Domesticated camels are members of the camelid family, which includes the domesticated alpacas and llamas. The new world camels also include two other wild camelids, the vicuna and the guanaco. The vicuna is a little different and is in a different genus (Viguanae), while the 3 other species are in the Llama genus. Camels can walk easier on soft soils and sand because their feet have pads and not hooves. Their toenails do need trimming periodically, as needed.
There are two types of old world camels; the Bactrian and the Dromedary. The one humped camels are the dromedary camels, which are seen in the Arabian Desert area and they originated in North Africa. The two humped are called Bactrian camels, and these originated in central Asia (Mongolia). Both species of camels can weigh from 650 to 1500# as adults, and up to 7′ high at the hump. Dromedary camels are usually more aggressive than the Bactrian camels. In a camel race they may sprint at 40 miles per hour or so, and at 25 MPH for longer races. All members of the camel family can spit, although this is not as common as one may be led to believe. The Bactrian camels, Camelus bactrianus, have longer hair than dromedary camels. These two-humped camels also may weigh less, such as 1,000# for an adult male.
The new world camelids are induced ovulators. Induced ovulators do not have heat cycles for reproduction, once in estrus they stay in heat until bred. When breeding we recommend they only be bred once a week. The camelid species can have a gestation (pregnancy time) from 11-13 months. A progesterone blood tests is usually needed to diagnose pregnancy, although we may be able to use a 5 mHz ultrasound probe at 19-20 days to diagnose early pregnancy, usually in the left horn. External ultrasounds have a limit of only a few inches in depth. The progesterone blood test requires that the female cow be removed from the male bull for 3 weeks. There are no names for male or female camels, although the babies are referred to as calves. The babies should be separated by 6 months of age, when puberty occurs. We do not recommend a lot of training for newborn of camels, or any members of the camelid family, for the first 6 months after birth. There is a berserk male syndrome that can occur in camelids, cervids and other species. See our llama handout if you are unsure of the Beserk Male Syndrome. One does need to handle young camels, but not to the point where they will imprint on humans and think they are a human species. We recommend halter training the newborn after 4?6 months of age, to insure easier future handling. The use of a clap to ask the camel to kneel is preferred to teaching them by the older historical use of a stick. We prefer to castrate camels after 16 months of age, or before 2 years. Pre-puberty neutering of camels can cause a delayed closure of the long bone epiphysis. This causes the legs to be longer than average. We also see this phenomenon in some other species, such as the Sheltie dog. When anesthetizing camelids and herbivores we prefer they not be fed for 12 hours, to reduce the production of gas in their stomach when anesthetized. Beginning at 1 month of age, a 16% creep ration can be fed, with actual true ingestion to be expected after 2?3 months of age. The baby will stay with her mother for a few years before the camel is to be weaned. A camel can live up to 50 years of age. Do not overfeed protein or grain to camelids.
Camelids should be treated and fed like ruminants. Ruminants are the 4 stomach animals that include cattle and sheep. Some medicines used orally in horses are ineffective in camelids. Hay should be the major portion of their diet. A young calf can be fed alfalfa, although an adult probably should be fed more of a grass hay type diet. Expect to feed up to 2?3% of their weight daily in hay. We prefer you do not feed over 1-<2# of grain a day. We have a vitamin-mineral supplement in an alfalfa-based pellet if you want to feed a supplement. A shelter from the wind, rain and sun should be provided, along with fresh clean water daily.
As with most livestock the camelid needs to be periodically dewormed, 2?4x a year, have annual vaccinations for the clostridial diseases (C & D perfringens, septicum) and tetanus. West Nile vaccine is optional, yet recommended. In addition to the clostridial diseases and tetanus, we also advise lepto, anthrax (if only anthrax history on premises) and equine herpes 1 (rhino) if on a show circuit. The vaccines for equine rhinopneumonitis and West Nile should be killed vaccines. Vaccines for lepto, streptococcus, Corneybacterium, anthrax, pink eye, contagious ecthyma (orf), and even rabies are also utilized on some areas. A parasite that can cause anemia, called Eperythrozoonosis, does not have a vaccine available for its prevention. The teeth need to be periodically checked and floated. The toenails may also need occasional trimming. Interstate travel requires camelids to be tested for Brucellosis, tuberculosis, and a health certificate/inspection by a veterinarian. The livestock Brand Inspector should also be notified for a brand inspection when a cow or horse purchase is made, although at this time camelids are not required to be inspected. The coronavirus disease in camelids is found in the middle east at this time; not a concern here. The concern with the human MERS virus and possible relationship to camels is not yet understood except for ingesting raw camel milk in those areas with MERS. The United States does not have the MERS virus.
Camels have prehensile, split lips are very adept to examining items and opening gates. We recommend a double latch type gate system. They can be used for pack animals and riding. They may refuse to move if they are overloaded. As with any livestock species you need to halter up and work with your camel at least weekly.
It may be difficult to determine if a camel is sick by their body temperature. The rectal temperature of a camel can vary from a low of 93 degrees during the morning to 105 degrees at evening. If in doubt we recommend an exam of any livestock species (or camels) which have a body temp lower than 99 degrees or higher than 103 degrees rectally. The ability to have a 10-degree range in body temperature is relative to their ability to live and adapt to the extremes of the Sahara desert. If the hump of a camel is soft and flaccid, this indicates the camel maybe sick and not eating. An exam and blood tests are indicated. We recommend periodic fecal checks for the various internal parasites. On average a camel can live for up to 40-50 years. If selling or transferring the ownership of a camelid, a bill of sale is required; a call to the Colorado brand inspection office is also recommended. All premises where livestock are kept are to be registered with the USDA: www.aphis.usda.gov/
The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic