Livestock Research for Rural Development 25 (12) 2013 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Production potential of camels (Camelus dromedarius) under pastoral and agro-pastoral systems in north Afar, Ethiopia

T Tekle and Y Tesfay*

Mekelle Unboiversity, College of Veterinary Medicine, P.O. Box 231, Mekelle, Ethiopia.
theodt2002@yahoo.com
* Mekelle University, Department of Animal, Rangeland and Wildlife Sciences, P.O. Box 231, Mekelle, Ethiopia.

Abstract

Milk and meat production potential of the one humped camel kept under pastoral and agro-pastoral production systems of Ab’Ala woreda, north Afar was assessed during the period August 2008 to January 2009. Randomly selected eighteen agro-pastoral and twenty pastoral households were involved in the study represented by two kebeles from each production system. Daily milk off take of 296 camels and linear body measurement on 173 camels were recorded using six to nine randomly selected camels belonging to the selected households.

Average daily milk off take from camels in the woreda was 6 liters. Daily milk off take varied with production system and season. The mean daily milk off take was 5.8 liters and 6.2 liters in agro-pastoral and pastoral system respectively. The estimated mean body weight was 292 kg in male and 320 kg in females. Male and female camels belonging to the agro-pastoral area were heavier than camels in the pastoral system. The meat production potential was estimated to be 149-155 kg and 154-178 kg for adult female and male camels, respectively. Meat production was better in camels from agro-pastoral origin than pastoral camels. It is concluded that the camel remains to be a good source of milk under pastoral condition while the better meat production potential under agro-pastoral system can be a good opportunity for fattening of camels which will help to generate cash which will increase the contribution of camels to the livelihood of camel herders.

Key words: Afar-camel, Ethiopia, linear body measurements, meat, milk off-take, production system


Introduction

The camel ensures a sustainable livelihood in the arid and semi arid areas by generating milk for subsistence, meat and income from sale while constituting a source of capital accumulation and social coherence (Schwartz 1992). New phase in the development of camel production has been noted mainly due to an increasing demand for milk and meat as a consequence of increasing human population and rapidly changing climatic and ecological factors (FAO 2001). Camels are disease and drought tolerant and efficient converters of limited feed resources from shrub and bush to meat and milk. Therefore, the use of the camel as a source of food and revenue should permit the pastoralist and rancher in Sub-Saharan Africa to reduce their total dependence on higher risk livestock enterprises (Morton 1984). The arid and semi-arid lowlands are characterized by high spatial and temporal variability in rainfall distribution and pattern. Expansion of agro-pastoralism and cropping into rangelands with concomitant decline in the grazing areas is increasingly practiced as a means of economic diversification although crop failure is a common feature because of unreliable rainfall and frequent drought. Thus, livestock production remains to be the main means of livelihood (Tolera and Abebe 2007). Agro-pastoralism and pastoralism are important source of livelihood in Ab’Ala wereda (Joanne et al 2005) and camel keeping is the main means of supporting the livelihood of the owners.

Information on livestock production in relation to production system has been generated by Tolera and Abebe (2007) in the southern rangelands of Ethiopia with suggestions that extensive livestock production to be a better means of exploiting the grazing and browse resources in the arid and semi-arid lowlands. Review of literature on milk and meat production potential of the one humped camel in Ethiopia reveals that most of the studies were conducted in the eastern camel region of Ethiopia (Kebebew 1998; Tezera 1998; Zeleke 1998; Zeleke and Bekele 2000; Bekele and Kebebew 2001; Bekele et al 2002; Yohannes et al 2007). However, very limited studies were undertaken on the Afar camels in general and Zone Two of Afar in particular specifically in relation to production system. Therefore this study was aimed at generating information on the milk and meat production potential of camels in Ab’Ala woreda, in Zone Two of Afar region. In addition, comparison of milk and meat production was made based on production system. An understanding of the existing production potential of camels will help to design and undertake appropriate livestock farming in order to make maximum use of resources.


