An analysis of Camel Calf growth and survival under pastoral Camel production systems in Samburu
A survey was conducted to document traditional camel and camel calf management practices in Samburu with the objective of identifying gaps and suggesting possible solutions. During the survey 59 calf records were taken and 30 respondents representing their households interviewed in Opiroi, Barsaloi and Kawop locations. The data was collected using a structured questionnaire. Linear measurements and actual live weight of the camel calves were taken so as to estimate correlations that could be used in determining calf weight. It was observed that the communities in the study area kept camels, cattle and small stock to optimize range resource use. Female animals constituted a high proportion for different livestock kept at 73% for camels, 65% for cattle, 75% for goats and 72% for sheep. The respondents reported no specific breeding programme for the camels. Breeding of closely related camels was reported by 52.15% to 60.15 % of the poor and rich wealth categories of respondents suggesting inbreeding. Abnormalities that may be related to inbreeding were reported. Feed availability was reported by 76.6% of respondents to vary with season, with the wet season providing more feed than the dry one. The seasonal feed scarcity was reported to cause camels to feed on poisonous plants. A common, but poisonous plant, Capparis tomentosa, was reported to form a significant component of the camels' diet during the dry season. A need to explore its usefulness as feed and find ways of moderating its poisonous effects was identified. Herding of camels to pasture was constrained by labour scarcity forcing restricted grazing of calves. Calf nutrition was further aggravated by competition with humans for the milk; a situation made more difficult where a market for milk existed. Either because of tradition or due to scarcity of animal health and extension services providers, the respondents were dependent on ethno-veterinary practitioners. Camel calves had an ADO of 212 g/day up to weaning at 8 months. The male calves had a higher ADO (281 g/day) than the females (168 g/day). The vegetation condition at birth, significantly (P<0.05) affected camel calf growth and survival. The mortality rates of camel calves remained unacceptably high at an average of 50% and were higher for male calves at 56% than female calves at 43%. The mortality could be due to such reported practices reported as colostrum denial, milk access limitation, malpresentation during birth and mismothering. The correlation of predicted weights and the actual live weights was high (r = 0.963) for the general regression equation derived from the three linear body measurements of abdominal girth, heart girth and shoulder height combined. Abdominal girth coefficient of determination R2 was high (91.4%) than heart girth (87%) and shoulder height (17.2%), making it the best single weight predictor. The findings determined intervention points for improving camel calf growth and survival.