Talk about milking it…
Sean O’Driscoll takes a tour and finds out about the tricky business of camel farming...
“The last thing you want to do is turn them into cows with humps,” says Dr Peter Nagy, a senior vet at Al Nassma farm in Dubai, where about 2,500 camels provide milk for the Camelicious brand of chocolates, flavoured milk and, coming this summer, cheese and ice-creams.
Extracting milk from camels is a delicate business. The desert dwellers are notoriously temperamental, but are much easier managed once they have a routine.
“You have a ten-minute leeway,” Dr Nagy said. “They start to get agitated if you don’t follow the exact same routine every day. They like to know what is happening all the time.”
“If you change the pattern of their day, they start to get annoyed,” Dr Nagy told 7DAYS as we took a tour of the farm. Staff at the 150-hectare farm are watching the camels closely to figure out how to increase milk production. Currently, camels give six litres of milk a day for 550 days during their calf-raring cycle. Farmers are still experimenting to find the best yields and are trying out camels from Pakistan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the hope of getting more milk.
“This is an intensive method, added Dr Nagy. “So new problems arise every year. It is never static, it is an ever-changing system so you have to change as new illnesses or sources of calf mortality arise.”
One way to improve camels’ health is to allow them to enjoy time with their calves, even if the young have to be partly fed with replacement feed while the milk is taken for humans.
Dr Nagy says that allowing the camels to walk with their calves for over an hour a day makes a big difference and allows them to settle and reduces stress. Despite that, finding out what’s wrong with a sick camel can be very difficult.
“The only symptoms are the camels become slightly more lethargic and may run a slight fever. They are either fine the next day or almost dead, there is very little in between,” he adds. As Dr Nagy is talking, I pet one of the friendlier camels. She turns to nuzzle my face and then burps. The smell of fermenting grass comes out of her mouth and up into my nostrils. It is a moment I will never forget, its odour should replace coffee as a morning wake-up call. I’m wide awake for the rest of the tour.
The Camelicious brand of chocolates is made here, using the finest ingredients from around the world, including coca beans from Venezuela that are some of the best on the market. The chocolates are available at the farm store and at Dubai Duty Free and are comparable in quality to Belgian pralines or other expensive dairy brands.
“The milk yield from a camel is much lower than a cow, that’s why we are aiming for the quality end of the market,” says the farm’s processing manager, CPM Thulasiram.
7DAYS reported last week how two new types of Arabic camel cheese will be launched later this year, hopefully in time for Eid Al Adha, and will also be available in larger malls and in duty free at the airport.
“The cheeses took three years to develop so we are aiming to have the best cheese on the market, and not just for camels. We think we can compete with anything else in the world,” said Thulasiram. The two cheeses have been named Oakkaui and Nabulsi. The Al Nassma farm and Camelicious chocolate shop are located off the Dubai-Al Ain road, the first turn right after Dubai’s Outlet Mall.