Need for Water
This depends on many factors such as: age, body-weight, disease status, level of exercise, lactation status, the season and dry matter content of the feed eaten.
Camels often derive all or most of their water from the plants they eat. When plants are dry, camels walk up to 60 km to water holes every second or third day. If water holes and plants are both dry, then camels can perish. Watering points are often too salty for other animals to drink from them however camels can drink as they tolerate high levels of salt. Camels and kangaroos are often seen together in desert areas indicating similar abilities in both species.
Thus in normal times camels can be found scattered throughout desert areas away from watering points. During dry times and during the calving season the herds will be found closer to watering points (salt lakes as well as the waterholes in creeks etc.).
Camels are browsers, and possess a split upper lip suited to pull leaves from the prickliest trees and shrubs. Free ranging camels browse trees a very wide range of plants. They tend to select the freshest first but always mix their intake. The camel has a particular, unique stomach system that efficiently breaks down leaves etc. into food stuffs.
Studies in the Alice Springs district found camels selected up to 82% of available plant species located in a 200 square kilometre study area. They preferred plants with a high moisture and mineral (salt) content, the leaves of trees and shrubs and also herbs/forbs rather than grass. Grass is primarily eaten after rain and before herbs or forbs are available.
Camels like the area surrounding salt lakes (particularly in winter) as the vegetation has a high moisture content, is often salty and easily digestible. Look for camels in the areas that have good fresh growth. Camels eat over a wide area of country selecting a variety of food types. Therefore don't exclude tree or shrub areas.
Seasonal Herd Structure
Seasonal sexual activity occurs in both the the female. The main breeding season commences in April and continues to September. Limited breeding outside these still occur.
Free ranging camels run in different groupings during the breeding season and the non breeding season In the non breeding season camels are found in separate herds of immature and mature bulls, isolated old bulls and the cow/calf herds.
Male calves are forced out of the cow/calf herd at 2 years of age. In the breeding season the pregnant cows seek solitude during parturition. After giving birth cows tend to form new groups with other nursing mothers.
Bulls come into rut primarily from April to September. Dominant bulls in rut break up the cow herds to create harems. The size of the individual herds thus become smaller. Weaker and or younger bulls may come into rut when the stronger bulls have ceased rutting. These bulls are summer rutters.
Not all bulls come into rut at the one time. As one bull's rut decreases the harem will be taken over by another bull in rut. Periods of rut are nutritionally demanding and severe weight loss occurs. In a feral herd this has the effect of ceasing the rut for that bull. Consequently several dominant males are active through the breeding season.
It is therefore best to capture bull camel herds and/or cow herds out of the breeding season when herd sizes are largest. Cow herds contain sub mature camels that can be kept in a paddock to grow out to slaughter weight. These camels are easy to train to fences and yards.
Bulls in rut need to be kept until they come out of rut before they can be slaughtered. In the feral situation this may be impossible and consequently they have to be released. There will always be a seasonal problem of supply of bull camels for slaughter. The way around the problem is to capture bulls in the non breeding season, castrate them and then supply the abattoir with these camels 3-4 months after castration. Castration when the bull is in rut is unacceptable because the blood supply to the testicles is doubled during this period.