Materials and methods

Description of the study area

This study was conducted in Ab’Ala woreda, Zone Two, Afar region (Figure 1). Ab’Ala woreda is located between the geographic coordinates 13°15' North and 13°30' North latitudes and 39°35' East and 39°55' East longitudes, at about 50 km east of Mekelle town. The woreda covers a total area of 173, 374 ha (BoPARD 2008). There are eleven kebeles (the lowest administrative units) in the woreda, out of which five kebeles are classified as agro-pastoral while six were categorized as pastoral. The woreda is categorized as semi-arid. The area has a bi-modal rainfall pattern with the short rains occurring from March to April and the main rain falling during the period from mid-June to mid-September with most parts of the zone receiving annual rainfall of less than 422 mm. The annual average temperature ranges from 25 to 30°C (Kifle 2004). The altitude of the woreda ranges from 1000 to 1700 meter above sea level. The topography of the area consists of flood plains with a series of elongated and rugged ridges as well as hills with steeply slopes (Diress and Mitiku 2004).

The total land area is categorized into four land use systems namely as grazing land (92.8%), cultivated land (5.52%), wasteland (1.14%) and riparian (0.53%) with a vegetation cover consisting of bush land associated with trees and shrubs dominated by Acacia etabica with poor understory cover (Diress et al 2004).

Figure 1. Map of Afar region showing the study woreda (marked in the light red).
Source: Adopted from BoPARD (2008)

The largest proportion (70%) of the area is comprised of bare lands and the potential vegetation of the area is about 24.9% (Diress et al 2004). This makes the woreda to be more dependent on browser species. The major crops grown in the woreda include sorghum, maize, teff (Joanne et al 2005; BoPARD 2008) and barely, with different types of vegetables and fruits (BoPARD 2008).

The estimated human population of Ab’Ala woreda is about 35,443 of which 45.4% are agro-pastoralists and 54.6% are pastoralists (BoPARD 2008). The Afar community is a camel herding community mainly because of the dry and harsh environment in the region. Some of the pastoralists live in permanent settlements but also maintain mobile livestock camps. The Afar pastoralists are highly knowledgeable with regard to the care and management of livestock (Joanne et al 2005).


Study design and data collection

Field sampling and individual camel data collection

A purposive sampling procedure was employed in selecting the study kebeles as strict random sampling procedure was not possible due to the scatteredness, inaccessibility and the mobility of the pastoral herds (Tezera 1998). A multi-stage sampling procedure was adopted for selecting the primary (kebeles) and secondary sampling sites (pastoral encampments). The presence of sufficient camel herds, the willingness of the camel owners to collaborate in the study, the accessibility and the presence of field assistants for accurate measurement and recording of data were considered. Hence, two agro-pastoral (namely Adi-Harmele and Asen-Gola) and two pastoral kebeles (namely Gelaiso and Unda Asen-Gola) were selected.

For the purpose of data collection, four data collectors (one from each study kebele) with detailed knowledge on the Afar community and study site and who are well acquainted with the language and culture of the community were recruited and ‘trained’ on the specific objectives of the study and the methodology of data collection and the specific variables of research interest. From the four study kebeles, nine to ten households were randomly selected thus, a total of 38 households (eighteen agro-pastoral and twenty pastoral households) were sampled. From each household, six to nine camels were randomly selected as study animals. Individual camel information with regards to the kebele and encampment, name of the owner, name of individual camel, age, sex, parity and stage of lactation were registered. Only healthy camels were involved in the study checked by asking the owners and confirmed by routine clinical examination which included the pulse, respiratory and rectal temperature. In addition the udder and the milk were checked at every milking.

Interview and discussion with camel owners was made in order to collect individual camel data on parity and stage of lactation. A data collection format was used to register the data. The information on parity of the camels was used to assess milk off-take in relation to age of the camels. Early stage of lactation was considered for lactating camels in the first month of lactation; mid stage of lactation for lactating camels in the 2nd to 4th month of lactation and late stage for lactating camels within and above the 5th month of lactation (Kebebew 1998). The sex of the camels was recorded and used to compute the average estimated body weight.

Milk samples were taken for three consecutive days from each lactating camel during each season (rainy and dry) according to the milking frequency of the camel (at morning, mid day and night milking during the rainy season whereas at the morning and night milking during the dry season) considering the stage of lactation and parity. Measurement of milk off-take was made and recorded for all the study camels and the data was cross checked and registered for each individual camel.

Milk off take was estimated and recorded from a total of 296 camels using a graduated cylinder (capacity 3 liters) at each milking session and a total of 4,440 milk samples were taken during the study. With the understanding and permission of the owners, the amount of milk consumed by the camel calves was kept at minimum by allowing the calves to suckle for few seconds (20-30 seconds) to just stimulate milk let down. However, the amount of milk taken by the calf was not measured as there was no accurate estimation technique developed so far (Bekele et al 2002). Milk off take was measured and recorded based on the production system, the season, parity and stage of lactation for all the sampled lactating camels from all the study sites.

Body weight estimation was made based on linear body measurements that include height at wither, chest and abdominal girth. Linear body measurement was recorded for lactating or female (N=157) and adult male (N=16) camels using measuring tape. The collected data was registered on a recording format prepared for the purpose.

The body weight was estimated using linear measurements using the following formula according to Yagil (1994):

Y = SH * TG * HG *50

Where: Y is the estimated body weight (kg),
SH is the height at shoulder (meters),
TG is the chest girth behind the chest pad (meters) and
HG is the abdominal girth over the highest part of the hump (meters).

The linear body measurements were taken on days when camels were off-water and early in the morning before the camels were out of their corral. Meat production potential was estimated based on the estimated body weight by multiplying the estimated body weight with the dressing percentage of 52% recommended by Yagil (1982).


Data Analysis

The collected data was analyzed using the computer software JMP-5 (SAS 2002). The average and range of estimated body weight for adult female and male camels was computed. Average daily milk off take was computed according to the two production systems taking the two seasons (rainy and dry season), stages of lactation and parity groups (1-5 births) into consideration.

Analysis of variance was used to check differences between the two production systems, according to seasons, the stages of lactation and parity groups. In addition, the interaction effect of production system, season, stage of lactation and parity group on mean daily milk off take was tested.

The following statistical model was employed for analyzing data on milk offtake:

Yijklm= μ+ τi + αj + ▀k + γl + (▀γ)kl + εijklm

Where: Yijklm is the milk off take measured from the mth camel, at lth parity, with kth stage of lactation, during the jth season, belonging to ith production system
μ is the overall mean daily milk yield
τi is the effect of the ith production system (i=1-2); pastoral and agro-pastoral
αj is the effect of the jth season (j=1-2); dry and rainy season
k is effect of the kth stage of lactation (k=1-3); early, mid and late stages of lactation
γl is the effect of the lth parity (l=1-5); first, second, third, fourth and fifth parity groups
(▀γ)kl is the effect of interaction between the kth stage of lactation and lth parity and εijklm is the normally and independently distributed error term.

Pair wise mean comparison was carried out using Tukey HSD test and statistically significant differences declared at P < 0.05.


Results and discussion

According to this study, the overall mean daily milk off take was 6.0 liters per day. Higher mean daily milk off take (6.2 liters) was recorded in camels managed under pastoral production system compared to that registered (5.8 liters) in camels managed under agro-pastoral system.

Higher mean daily milk off-take was recorded during the rainy season regardless of production system. Camels in the second parity kept under pastoral system gave a higher mean daily milk off take in contrast to those lactating camels in second parity kept under agro-pastoral system. Higher mean daily milk off take was recorded for camels in late stage of lactation kept under pastoral production system compared to their contemporaries kept under agro-pastoral management (Table 1).

Table 1. Effect of production system on milk off-take (liters/day) according to season, parity and stage of lactation in camels, Ab’Ala woreda
Variables Agro-pastoral
Mean (SEM)
Pastoral
Mean (SEM)
p
Season
Rainy 6.1a (0.13) 6.4b (0.11) 0.13
Dry 5.6a (0.09) 6.0b (0.11) 0.0007
Parity
1 5.9 (0.35) 5.9 (0.18) 0.78
2 5.8a (0.14) 6.4b (0.14) 0.008
3 5.9 (0.2) 6.5 (0.17) 0.07
4 5.8 (0.2) 6.3 (0.19) 0.09
5 5.8 (0.15) 5.9 (0.17) 0.47
Stage of lactation
Early 5.8 (0.14) 6.2 (0.12) 0.06
Mid 5.9 (0.17) 6.2 (0.14) 0.21
Late 5.7a (0.13) 6.2b (0.13) 0.02
*SEM: standard error of the mean,
p< 0.05;
a b different subscripts denote significant differences between means within rows.

