Livestock Research for Rural Development 23 (7) 2011 Notes to Authors LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

The current status of camel (Camelus dromedarius) calf management among pastoral communities of northern Kenya

S G Kuria, I Tura*, S Amboga**, H K Walaga and J Lesuper

Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Marsabit,
P.O. Box 147-60500 Marsabit; Tel. +254 (69) 210 2040; Fax +254 (69) 210 2220; ; Private mobile – 722 289697/208021905
* Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Garissa; P.O. Box 230-70100 Garissa; Private mobile – 725 949787/202607892;
** Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Embu,
P.O. Box 27-60100 Embu; Tel. +254 68 20116/20878; Fax +254 68 30064/30343;


The importance of camels as a source of livelihood for pastoralists in northern Kenya cannot be overemphasized. A study was carried out in the districts of Marsabit, Isiolo, Wajir and Garissa in northern Kenya to collect baseline data on camel calf management by the Gabbra, Rendille, Somali and Sakuye communities who inhabit the area. Data were collected to assess the impact of improved camel calf management technologies and information whose dissemination was underway on the productivity of camel calves. During this study, between 40 and 65 households were randomly selected from nine locations drawn from the four districts. A total of 392 respondents purposively selected from 65 households per location were interviewed using a semi-structured questionnaire. The questions targeted different aspects of camel calf management.

Analysis of the data revealed malpractices in the areas of breeding management, colostrum feeding, milk allowance, feeding, watering and health management, among others, across the studied communities. The results further indicated that the pastoralists were aware of the challenges facing their camel calves but did not have the knowledge to adequately deal with the constraints. This study concluded that the existing technologies and information on camel calf management have great potential to improve camel calf performance if widely disseminated among the studied communities. Awareness creation among pastoralists on the dangers of the current malpractices, vigorous dissemination of the technologies/information and follow-up to ensure utilization and/or application are strongly recommended.

Key words: Benchmark data, calf performance, camel technologies, dissemination


Camel rearing in northern Kenya represents a highly rational adaptation of human life to a severe and adverse environment. It is the only efficient way of exploiting the arid areas where cultivation and small stock rearing are impossible. The pastoralists clearly understand that the camel is, and for the coming decades will remain, their basic means of survival. The position of the camel in providing food for the pastoralists in northern Kenya will become even more important in the face of global warming and climate change (Ndikumana et al 2000).

The foundation of a camel herd is the calf. Calves form the replacement stock without which the herd cannot grow and neither would milk be available for the camel keepers. However, rearing of camel calves under traditional pastoral production systems is faced with several challenges that result in high death rates of the calves. Mortality rates of up to 60% have been reported in calves between birth and weaning (Bremaud 1969, Wilson 1984, Simpkin 1985, Kaufmann 1998, Njanja 2007). This has to a large extent slowed down the growth of pastoral camel herds. In comparison with pastoral production systems, low camel calf mortality rates of 0 to 24.4% were reported in Kenyan commercial ranches (Wilson 1986). The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Marsabit Centre has over the years developed and packaged improved technologies and information which can be used to address the high camel calf mortality in pastoral herds. The Centre is in the process of disseminating the technologies and information together with partners and collaborators.

A survey was conducted in August and September 2007 to collect baseline data to facilitate impact assessment at the end of the dissemination phase. This paper presents details of the findings on management practices of camel calves by different camel rearing communities.

Materials and Methods

Description of the study sites

 The study was conducted in nine locations distributed in seven administrative districts of northern Kenya as follows: Turbi in Chalbi; Merille in Laisamis; Kulamawe in Garbatulla; Dabel in Moyale; Dambas, Tarbaj and Haragal in Wajir East; Dujis in Garissa and Demajale in Lagdera. The communities involved in the study were Somali, Sakuye, Gabbra and Rendille. These districts lie approximately between longitude 3735’ to 4030’E and latitude 0100’ to 0300'N were purposely selected for the study because they were home to about 83% of Kenya camel population estimated to be 2.97 million (GoK 2009). The study districts are classified as arid, falling in ecological zones V and VI. Rainfall ranges from 120 mm in low lying areas to 700 mm per annum in the highlands and is in most cases received within a short duration. The rainfall pattern is bimodal with peaks in April and November. Temperatures vary from 23 to 34oC with the period between January and April being very hot (MLFD 2003). Evaporation is high, exceeding 2 600 mm annually over most of the area. Owing to the harsh climatic conditions, the area is best suited for nomadic pastoralism.

Method of data collection and sampling procedure

The study was part of a larger benchmarking survey for dissemination of improved camel technologies in northern Kenya. It took the form of household surveys where between 40 and 65 randomly selected respondents each representing a household were interviewed per study location using a semi-structured questionnaire. The sampling was done in two stages where the first stage was random and meant to identify the households. The sampling frame was the total number of households in each of the study sites. The second stage of sampling to identify the household member to be interviewed was purposive, targeting members who were knowledgeable about camels. A total of 392 respondents were interviewed including 235 from the Somali, 40 from Sakuye, 77 from Gabbra and 40 from Rendille communities. The data collected related to the current camel calf management practices among the different communities.

 Statistical analysis of data
All the responses were coded to facilitate data entry and management. The analysis (means, standard errors, frequency summaries and tabulation of results) was done using Statistical Analysis System (SAS 2003) program.

Results and Discussion

Breeding management

About 89% of respondents (n=392) selected breeding bulls from within the herd or immediate neighbors. Over 77% of the respondents in all the sites kept one breeding bull with the rest (23%) keeping more than one bull not for the purpose of controlling breeding but to ensure that there was a bull in the herd throughout in case one fell sick. Breeding bulls were culled from breeding at an average age of 172 years in all the sites. The culling was done by way of selling the male, assigning it baggage duties and complete separation from the female herd or castration. The culling method used varied from community to the other with the Gabbra and Rendille doing the castration while Somali and Sakuye sold out the males or converted them into baggage animals. Breeding females on the other hand were either not retired from breeding (22%, n=392) or were retired late (194 years). Thirty-two percent (Somali community, n=235) and 82% (Gabbra community, n=77) denied bull from mating its mother while 80% of the overall respondents (n=392) did not restrain the bull from serving its sisters and daughters. This practice pre-disposed the herd to the risks of inbreeding and weak or malformed calves at birth due to use of aged parents and the fact that the bull was mating with related females. This is in agreement with previous observations by Kuria et al (2002). Simpkin (1996) and Kaufmann (1998) had earlier recognized birth weight as an important factor in determining survival and growth rate of newborn camel calves.

Colostrum feeding

Data on colostrum feeding of camel calves by the various communities are presented in Table 1. As shown in Table 1, a large percentage of pastoralists allowed full suckling of colostrum. However, 37.4% of Somali and 29.4% Rendille pastoralists restricted colostrum suckling by the calves. This practice by Somali and Rendille denied calves the benefit of passive immunity usually associated with colostrum. Colostrum enhances survival and also cleans the stomach by facilitating passing of the first faeces (meconium). These findings are in agreement with an earlier report by Njanja (2007) who indicated that 77% of Rendille pastoralists (n=13) ensured that newborn camel calves suckled immediately after birth while a small proportion of the herders (10%) milked down some little milk before allowing the camel calves to suckle. In the current study and that of Njanja (2007), pastoralists who allowed unlimited amount of colostrum to the calf concurred that colostrum strengthened the calves and promoted growth.

Table 1: Colostrum feeding to camel calves by different pastoralist communities of northern Kenya


Allowed full suckling (%)

Restricted suckling (%)

Milked some for consumption (%)

Stripped teats before calf suckled (%)

Somali (n=235)





Rendille (n=40)





Gabbra (n=77)





Sakuye (n=40)





Milk allowance to the calf

Milk allowance to the calf is very critical, especially in the first three months of growth before the calf starts grazing. Wilson et al (1981) and Schwartz et al (1982) considered malnutrition resulting from competition of human beings and camel calves for milk a major cause of mortality. In the current study, between 6% and 13% of the respondents across the study sites recognized competition for milk between calves and humans as one of the causes of retarded growth before weaning. One way of controlling this competition is by allowing the calf to follow the mother during the day over this critical period of growth for it to get enough milk. The number of teats allowed to the calf in the first two months and after six months by different communities involved in the study is shown in Tables 2 and 3, respectively.

Table 2: Number of teats left for the calf to suckle in the first two months among the studied communities


Number of teats


One (%)

Two (%)

Three (%)

Four (%)

Somali (n=235)





Rendille (n=40)





Gabbra (n=77)





Sakuye (n=40)





Table 3: Number of teats allowed to the calf for suckling after 6 months of age


Number of teats

One (%)

Two (%)

Three (%)

Four (%)

Somali (n=235)





Rendille (n=40)





Gabbra (n=77)





Sakuye (n=40)





Data in Tables 2 and 3 show that most of the pastoralists in the four communities allowed the calves to suckle two teats for the better part of the period before weaning. The Sakuye community allowed calves the highest amount of milk during the two periods of growth. However, 41.7% (n=40) of the Rendille pastoralists allowed the calf to suckle only one teat during the period below two months, suggesting competition for milk between humans and the calves. As earlier explained, this has a negative implication on calf growth and overall performance.

 Calf Grazing

Ages of introduction to grazing, watering and mineral supplementation are important factors in influencing calf growth. Early introduction of the calf to grazing facilitates development of the rumen which is important for feed digestion. This has a positive effect on the calf growth. The age at which different communities introduced calves to grazing, mineral supplementation and watering is presented in Table 4.

