AL AIN // The UAE's biggest camel farm says it is managing to produce far more milk since it introduced its Dh4.2million automated camel-milking machine.
Al Ain Dairy Company installed the machines three months ago. Since then, its 1,200 camels have been producing 5 per cent more milk. "It's been working well so far," said Shashi Kumar Menon, Al Ain Dairy's chief operating officer. "We milk between 18 to 20 camels a day."
The portable milking machines have proven safer than hand milking, which can be risky for humans and animals alike.
But it has not been straightforward. "Camels, unlike cows, aren't used to milking parlours so it takes time for them to break in with this habit. We've managed to migrate 800 camels so far which is half of our population."
And because it has taken between eight to 10 months for the animals to get comfortable with the machine, they have not reached their full milking capacity yet.
"Putting a new camel directly on a milking parlour immediately reduces the output to some extent," said Mr Menon. "But eventually, they give the full output once they are comfortable."
The farm has recently added another 350 camels to its herd, increasing milk production to 3,700 litres a day - an extra 200 litres on last year. The milk is routinely tested in a laboratory for bacterial count, fat, acidity and antibiotics.
"We have intentions to increase the production of milk but it all depends on the availability of camels and the time it takes to break them in."
The farm's 20 milkers still stay close to the camels while they are being milked by machine, to keep them calm. "Camels are very temperamental and it's better to have them around them."
With the extra animals, the company has managed to increase its milk production from a million to 1.2 million litres a year.
Still, that is not enough for it to start exporting to Kuwait, as it had hoped. "Even with an increase in production, we are still barely able to meet the UAE demand. We don't have any extra milk so exporting is premature at this stage."
With the demand for camel milk in the UAE reaching approximately four million litres a year and still growing, the potential to ever be able to meet local demand is difficult to achieve.
"It's hard to say whether we will be able to meet local demand so we're also increasing the segmentation of the market," said Mr Menon.
This year, the company has introduced flavoured camel milk, with flavours including chocolate, cardamom, rose, date and saffron. "We also added laban to our range," said Mr Menon. "The challenge is to catch up with the demand."
But ice cream has been delayed. "We're waiting for the right technology from the UK," said Mr Menon. "Camel milk powder isn't available, you need to make it on your own.
"So when you get into commercial production, you need to make sure you get the right kind of machine where you freeze and dry it, get the water out and make it into powder."