Evaluation of losses of replacement heifers in pastoral and peri-urban camel herds in semi-arid northern Kenya
© Shibia et al.; licensee Springer. 2013
Received: 21 March 2013
Accepted: 26 July 2013
Published: 4 September 2013
This study estimated heifer losses and associated determinants in peri-urban camel herds characterized by market orientation and domination of lactating camels grazing closer to urban market outlets for milk. In this evolving peri-urban camel production system in semi-arid Kenya, the proportion of heifers born that survives to breeding age is important in sustaining the herds and the extent to which households obtain tangible and intangible benefits from camel keeping. Data was obtained through progeny history recall on 2,000 heifer loss cases out of 4,398 heifers born between 1991 and 2009. The estimated heifer loss was 0.455 and was 11.8% higher (P < 0.0001) in peri-urban herds (0.505 ± 0.040) than in pastoral herds (0.387 ± 0.047). The extent of heifer loss was significantly associated with veterinary service access (P < 0.05), labour hire (P < 0.01) and state of security (P < 0.01). Results provide lessons for policy intervention to support evolution of peri-urban camel milk production. Improving infrastructure and the security situation is necessary to enhance delivery of veterinary service and feed supply interventions to peri-urban camel herds for production of milk and breeding stock.
Camels (Camelus dromedarius) are primary livelihood assets in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) of northern Kenya. Camels provide pastoral communities with tangible benefits (income, milk, meat, hides and skins) and intangible benefits (status symbol, insurance, risk aversion and social capital). Traditionally, camels have been managed in nomadic systems characterized by subsistence production objectives and mobile herds in search of pastures, water and mineral licks in the vast rangelands of the ASALs.
Nomadic pastoral production of camels is highly vulnerable to recurring droughts and subsequent ethnic conflicts over water and pastures (Guliye et al. 2007; Thornton et al. 2007). This has contributed to forcing part of the pastoral communities to abandon the traditional nomadic pastoral production in search for businesses, employment opportunities, security and social amenities in the urban centres (Bebe et al. 2007; Seré et al. 2008). The migrating pastoral households have introduced camel keeping within the vicinity of urban centres where they keep lactating herds to supply milk to urban consumers. Grazing of the lactating herds is restricted within pastures around the urban centre, so as to remain closer to market outlets. This practice is marked with changes in production objectives from subsistence to market orientation. Breeding stock is reared within the herd (Bebe et al. 2007). The camel herd management practices just described have evolved into a peri-urban camel milk production system. In this evolving system, the proportion of camel heifers born that survive to first calving is important in sustaining the herds and the extent to which households obtain tangible and intangible benefits from their camel herds.
However, sourcing of breeding stock from pastoral herds is not a promising option for sustaining evolution of peri-urban camel herds for marketed milk production. The pre-weaning calf mortality is between 20% and 55% (Schwartz et al. 1983; Wilson 1986) and when sex disaggregated is between 20% and 30% for heifers (Kaufmann 2000, 2003). When post-weaning mortalities are added, the loss of potential replacement heifers in pastoral herds would be substantial, limiting the supply of breeding stock to peri-urban herds. The high loss of heifers in pastoral herds is attributed to diseases, drought starvation, predation, snake bites, theft and rustling, infertility, still births and deformities (Schwartz et al. 1983; Simpkin 1985; Baumann and Zessin 1992; Kaufmann 2003).
The nature of the heifer losses suggests a strong relationship with management practices. Because management strategies in peri-urban herds differ from those of pastoral herds, the effect on heifer production may differ and so are losses to first breeding age. Because peri-urban camel herders rear their own camel heifers (Bebe et al. 2007), they have to maximize survival rate of the heifers born to breeding age when they enter the milking herd. Therefore, the study compared the extent of camel heifer loss to first calving age and identified associated determinants of the differences between pastoral and peri-urban camel herds in semi-arid northern Kenya.
The peri-urban grazing areas receive median annual rainfall between 400 and 600 mm (Herlocker et al. 1993), while the rangeland grazing areas receive median annual rainfall of 150 to 250 mm. In both peri-urban and rangeland grazing areas, the dominant vegetation are shrubs of Acacia reficiens, Acacia tortillis, Cammiphora spp. and Duospherma eremophilum and grasses of Aristida spp., Leptothrium senegalese, Sporobolus spp. and Lintonia nutans (Herlocker et al. 1993).
The data was processed and analyzed using STATA software (StataCorp LP, College Station, TX, USA) and fitted Tobit model to estimate heifer losses and to identify the determinants of heifer losses.
