Camels can tolerate droughts and conserve water better than other livestock, making them a popular option for transportation in areas with severe heat. Camels are also used for racing, leather, wool, meat, and fuel (dung).
They are also used as a source of milk.
A camel can be milked by machine or hand. Mechanical milking should be done with modifications for the size and shape of their teats. Hand milking is commonly done to get ideal results. The teat is squeezed in a downward motion from where it meets the base of the udder. A camel can be milked much like other livestock with attention to cleanliness, proper handling of the animal, and sterilization.
This article provides detailed information about the camel’s milk production and the steps to take to milk it.
Quick Camel Facts
Camels belong to the Camelidae family, along with llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicuñas.
They are large ruminating (cud-chewing) even-toed mammals.
Camels live in stable groups of females with one mature male breeding with all of the mature females.
Females are ready to reproduce around 3 to 4 years old, and males mature at 6 to 8 years old.
A camel’s gestation lasts 13 to 14 months, and generally gives birth to one calf. The camel’s milk comes in upon the birth of the calf.
The amount of milk produced can vary by camel in different locations around the world.
Camels can produce milk yields on average of about 3.96 liters (9 pounds) per day. However, some breeds, such as the milch dromedary (C. dromedarius) can produce much more.
When female camels give birth, hormones such as prolactin and oxytocin are produced, resulting in milk flowing from the udder into the teats for the calf.
This is a neurohormonal-dependent process as the teat is stimulated by the sight, smell, and suckling of the newborn, releasing the milk.
The camel will continue to produce milk (and the hormones) if the mammary glands and teats continue to be stimulated, even after the calf has been weaned, for up to 18 months.
If a calf dies at birth, the camel may not produce milk at all, since it needs the bonded presence of the calf to stimulate the production of hormones.
The calf feeds on its mother’s milk for 12 to 18 months. However, forced weaning takes place in herded camels at 9 to 11 months, and then the farmer continues to milk the camel for human consumption.
Milk For Human Consumption
Camel’s milk is an alternative for those that cannot drink or digest cow’s milk due to allergy or intolerance.
This healthy option is higher in antioxidants with lower levels of saturated fat and sugar, with many beneficial vitamins and minerals.
How To Milk A Camel: 2 Methods
Camels have two milk compartments in their udders for holding milk: cistern and alveoli.
The udder has 2 front and 2 back quarters, with a total of 4 teats. The majority of the milk is stored in the small sacks of alveoli.
Milk moves from the alveoli through large and small ducts into the cistern. Under stimulation, the milk then streams out of the streak canal into the calf’s mouth or collection unit.
Method 1: Milking By Machine
Camels can be milked with milking machines that are much like the ones that are used on dairy cows. A lined teat cup is placed on each teat protruding from the udder.
The machine then applies rhythmic pressure and vacuums out milk. The milk is transported to a holding chamber via tubing. Like cows, camels can be milked twice a day to get optimal yields.
However, camel teats are different from cow teats in size and shape. So, if dairy cow milking machines are used on camels, it can cause mastitis, pain, inflammation, or infected breast tissue.
There has been some development in creating machines designed specifically in such a way that the pressure doesn’t cause issues for the camel. However, hand-milking is an option that doesn’t cause issues as machines can.
Method 2: Milking A Camel By Hand (9 Steps)
1. Handling Of The Female Camel
Camels can be shy or skittish and may dislike being handled.
The udder, in particular, can be a sensitive place to touch, especially as it becomes engorged with milk.
Be prepared to get an occasional kick or even a bite. Camels will even kick their calves during nursing, due to the sensitivity.
Before, during, and after pregnancy, a female camel should be pet, touched, and comfortable around you. Help it to get used to being tethered as you touch its belly, legs, head, and more.
Practice placing a bucket underneath and in the area, you intend to milk the camel. This is so that the camel is familiar with the surroundings.
The camel will need to be cleaned before being milked. So, give the camel frequent baths or washings, to get it comfortable with being handled.
2. Milk After Birth Has Occurred
A female camel can only be milked if it has birthed a live baby.
The mother will produce milk for up to 18 months, offering a maximum yield in the second or third month of lactation.
If a calf does not naturally wean around 9 or 10 months, then it may be forced weaned. Then milking is done by hand for human consumption.
A calf will drink about 40% of the mother’s milk daily. Therefore, it is also possible to hand milk after the calf has been nursed each time. This comes with the understanding that there may be less overall volume collected.