Table 4: Age (months) of introducing camel calves to grazing, watering and mineral supplementation in different communities




Mineral supplementation

Somali (n=235)




Rendille (n=40)




Gabbra (n=77)




Sakuye  (n=40)




The Somali and Sakuye camel calves started grazing earlier (less than 2.5 months) than those of the Rendille and Gabbra communities. In an earlier study by Njanja (2007), pre-weaned Rendille camel calves began grazing at the age of 3-4 months which this study supports. Rendille pastoralists also delayed commencement of watering of their camel calves which is in agreement with Njanja (2007) who reported first watering at the age of 6-8 months among the same community. The Sakuye started giving mineral supplements to their calves after 10 months of age. Delayed watering and mineral supplementation has a negative implication on the growth of the calf particularly during the dry season. Dehydration reduces feed intake while feed availability in terms of quantity and quality tend to decline during dry periods necessitating supplementation with minerals and other feed material. One way of ensuring that the calves start grazing early is by herding them together with the rest of the camels. Table 5 clearly shows that the Somali and Sakuye communities were not separating the calves from rest of the herd and this explains the early commencement of grazing among their calves. Separation of the calves from the main herd among the Rendille and Gabbra (Table 5) explains why their calves started grazing late.   

Table 5: Herding regimes of camel calves in different communities


Herding regimes of camel calves


Together with other camels (%)

Calves graze separately (%)

Somali (n=235)



Rendille (n=40)



Gabbra (n=77)



Sakuye (n=40)



 Distance to grazing and water resources

It is important that camel calves are not walked far for water or grazing to minimize stress which impact negatively on calf growth. Table 6 gives the distance traveled by calves to water and graze during different seasons of the year.

Table 6: Distance (km) covered by camel calves to grazing and water in different seasons among different communities


Watering in wet season

Grazing in wet season

Watering in dry season

Grazing in dry season











Gabbra (n=77)





Sakuye (n=40)





 Data from this study show that while the Somali and Sakuye camel calves walked far for water and grazing in the wet season, those of the Rendille and Gabbra covered shorter distances to both resources (Table 6). This can be explained by the fact that the Rendille and Gabbra separated calves from the rest of the herd retaining them near ‘home’ unlike the Somali and Sakuye whose calves followed the main herd to water and grazing sources far from ‘home’. However, across all the communities, camel calves had to trek far for water and grazing in dry season, thus suffering considerable degree of stress.

Health management

 Health management is critical in controlling mortality and enhancing growth in camel calves. In the current study, between 63% and 82% of the respondents across communities ranked diseases and parasites high as far as retarded growth in camel calves was concerned. Ecto-parasites especially ticks and, diarrhoea were ranked high on the list of constraints to calf health in all the communities in agreement with earlier reports by Field (1979) and Rutagwenda (1985). These authors, however, reported some other diseases such as gastrointestinal haemorrhagic conditions, camel pox (Field 1979); worms, mange, bloat, pneumonia and wounds (Rutagwenda 1985) as common clinical diseases and conditions in camel calves alongside ticks and diarrhoea. Studies by Simpkin (1996), Kaufmann (1998) and Njanja (2007) also singled out diseases as a major cause of mortality among pre-weaned camel calves. Important diseases mentioned by these authors were largely similar to those mentioned earlier by Field (1979) and Rutagwenda (1985) including orf, mange, ringworms, wounds and pneumonia.

Control methods

 In all the communities, common camel calf diseases were mainly controlled using indigenous technical knowledge including herbal concoctions and branding, necessitated by poor animal health delivery system. Other control methods included traditional mobility, quarantines, cleaning of bomas (night enclosures) and avoidance of parasite infested areas. However, pastoralists near town centres did use conventional veterinary drugs. Table 7 summarizes control methods used by different communities. 

Table 7: Methods of controlling/treating camel calf diseases by different communities




Somali (%)


Rendille (%)


Gabbra (%)


Sakuye (%)


Treatment (conventional/herbal/branding)





Ecto/endo- parasite control (frequent change of boma, shaving the fur, hand washing and de-worming)





Data from this study suggest that Sakuye, Gabbra and Rendille took treatment of diseases more seriously than the Somali community (Table 7).

Control of ecto-parasites

Eighty five percent and 59% of Rendille (n=40) and Sakuye (n=40), respectively, did routine control of ecto-parasites while 60% of Somali (n=235) and 72% of Gabbra (n=77) mostly did spot control. The statistics on camel calf disease treatment and parasite control presented in Table 7 suggests that Rendille, Sakuye and the Gabbra  were keener than the Somali community in the management of camel calf health. All the pastoralists paid particular attention to diarrhoea, describing it as a serious killer of the very young camel calves. Worth noting also is the fact that pastoralists from all the communities attempted to control diarrhoea using different traditional and conventional methods, confirming the seriousness of the problem in camel calves. The traditional methods used to treat diarrhoea included; giving the calf black tea and depriving it of milk, depriving the calf of colostrum for the very young ones, oral administration of sheep and goat fat, commiphora species solution or salted water. While the use of sheep and goat fat was practiced by all the communities (Somali – 13.7%, Rendille – 9.7%, Gabbra – 5.9%, Sakuye – 1.6%), black tea and salted water were commonly used by Rendille (7.3%) and Sakuye (6.6%), respectively.




The team wishes to thank the Director KARI and the Kenya Arid and Semi Arid Lands Research Project management for the financial support. The cooperation by the pastoralists during the field data collection is highly appreciated.


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Received 13 February 2011; Accepted 10 April 2011; Published 1 July 2011

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