3).

There are a few drugs which can be used to treat surra, e.g. Naganol, Antrycide (see R17 Annex 1). As surra is spread by biting flies camel owners need to know where and when these flies occur and to take precautions against them by:

· Seasonal movements of camels away from fly areas.
· Regular movements of camels to avoid flies hatching from the dung in which the maggots live.
· Watering animals in the hottest time of the day when few flies are found.

Do not treat camels for surra if they have had a large quantity of water following a long period without water. Treat them several days after drinking water or do not allow them to take too much water before treatment.

Unit 63: Internal parasites of camels

The infernal parasites of the camel are similar to those of sheep and cattle.

Camels infected with infernal parasites are weak, have poor appetite, may have diarrhoea and do not put on weight. Young animals will suffer the most from any parasite.

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 The internal parasites of camels.
2 Problems caused by internal parasites.
3 How to treat and control internal parasites.

The parasites

Camels can be infected with different roundworms in the gut. These feed off the animal. Camels can also be infected with worms in the lungs and flukes (see Unit 15) which infect the liver.

When camels are slaughtered (killed) large cysts, fluid filled bags, may be found in the liver, lungs and other organs. These cysts contain many young tapeworms (see Unit 15) which will infect meat-eating animals.

Problems caused by internal parasites

The parasites in the gut cause weight loss, weakness and may cause diarrhoea and death especially in the young animal. Lungworms will cause breathing problems and infected animals develop a short, sharp cough.

The tapeworm cysts which are found in the camel will develop into adult worms if eaten by dogs, foxes or wolves.

The cysts cause damage to the body organs of the camel. Cysts in the brain will result in the animal being unable to walk or eat properly. Infected animals walk in circles; they may also become blind. However the main problem is that humans can be infected as well as the camel (see Unit 79).

Treatment and control of internal parasites

Drugs which are used to treat cattle infected with internal parasites (see R11 Annex 1) can be used to treat infections in camels.

If you notice a camel eating earth or chewing bones this is sign of worm infection of the stomach. The worms suck the blood of the camel and you should treat the animal immediately.

If you believe that there is a parasite problem in the camels in your community ask your veterinary officer for advice on which drug to use to deal with the problem.

In order to prevent infection of the camel with parasites in the gut or lungs, do not allow it to graze in wet areas around water holes which are used by many animals. The eggs of most parasites will be found in such areas.

If you find cysts in organs, such as the liver or lungs, of animals which have been killed for meat, it is best not to use the organ for meat. Do not throw it away because if it is eaten by dogs, foxes or cats the disease will spread. You should bury any infected organs in a deep hole, burn the infected organs or put them in a barrel half filled with water and salt. Very salty water will kill young tapeworms in the cysts.

Unit 64: Skin diseases of camels

Infections of the skin caused by parasites are a big problem in camels. Camels can be infected by ticks and mites, and suffer from fly maggots feeding on wounds and in the nose.

If it is not treated mange (mite infection) can lead to the death of a camel. Mange is very infectious and is second to surra in causing problems and losses in camels.

Mange also results in the loss of valuable wool from llamas and alpacas.

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you should know:

1 Skin diseases of camels.
2 The problems caused by skin diseases.
3 How to treat and control skin diseases in camels.

Skin infections of camels

Camels suffer from infections with mites and ticks, and the maggots of flies which feed on open wounds or live in the nose.

Mites cause mange and infections often start on the neck, head or underbelly of the animal but will rapidly spread to cover the entire body if not treated.

Camels can be attacked by many different ticks. Ticks will usually be found attached to the legs, head and the underbelly.

If wounds are left untreated they will become infected with the maggots of different flies which feed on the blood and meat. The camel is also infected by maggots of the camel nasal fly. The fly lays its eggs around the nose of the camel and the maggots, which grow to about 1 centimetre long, hatch and feed on the inside of the animal's nose.

Ringworm infections cause roundish, white spots on the head, neck and other parts of the body.

Mange in the camel

Mange in camels, like surra, is a very important disease and is very infectious. Camels are infected by contact with infected animals, from mites on saddles and other equipment, and by rolling in dust where infected animals have been. Humans can also become infected.