This is beneficial as the suckling of the camel will get the milk flowing easier than if you start it by hand.
3. Prepare A Milking Station And Secure The Camel In Place
Ideally, you want an area where the calf can be present to aid in stimulation, either by suckling first or by bonded presence.
Some milkers (pastoralists) use gentle, but guiding tools to prevent injury from a camel during milking.
They will flex a frontal leg at the carpal joint, or over the knee joints on the rear legs, positioned with a rope so it cannot kick.
Additionally, wood plugs can be hung from the ears, so if the camel turns its head to bite, the plugs sway. This is confusing to the camel, which stops it from turning its head.
Ideally, you should do the following:
- Have a feeding bucket available to keep the camel busy while you milk.
- The area should be free of feces, dusty fodder, and other debris.
- Ensure that you have a clean and sterile aluminum or steel bucket for collecting the milk.
- Secure the camel in place.
- Allow the calf to be nearby to stimulate milk production.
4. Clean The Camel
During hot times of the day, a camel will urinate on its back legs to help it cool down. They also urinate on their legs and tails during the mating season.
If you notice black and oily spots on the tail or legs, wash these areas to avoid contamination of the teats, udder, and milk.
Use a mild soap and warm water solution.
Trim any excess or long hair around the udder. Trimmers are best suited for this instead of scissors due to the risk of injury to the sensitive skin.
After the calf has sucked (and before milking by hand), wipe down the teats with a cloth dipped in a watered-down anesthetic solution.
Squeeze out excess liquid before wiping them down.
5. Trim Your Fingernails
By keeping your fingernails trimmed, you will prevent injury to the camel’s sensitive udder as you squeeze.
Additionally, if you cause pain with your fingernails, the camel is more likely to kick, move, or bite.
Trim your fingernails so that they do not extend past the pads of your fingers. Cut them in a straight line across the top and then file the corners for a smooth edge.
6. Clean Clothing, Hair, And Hands
After getting the camel secured into its milking station, you should be clean as well.
Wear clean clothing and tie your hair back or cover it with a hair net.
Clean your hands. You do not want any germs from your hands to harm the camel or to get into the milk.
Thoroughly cover wet hands with soap. Then rub hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before rinsing them clean.
7. Milk The Camel: Squeezing The Teats
Camels can be milked from either side. Pastoralists do this while standing up because camels are tall and capable of reaching over 6 feet tall at the shoulder.
However, you can use a stool to milk on the side(s) that are most comfortable for both you and the camel.
Hold the bucket up close to the end of the teat in your less dominant hand, and use the other hand for milking. You could also have another person hold the bucket up for you.
The video below shows two people milking one camel, with one person on each side. One person can do this task, but two make it go faster.
Take note of the way the teat is gripped by the hand, squeezed from the top and down, as it sprays milk into the bucket.
Once milk stops or slows in its flow, you can stop milking, generally after 5 to 10 minutes.
8. Remove The Camel From The Milking Station
Set your container of milk on a stable surface away from spill potential or kicked up debris.
Untie or release your camel, giving it some food and water, and the opportunity to rest.
9. Sterilize Or Pasteurize The Milk
Some people will drink (and refrigerate) fresh, raw camel’s milk. However, there is a risk of illnesses due to microorganism contamination.
Sterilization or pasteurization are two different ways to safely process milk. After processing, refrigeration of the milk keeps spores or new bacteria from growing in the final product.
Sterilization destroys all microorganisms and their spores.
Camel’s milk can be sterilized by heating. Use a thermometer with constant supervision to reach the desired temperature of 130°C for 30 seconds or at 145°C for one second.
Any longer than this can reduce the quality and taste of the milk.
Pasteurization destroys vegetative forms of bacteria while leaving spores intact.
Commercial pasteurizers can be used to safely consume the milk.
Camels can be milked by specially designed milking machines or by hand.
Commonly, hand milking is done to get a good yield after the calf has stimulated the flow of milk.
To milk the camel, it must be secured in a comfortable and clean place, by one or more people with clean hands.
The teat is squeezed starting at the base of the udder, and moving in a downward, pulling motion. Milk is collected in a clean aluminum or steel container.
The fresh milk then should be sterilized with high heat for 1 to 30 seconds or pasteurized and refrigerated before consumption.
Camel milk can offer people an alternative nutritional dairy source for consumption.
Learn More About Camels: