August 2, 2012

Local Dairy Adds Camels to Milk Herd

These aren't your typical dairy animals - An Arbela producer has turned to camels to boost his milk business, which has gone nationwide with the specialty products.

Got Milk? While the popular marketing slogan for the dairy industry is well known in these parts, at least one area producer is proving that you don't have to have cows to have milk.

The farm of Clyde and Dorothy Zimmerman is home to many of the traditional black and white Holsteins most of us are used to getting our dairy products from, but it's the other milk producers on the property north of Arbela that might make visitors feel like they have made a trip to the Middle East or Africa.

The Zimmerman's maintain a herd of 13 Dromedary camels. The traditional beast of burden is gaining popularity in the United States as a source of specialized milk. The family got its start in the camel business about a year ago.

Clyde traveled to Joplin at that time to assist with the tornado cleanup efforts. While there, he stayed with a friend who maintains an exotic animal business.

"I noticed he was keeping a camel and they were milking it," Clyde said. "As a dairyman, I was interested."

Clyde learned that camels are grazers similar to cattle, living off forage, hay and grains. While they do not produce as much milk as cows, the product is in high demand due to nutritional and medical benefits.

Camel milk has three times the amount of vitamin C found in cow's milk.

Dr. Millie Hinkle, founder of Camel Milk USA, notes that camel milk is easily digested by lactose-intolerant individuals.

She added that the lactoferrin in camel's milk has antibacterial and antiviral properties. It also has anti-tumor properties according to studies.

It is believed to have a positive effect on breast cancer and has been used for centuries to treat liver disease, and studies have been performed for hepatitis and liver cancer with promising results, the doctor said.

Because it is lower in sugar compared to cow milk, and contains 52 units of insulin per liter, camel milk is believed to help with Diabetes. It also has 30% less fat than dairy milk.

Camel milk currently is being used to aid in the treatment of Autism, Tuberculosis and Crohn's Disease.

Zimmerman said the bulk of his customers purchase the milk for family members suffering from autism.

They ship the milk all across the United States, directly to the consumers. Frozen pints are packaged in dry ice and mailed.

"We just sent some to Texas and to Washington," he said.

The addition of camels has been relatively simple for the northeast Missouri dairyman. He utilizes much of the same milking equipment he already had in place.

One big difference is with the cow and calf relationship. Unlike dairy cows, a camel requires the presence of her calf in order to continue lactating. Even though the calf is no longer nursing, it still must be kept close to the mother to keep her in the milk cycle, which Zimmerman said lasts from 10 months to a year.

He estimated that the current cow he has in the milking cycle has produced around 2,000 pints since February. The camel produces roughly three gallons of milk on its best days, compared to a dairy cow that generally will give up to eight gallons.

Despite being up to six feet tall, the camels weigh around 1,200 to 1,300 pounds, with the larger bull approaching 2,000 pounds, putting them on a level playing field with the cows.

"Once they get used to you, they are pretty easy to maintain," Clyde said as he demonstrated the animals gentleness, with the bulk of his 13 animals coming over to the fence for a petting during the interview process. "They aren't hard on fences and they are not real big eaters."

The trees around the animals' pens may disagree, as they are leafless thanks to the camels' long necks and keen appetite for the green delicacies.

The one hump Dromedary camels are no strangers to riders. Like their counterparts in Africa and the Middle East that have been used as pack animals and transportation for centuries, the Zimmerman's camels fill some of their down time in the dairy cycle providing manual labor.

For more information contact Clyde Zimmerman at 660-341-1780.

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