Feeding the Racing Camel

Camels are remarkable animals that have evolved with a ruminant like digestive system to enable them to survive on low quality, fibrous feeds. Being browsers, camels are able to select high quality diets, which they can efficiently digest.

Camels have lower energy requirements than ruminants, and have evolved an efficient mechanism for nutrient recycling.

Camels have the ability to perform muscular functions such as racing at a level of intensity that exceeds the ability of horses. This unique capacity reflects the lower energy requirements for locomotion, the higher glucose supply, the lower oxygen demand, and preferential dependence on slow twitch muscle fibres which in turn rely on aerobic metabolic pathways.

For short distance, high intensity races, camels need high energy feeds to meet the additional energy demand. As with both horses and cattle, inclusion of high levels of grain in camel diets can cause metabolic disorders. Oil supplements provide energy, however the slow rate of metabolism of traditional polyunsaturated oils makes them of limited use in short distance, anaerobic metabolism races.

By comparison, tropical oils such as coconut oil are rich in medium chain fatty acids which are readily absorbed and metabolised providing an available source of cool energy.

The opportunity is to feed racing camels Cool Stance® to provide readily metabolisable energy, without causing carbohydrate overload. EzyCube® provides digestible fibre and cool energy.

1.   Background

Little research has been done on the digestive physiology and nutrition of camels. Camels are pseudo-ruminants, with a simple chambered forestomach, and is unlike the four chambered stomach found in cattle and sheep. Never the less, camels can digest high fibre feeds via fermentation pathways similar to those in true ruminants.

Camel racing is a major sport in the Middle East, with camel races over distances from over 5 to 40 km. Even though camels are pseudoruminants, the expectation is that they perform like a horse. Horses can sustain high levels of muscular exercise, because of the power to weight ratio, the balance of muscle fibre types (fast twitch and slow twitch fibres) and the forms of energy provided  by digestion.  Horses rely on energy sources which provide an immediate supply of ATP for explosive/intense muscular function. These energy sources include carbohydrates, oils, and muscle glycogen.

By comparison, ruminants rely primarily on volatile fatty acids from rumen fermentation to provide energy. These energy sources generally do not provide an immediate supply of ATP to support explosive muscular function for racing.

In practical terms, ruminants are unable to sustain intense muscular exercise and fatigue quickly. By comparison, horses can sustain both high levels of intense muscular exercise, and long term endurance exercise.

The challenge therefore is to feed camels (a pseudo-ruminant) to produce energy sources which support intense muscular exercise to enable them to perform like a horse.

2.   Camel racing

Camel race distances vary from 5km to over 40km. Camels naturally pace, and can maintain average speeds 35-40 km/hour for considerable distances, and for over 30-60 minutes. Camels can gallop at speeds well over 40km/hour, however they tire easily.

By comparison, the track record for the 3200m Melbourne Cup is held by Kingston Rule in 1990 – 3 minutes 16.3 secs, or 60km per hour.  Over a 10 to 40 km distance, horses would average approximately 20-25 km/hour.  Therefore even though camels are pseudo-ruminants, they have the capability to race at speeds similar to horses,  over longer distances, and for much longer times.