Existing data on milk yield or off take in camels are numerous but highly variable (FAO 2001). The daily milk off take recorded in the current study was found to be higher than that reported by Bekele et al (2002) (4.14 + 0.04 kg per day) in semi-arid eastern Ethiopia and Zeleke and Bekele (2000) in eastern Ethiopia (1.5–3 liters per day). Mean daily milk yield of 2-6 liters was reported by FAO (2001) in Somalia and according to Farah et al (2004), milk production of Somali camels was 5–6 kg. Kebebew (1998) recorded milk yield of 7.5 kg per day in the Ogaden camel keeping area in east Ethiopia. Daily milk yield of 3-10 kg was reported in eastern Ethiopia by Bekele and Kebebew (2001); while Abebe (1991) registered daily yield of 8-10 kg in Ogaden camels in eastern Ethiopia. The variation in daily milk off take observed may be associated with the breed, parity, lactation length, stage of lactation, season of the year and the availability of browse and water (Farah et al 2004) and nutritional factors which are known to influence milk production (FAO 2001).

According to FAO (2001) milking practice is also known to affect daily milk yield. Allowing the calf to suckle for a few minutes before hand milking makes it difficult to measure actual milk yield while milking without any previous mechanical stimulation of the mammary gland, leads to lower yields (FAO 2001). Milking frequency is also indicated as the other factor which influences daily milk yield as increasing milking frequency from two to four increased milk yield from 1 to 1.5 liters/day (FAO 2001; Yohannes et al 2007).

Consistent with the result of this study, higher mean daily milk off take was reported during the rainy season in the Errer valley (Zeleke 1998) and in Babilie and Kebribeyah woredas of Jijiga zone (Yohannes et al 2007). Farah et al (2004) has also reported higher milk yield during the rainy season in Somalia. Highest daily milk off take coincides with the rainy season when there is an abundance of many types of vegetation.

This study has shown better mean daily milk off take during the dry season in camels kept under pastoral production system. This may be associated with the difference in agro ecology and access to range resources (water and feed resources) which is possible to pastoral camel herds as the management of such herds is based on mobility in search of better range resources.

In this study it was found that camels in the second parity kept under pastoral system gave more milk in comparison to camels in second parity kept under agro-pastoral system. Literature on daily milk yield in relation to parity in the camel is scarce. Bekele et al (2002) reported that camels in the fourth parity showed the highest average yield per day in their study of daily milk yield in relation to parity groups in the semi-arid eastern Ethiopia. However, due care should be taken while interpreting the mean daily milk off take in relation to parity groups recorded in the current study because there were non-proportional number of lactating camels in each parity groups for the two production systems.

The mean daily milk off take which was registered in camels in the late stage of lactation (5.7 liters per day) was lower than that recorded for the early and mid stages of lactation. While camels in the late stage of lactation kept under pastoral production system were having better mean daily milk off take compared to camels in the same stage of lactation kept under agro-pastoral management. This might be explained by the better availability of browse and water resources for the camel herds in the pastoral production system. Information on milk off take in relation to stage of lactation is very scarce but according to FAO (2001), milk yield and stage of lactation have got little correlation in the camel while Yohannes et al (2007) reported mean daily camel milk yield according to stage of lactation. Yohannes et al (2007) recorded higher yields for the early and mid stages of lactation as compared to the late stage of lactation indicating that there is decline in milk yield as the stage of lactation progressed. On the other hand prevailing water problem especially during the dry season may affect higher milk yield potential of the first phase of early stages of lactation, the presence of nursing calf and milking frequency are also indicated as additional factors which affect milk yield in relation to the stage of lactation (Yohannes et al 2007). According to the study made by Kurai et al (2004) and Kuria et al (2013) mineral supplementation has association with milk production in camels concluding that mineral supplementation will increase milk yield and improves milk taste. According to FAO (2001), differences in genetic potential, climate, feeding conditions and sampling techniques are factors which influence milk yield in relation to the stage of lactation in the camel. If pastoralists fail to supply mineral supplements deficiency problems could be manifested in the form of poor body condition and decreased productivity (decreased milk yield) of animals (Tolera and Abebe 2007).

