A Dh4.2 million camel milking machine has been introduced at Al Ain Dairy Company. But it takes some getting used to.
New technology to milk camels
AL AIN // Camels at Al Ain Dairy Company are still a bit nervous around their new Dh4.2 million milking machines.
The automated camel-milking parlour was flown in a couple of months ago from the company's UK-based partner, Fullwood, who supply camel-milking technology worldwide.
The farm's 1,200 camels are currently being introduced to machine milking by having portable milking machines hooked up to their udders.
"We've been trying for the past month to milk them with those to get them used to being fitted with the technology," said Shashi Kumar Menon, Al Ain Dairy's chief operating officer. "We can't rush the process because they're sensitive creatures."
The milking process takes about one to two minutes and Mr Menon anticipates the camels will be ready for full milking with the new system in the next three to five weeks. "They were reasonably calm today but they're still a bit fidgety," he said.
The procedure involves attaching vacuum tubes to the udders, which generate a gentle suction to make the milk flow. "Currently, we can milk 18 to 20 camels at a time," said Mr Menon. On average, 500 camels are milked every day.
Although the technology will increase the farm's camel milk production by only three to five per cent, the hygiene and contamination factors are what add value to the process. "We've come a long way from the bucket to the bottle," said Mr Menon. "It's very important that we deliver the best standards for our customers."
The farm's 20 milkers will no longer need to manually milk the camels, but they will not be losing their jobs: the farm has found having one of the milkers standing next to the camels keeps them calm.
"Hand-milking brings with it its own set of problems - for humans and animals," said Mr Menon. "We've learnt to live with it until now but the machines will make the milk 100 per cent safe."
The milk is routinely tested in a laboratory for bacterial count, fat, acidity and antibiotics. According to T Kuran, the company's production manager, 3,300 litres of camel milk is tested every day.
"From time to time, there would be problems detected in the lab," said Mr Menon, who said that the new system would ensure fault-free milk. "There is a standard operating procedure with machines that cannot be enforced with 100 milkers."
Saudi Arabia is one of the largest producers of camel milk globally, but the country does not have such machines. In the UAE, only one other company - Camelicious - does.
Al Ain Dairy Company currently produces one million litres of camel milk a year.
Once the system is successfully installed and the camels are fully acclimatised to it, the company will open an extension of the farm: its 375 square-metre camel-milking production plant will be expanded to 1,200sqm and the current 3,200 litres of camel milk that are produced there daily will increase to 15,000 litres at the beginning of next year. An extra 500 camels will also be added to the new farm.
"We are considering exporting to Kuwait at the end of next year," said Mr Menon. "We will also have four new machines for our camel milk ice cream," said Sreedhara MJ, the company's production manager for camel milk.
Al Ain Dairy is preparing to launch its ice cream product next month along with a line of camel milk products. "With the demand for camel milk in the UAE reaching about four million litres a year, it is much needed," said Mr Menon.
"We are also looking into powdered UHT camel milk for the future," added Mr MJ.