The mange mite burrows into the skin and causes loss of hair and the skin becomes thick and white. Infection often starts on the head or neck, but if not quickly treated it will spread over the entire body in 2 to 3 weeks. Infected animals scratch against any solid object and do not eat well. Weight loss occurs, milk production drops and animals can die. The infection is more common in colder months and when feed is scarce.

Infections with mange must be treated quickly. If there is mange in camels in your community you should immediately ask your veterinary officer for advice on what drug (see R15 Annex 1) you should use. Treatment will involve washing or spraying the infected areas.

To prevent the infection from spreading saddles and other equipment should be thoroughly cleaned, or even burned. Your veterinary officer may advise that other animals in the community are treated even if they are not showing signs of the infection. Remember that humans can be infected with the mite and always wash hands thoroughly after handling camels.

Tick infections and their control

Tick infections are common. They result in:

· Swellings and small wounds in the skin from the bites.

· The tick feeds on blood and infections result in loss of blood, weight loss and weakening of the animal.

· Ticks can spread other diseases.

· Poisons from some ticks affect the nervous system and muscles and the animal cannot move (paralysis) which can lead to death.

· Tick infections can cause the death of young camels.

Tick paralysis is caused by the bite of some ticks. The camel suddenly shows signs of paralysis and its body temperature will drop. The poisons can affect respiration and the camel stops breathing and dies.

Ticks are killed by spraying, removing by hand or applying kerosene or a lighted cigarette to the back of the tick. Infections can be controlled by pasture rotation (see Unit 16).Tick paralysis can be caused by the bite of a single tick. The only treatment for paralysis is to quickly find and remove the tick. If this is done quickly enough the animal will eventually recover.

Problems caused by fly maggots

Fly maggots can prevent healing of wounds and other germs may infect the wound. The maggots of the camel nasal fly are usually seen in the spring and summer. There is a discharge from the nose and the animal may sneeze. Camels are not usually seriously affected by the maggots but the activity of the adult flies trying to lay eggs is annoying.

Maggots should be removed from wounds and the wound properly cleaned and dressed (see Unit 73). The maggots of the nasal fly can be killed by giving injections of nitroxynil (see R11 Annex 1) but this need only be done if your veterinary officer advises it.

Ringworm infection of the camel

Ringworm infection in camels is similar to that in other animals (see Unit 16). It is infectious and will spread to other animals and can infect humans.

Ringworm is treated by applying tincture of iodine. You should ask your veterinary officer for advice. He will take skin scrapings to discover if the problem is caused by mange or ringworm. He may advise the use of other drugs if they are available (see R25 Annex 1).

Unit 65: Foot problems in camels

The camel's foot is adapted for sandy soils and can be described as a tyre filled with fat instead of air.

In these days the camel walks on tarred, hard surfaced roads and ground which is littered with sharp objects such as nails, wire and broken glass. These may cause damage to the foot and result in lameness.

Llamas and the alpaca have two toes on the foot with toe nails which vow like the hoof of sheen and gnats.

Learning objectives

After studying this unit you will know:

1 The structure of the camel's foot.
2 Care of the camel's foot.
3 The foot of the llama and alpaca.

The foot of the camel

The camel's foot is flat and soft and divided into two. There is a toe nail at the end of each side.

The foot of the camel

Sharp objects such as nails, wire, glass and thorns penetrate the sole of the foot causing wounds. The pain from the wound can make the animal lame. Sometimes the foot swells from walking on hard roads.

Simple wounds can be treated with tincture of iodine (see Unit 73). If severe lameness occurs you must ask your veterinary officer for advice on treatment.

Sometimes the camel's foot can be covered with thick cloth or leather to stop the swelling becoming worse.

Feet of the llama and alpaca

The foot of the llama and alpaca is divided into two and each half has a toenail which grows like the hoof of sheep and goats. You can use the same tools for foot care of the llama and alpaca as are used for the feet of sheep and goats. The toenails of these animals can be trimmed

Feet of the llama and alpaca

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