Only the interaction between parity and stage of lactation was found to influence mean daily milk off take.

The estimated mean body weight was 292 kg in male and 320 kg in females. Male and female camels belonging to the agro-pastoral area were heavier than camels in the pastoral production system (Table 2). Among linear body measurements recorded during this study wither’s height was the highest in camels originating from the agro-pastoral system (Table 2).

Table 2. Effect of production system on estimated body weight (kg) and linear body measurements (m) by sex
Variables Agro-pastoral
Mean (SEM)
Pastoral
Mean (SEM)
p
Estimated body weight by sex
Adult female 308a (8.1) 274b (6.4) 0.001
Adult male 410a (23.2) 250b (8.5) <0.001
Linear body measurements by sex
Wither’s height
Female 1.7a (0.02) 1.4b (0.02) <0.0001
Male 1.9a (0.1) 1.4b (0.04) <0.0001
Chest girth
Female 1.8 (0.01) 1.8 (0.01) 0.17
Male 1.9a (0.1) 1.7b (0.02) 0.0006
Abdominal girth
Female 2 (0.03) 2.1(0.01) 0.2
Male 2.1 (0.1) 2 (0.002) 0.2
*SEM: standard error of the mean,
p< 0.05;
a b different subscripts denote significant differences between means within rows.

According to Abebe (1991) the body weight of Ogaden camels was estimated to be 612 kg and 463 kg for mature male and female camels, respectively. Tezera (1998) reported mean estimated live weight for adult male and female camels to be 485 kg and 427 kg and 384 kg and 326 kg for Jijiga and Shinile zones in eastern Ethiopia, respectively. According to Bekele and Kebebew (2001) the mean estimated body weight of camels for Babilie woreda was 435 kg for male camels and 378 kg for female camels whereas in Kebribeyah it was estimated to be 407 kg and 402 kg for male and female camels, respectively. Estimated body weight recorded for adult female camels in this study was closer to that recorded by Tezera (1998) for Shinile camels but it was found to be lower than that recorded by Tezera (1998) for Jijiga Zone; by Abebe (1991) in Ogaden and by Bekele and Kebebew (2001) in Babile and Kebribeyah woredas in eastern Ethiopia. The estimated body weight of adult male camels for Ab’Ala, Afar in the current study was found to be lower as compared to the estimated body weight of adult male camels recorded by Tezera (1998), Abebe (1991) and Bekele and Kebebew (2001). The variation in estimated body weight of camels may be explained by differences in breed and body condition which in turn may be influenced by the availability of water and browse (Yagil 1982).

In the current study, using the estimated body weight in Table 2 and dressing percentage of 52% reported in camels by Yagil (1982), the meat production potential of adult female and adult male camels was calculated to be 149-155 kg and 154-178 kg, respectively. This study has revealed that camels in the agro-pastoral system were having better meat production potential compared to those in the pastoral production system. The variation in meat production potential might be explained by differences in body weight.

The better meat production potential of camels in the agro-pastoral areas can be taken as a good opportunity for fattening of camels. This has to also take into consideration the increasing demand for camel meat both at local and export market.

In a study conducted in eastern Ethiopia, Kurtu (2004) reported dressing percentage of 54.0+ 5.13% and 50.6+ 3.7% for male and female camels, respectively. Based on this dressing percentage, Kurtu (2004) estimated meat production potential of camels to be 230-240 kg for male and 188-195 kg for female camels in Babilie area whereas in Kebribeyah the same author recorded meat production potential of 215-225 kg for male and 200-207 kg for female camels. According to Yagil (1982), meat production depends on age, sex, feeding condition, individual growth potential and health of the animal.


Conclusion


Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge Mekelle University for funding this study. We would also like to thank the pastoralists in the study area for their collaboration and support during the study.


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Received 4 September 2013; Accepted 1 November 2013; Published 1 December 2013

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