Is camel milk the next big thing?

Jamah Warsame, director of WhiteGold camel milk organization. [Jacinta Mutura, Standard]

The demand for camel milk is growing and growing rapidly. Jama Warsame, the owner of the White Gold Camel Milk brand, said this.

Located in Nanyuki, White Gold processes 600 liters of fresh camel milk every day. The milk is sold under the White Gold camel milk brand. “Until now, our milk is available in at least three supermarkets. We have plans to take it to other supermarkets as well,” says Mr. Warsame.

The White Gold brand is also sold in other East African countries. However, according to Warsame, the company “hasn’t even met the demand in Kenya alone”.

The demand for camel milk stems from the notion that it is healthier than cow’s milk.

Warsame says that while researching White Gold in the months leading up to it, he learned that doctors and nutritionists were prescribing camel milk.

Lifestyle diseases

“They were recommending camel milk to people with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and even autism,” he says.

Journalist Evelyn Kwamboka is interested in camel milk. Kwamboka was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis several years ago.

“After I got sick, I was on medication — blood thinners and steroids –,” he said. “Then my doctor recommended a diet with goat’s or camel’s milk.”

He tried goat’s milk first. It didn’t go so well. Then he switched to camel milk. He says it was quite a relief.

Nolaromi milks camels in Lekuye, Doldol, Laikipia county. His family has more than 50 camels and they milk more than 100 liters of milk a day for sale in Nanyuki town.. [Jenipher Wachie , Standard]

Camel milk thus became synonymous with healthy eating: a factor that helped Warsame enter the business.

Tumal Ardo, 64, from North Marsabit, has about 80 camels. In the Somali community, the camel is the main symbol of wealth and good living.

Ardo comes from a complex tradition of camel ownership. Going back six generations, he says, his family owned and lived with camels.

Precious Milk

“In our culture, camel milk is precious. It is very medicinal. Fresh camel milk cleanses the colon within 24 hours. When a person is sick, we give fresh camel milk.”

He has around 18 milking camels: the camels give Ardo at least 40 liters of milk every day.

It can be assumed that Ardo is selling the milk to make some money, because camel milk is more profitable. But he uses all these in different ways.

“We use some for our own consumption. I feed the rest to the kids and lambs. Camel milk is also nutritious for them.

“I earn money by selling goats and sheep. I sell at least 150 goats and sheep every year. As for the camels, they are sturdy and are the basis of my venture’s survival.”

Kenya Camel Association (KCA) vice-chairman Dr James Janja points out that camels are perhaps the most underrated domestic animals.

But the camel is built for dry areas. The animal is massive by pet standards. Camels tower over humans: they grow up to 6 feet tall at the shoulder and 3 m in body length.

Not aggressive

According to Kipkemboi Changwoni, head of the Sheep, Goat and Camel Institute in Marsabit, the animal is not aggressive by default.

“If the farmer knows how to handle them, the animal is docile,” says Dr Changwony, adding: “But if a person doesn’t know how to handle them, they can be a bit aggressive.”

Perhaps his most dangerous aggressive reaction is a backstab, which can cause heavy damage. A camel can sometimes bite and in some cases it can spit when it feels threatened.

Free range

Once a farmer introduces himself, Changwony says, the animal instinctively responds and becomes friendly.

As the demand for camel milk increases, a big question arises: Can the animal be farmed? And if so, how does one go about it? According to David Hewett, Ranch Manager of Mpala Ranch Limited in Nanyuki, camels are best bred as free range animals.

He says: “For its size, the animal eats a lot. Although it can survive successfully under animal feeding systems in the Middle East, this has never been tried in Kenya.

“In my opinion, the camel in Kenya is best raised as a free range animal, where it is allowed to graze on its own.

“A good camel farming business requires a farmer to milk about 50 camels. To reach this number, it must be a large herd.

“We have 114 camels in Mpala, but only 12 camels are being milked,” he says.

Zero grazing means that the whole herd is provided with daily nutritional needs.

Free housing is also beneficial for the quality of milk produced by the animal. Changwony notes that camels are browsers. Unlike other animals, camels feed on hundreds of species of shrubs; including those toxic to other animals. Camels can also graze on grass. The variety of their food was calculated according to the quality of the milk produced by the animal, as well as the famous medicinal properties of the milk.

Camel breeding in the free range would require the availability of large tracts of farm or unused community land.

The camel is built for an arid environment. Ardo’s camels roam and graze for hundreds of kilometers following a trail of bush growth.

Part of the land it occupies is the famous Chalbi Desert; barren as it may seem, the few resources the desert offers are good enough for his camels.

The animal does not have a high need for water. Changwony says camels go days without drinking a sip of water. The animal is incredibly resilient.

That doesn’t mean the animal won’t do well in wet areas, Hewett says.

“They will also benefit when there is a lot of water. Camels are now being bred successfully in more humid environments such as Gilgil in Nakuru,” says Hewett.

Although the animal can go without water for a long time, it can consume up to 100 liters of water at a time at the filling point.

Camel breeding

Despite its endurance, the animal still needs to be taken care of. In Mpala, an average of one or two camels require veterinary attention in a month.

“Because of the browsing behavior of the animal, the thorns pose the most serious health problems,” says Hewett. “Prick injuries cause abscesses that need to be treated.”

The thorn can be lodged anywhere on the camel’s body, but the most common areas of injury are the legs, limbs, and shoulders.

He adds that camels are also prone to trypanosomiasis; caused by tsetse flies. The animal should also be treated for worms and ectoparasites such as ticks, fleas and ticks.

“Thus, the animal may need to be sprayed occasionally,” says Changwony.

In general, Changwony says, the camel is a hardy animal built to survive in the desert.

Hewett makes sure to supplement the animals’ foraging with mineral supplements, sometimes in the form of salt and molasses.

Reproduction

A camel driver needs patience to build his herd. The animal is not as productive as cows, goats and sheep – the most common livestock.

“A camel’s gestation period is 13 months,” says Hewett.

Changwony says the animal starts breeding three to five years after birth: a long enough time to wait.

He says that a camel can live for 15 years. During this period, he estimates that a female can give birth five to seven times if she is fertile enough.

Types of camels

There are two types of camels; one-humped dromedary camels and two-humped Bactrian camels. Dromedaries are found in Africa, North Africa and the Middle East. Bactrian camel lives in Central Asia.

In Kenya, Changwony notes, several breeds are notable.

He says: “The bigger the camel, the more milk it can produce. The Somali camel is the largest camel (in size and weight) in Kenya. It gives much more milk than other camels.

“This is closely followed by the Rendile/Gabra, Turkana and Pakistani breeds in that order. Camels – especially males – are usually sold for their meat: in some communities it is a highly prized delicacy.”

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