The desired sample size was determined on the basis of average female calf mortality estimate of 30% taken from Kaufmann (2003) for pastoral camels in northern Kenya. Sampling was for two independent samples represented by pastoral and peri-urban herds. For economically important difference, we allowed for a 95% chance of detecting mortality rate with a difference of 20% at 5% level of significance (Petrie and Watson 1999). Computation of the desired sample size with this approach yielded sample herds of 171, of which 94 were portioned to pastoral herds and 77 to peri-urban herds on proportional basis.
The herds representing pastoral and peri-urban camel production were sampled randomly with the help of the district veterinary and animal production officers in Isiolo. Herds were visited in the morning during times of milking. In each herd visited, the owner together with the herder was asked to recall progeny history of each breeding female for all calves born. The progeny history technique of Swift (1981) has been used successfully for herd dynamics data in pastoral systems and applied successfully for collecting progeny history because of good memory about individual animals by pastoralists (Kaufmann 2003, 2005; Tura 2008). Progeny history enabled profiling cases of female and male calves born by each of the breeding females in the herd. Case profiling captured the number of calves born by sex, the number lost before first calving, the age at time of loss, the cause of loss and access to support services in the grazing areas.
Implementation of the progeny history recall profiled 2,887 cases of breeding female camels and heifer losses of 729 and 1,271 in pastoral and peri-urban herds, respectively, between 1991 and 2009. The camels profiled were aged between 5 to 26 years, which represent 18 years record of calving.
Theoretical framework and the Tobit model
where U ij is the utility received by the i th individual decision-maker from the j th alternative options for securing survival of breeding stock, is the systematic part of the utility function and ϵ ij is the random part.
where z ij represents the vector of attributes of alternative j to the individual decision-maker i, is the vector of characteristics of individual herd and herd owner characteristics and livestock support programmes i and α, and β j (j = 1, 0) are vectors of unknown parameters. An earlier study of the same camel herds had indicated that peri-urban camel herds rear their own heifer replacements (Bebe et al. 2007). This heifer management practice requires that a camel keeper maximizes the survival rate of heifers born to the age at which they enter the milking herd. Therefore, an individual decision-maker who owns a camel will maximize his/her utility by maximizing the survival of replacement heifers born which will support tangible and intangible benefits.
Description and measurement of variables used in the study
Grazing area where the herd is managed
Pastoral herd (0) peri-urban herd (1)
Proportion of female calves lost relative to female calves born
Age class of heifer at the time of loss
1 = pre-weaning <3 months; 2 = yearling, three to two years; 3 = three years; 4 = four years; 5 = age at first calving
Reason that led to loss of heifer
Involuntary losses: 1 = death from diseases, 2 = death from predation/injury/poisoning, 3 = deaths from drought starvation, 4 = infertility/deformities, 5 = theft/rustling, 6 = voluntary losses (slaughtered for ceremonies, gift out, leased, dowry payment)
Distance to the nearest market: 0 = not far, 1 = far, 2 = moderately far, 3 = very far, 4 = extremely far
Ordinal measure, Likert scale rating by camel herd owners
Access to veterinary interventions
Frequency of treatment of camel calves against diseases: 0 = None, 1 = less frequently, 2 = fairly frequently (average), 3 = frequently, 4 = more frequently
Ordinal, Likert scale rating by camel herd owners
Gazing area where the herd is managed
Pastoral herd (0) peri-urban herd (1)
Security situation for keeping camels
0 = not secured, 1 = fairly secured, 2 = secured, 3 = more secured, 4 = highly secured
Attendance to trainings/workshops/seminars on camel calf management
No = 1 and 0 otherwise
Labour used in carrying out camel management activities
Hired = 1 and 0 otherwise
The total number of camels for the categories in column 3
Level of education
Technical after primary
Supplementary feeding/grazing reserves
No = 1 and 0 otherwise
Descriptive analyses of the sample camel population
Data description for the sample camel population characteristics
Herds sampled (N)
Breeding females profiled (N)
Age of breeding females (mean ± SD) (years)
18.97 ± 4.79
17.81 ± 3.99
18.45 ± 4.48
Herd size (mean ± SD) (N)
45.86 ± 30
87.60 ± 50
72.57 ± 48.3
Total calves born (N)
Total female calves born (N)
Total female calves lost before age at first calving (N)
Estimated proportional heifer loss (mean ± SD)
0.387 ± 0.047
0.505 ± 0.040
Determinants influencing loss of heifers before first calving
Marginal effects of factors influencing loss of replacement heifers before first calving
Maximum likelihood coefficient
Robust standard error
Herd (0, 1)a
Train (0, 1)
Veterinary services accessed (scale)
The coefficient for herd variable has a positive marginal value (0.0857) and is significant (P = 0.000), indicating that loss of heifers was 8.6% higher in peri-urban than in the pastoral camel herds. The coefficient veterinary services has a negative marginal value (−0.0551) and is significant (P = 0.000), indicating that loss of heifers was lower for camel herds that were accessing veterinary services. Therefore, access to veterinary services is essential to managing heifer loss, which in this study is associated with reduced heifer loss by 5.5%.
Labour used for carrying out camel management activities has a positive marginal effect (0.1059) and significantly influenced heifer loss (P = 0.000). Comparatively, hired labour increases heifer loss by 10.59% in camel herds. The coefficient of security threat situation for camels has a negative marginal effect (−0.062) and is significant (P = 0.000), indicating that heifer loss was higher in unsecured camel herds. The findings imply that ensuring security situation from theft/rustling would decrease heifer loss by 6.2% in camel herds.
Peri-urban herds are restricted to grazing near settled areas which could lead to over utilization of forage and feed resources. This could result in feed pressure and subsequently impact on survival of heifers. Restricted grazing of camel herds closer to urban market outlets can be associated with decreased mobility of pastoralists and reduced access to grazing reserves for dry seasons (Seré et al. 2008). This would imply that peri-urban herds were exposed to inadequate quantity and quality of year-round feeding necessary to support lactating camels concentrated around Isiolo town (Noor et al. 2012). The feeding pressure is likely to impact on calf nutrition in the absence of supplementary feeding; this could lead to increased susceptibility to disease incidences and malnutrition. Low quality and quantity feeding has been associated with high calf losses in cow dairy herds (Ombura et al. 2007).
Markets drive the demand for camel milk in the peri-urban herds (Guliye et al. 2007), and this intensifies the competition for milk between humans and calves, as more milk is supplied to markets. This leads to poor calf health in the absence of commercial feed supplementation. Malnutrition was reported as a major cause of camel loss resulting from increased competition between human beings and calves in earlier studies (Schwartz et al. 1983; Baumann and Zessin 1992). The marginal effect of access to veterinary services on the proportional loss implies that reduced heifer loss is associated with more frequent access to veterinary services. Often, the veterinarians are inadequately trained in camel health, husbandry and management, which could impact on the effectiveness and delivery of veterinary services. Consequently, camel herd owners often use ethno-veterinary alternatives for animal health cases.
Diseases cause the loss of heifers and were reported to generate additional costs through veterinary care and changes in management practices (Chilonda and Van Huylenbroeck 2001). However, wealth also influences access to veterinary services because of the ability to pay for private services (Ahuja et al. 2003). Veterinary intervention packages and improved veterinary care were reported to reduce camel calves' mortality (Simpkin 1985; Njanja and Gathuma 2007).
The marginal effect of security on the loss of a heifer implies that unsecured camel herds lost more breeding stock, which can be attributed to rustling/theft. Consequently, camel herds are forced to migrate to areas with limited access to pasture, water, markets and veterinary services. Insecurity is a cause of forced sale of stock at lower prices and unplanned dowry payment (Kaimba et al. 2011; Kinyua et al. 2011). Insecurity situations sometimes spill into urban centres too, from the rural conflicts over pastures and water (Fratkin and Roth 2005). Camel owners respond to insecurity by hiring armed home guards, which increases their cost of production.
The marginal effect of labour is that use of hired labour to carry out camel management activities increased the loss of heifers. On average, 77% of camel herds in the peri-urban reported using hired labour. Herd owners have less direct involvement with the routine management activities of their herds. Other studies reported that pastoralists reduce their mobility in order to access markets and social amenities (Fratkin and Roth 2005; Tura 2008). Consequently, indigenous knowledge of livestock husbandry is eroding, due to separation of the herd owners from carrying out herding activities.
Results from the study indicate that, on average, peri-urban camel herds lose 11.8% more of heifers, compared to pastoral herds, and this loss could be significantly reduced with improved access to veterinary services, herd owners actively engaging in herding and daily management and lastly improved security situation in the grazing pastures. The frequent cause of loss of heifers in peri-urban herds differs from the frequency in pastoral herds, reflecting differences in management practices.
BOB is an Associate Professor at the Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University, Kenya. GO is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness Management, Egerton University, Kenya and also the manager of Collaborative Masters of Science in Agricultural and Applied economics, African Economics Research Consortium (AAE). MGS is a graduate of AAE and currently a research officer at the Department of Socioeconomics and Applied Statistics, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.
The authors acknowledge the support of Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and Kenya Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (KASAL) project for funding this study. The authors wish to acknowledge African Economics Research Consortium (AERC) for a partial scholarship and award of research grant that supported the completion of the study. Technical and institutional support provided by Egerton University is highly appreciated. Sincere appreciation goes to the pastoralists of Isiolo County for availing data used in this study and for their time during interviews. The authors acknowledge the cooperation and guidance provided by the Ministry of Livestock, Isiolo County.
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