Contest will pick the cream of camel milk

The country's best producers have gathered in RAK to compete in the annual competition to find out which camel has the best output.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // "Who cares about cow milk?" says Ali Rashid, 50, a bedu from Ras al Khaimah. "Camel milk is number one." He will be hoping to prove that, of all the 200 camels competing at the second annual camel-milking competition at the RAK camel racetrack starting today, the milk from his animals are the best of the best.

Shehania, a cinnamon brown camel, and her son Muqawarah, are the first of three pairs he has competing this weekend. He raised Shehania from birth and selected her from among his 25 camels. His father first taught him how to milk a camel at age 10. "How did I feel the first time I milked a camel? Happy! I got to drink milk!" Around 200 camels are expected to compete over three days to see who can produce the country's greatest yield. The competition is open exclusively to UAE camels, who will compete in three categories according to breed.

Owners will milk the camels after sunrise on Friday morning, 16 hours after their first milking by the competition's handlers. The popularity of the competition has boomed in its second year. It had 50 entries last year. Saeed Musabih drove his camel from Abu Dhabi in the hopes of a prize. His camel, Hamlula, has nursed seven calves. Age, he said, makes for large udders that produce the best milk.

Hamlula was the first camel of the day. She curled her lips back, exposing yellow teeth, and let out a great grunt as she entered the pen with her three-month-old calf Lawah, a male. All mothers attend with their young, who suckle the teats to start the milk flowing. After Lawah had a quick sip, he was shooed away so the official milking could proceed. Two men positioned themselves on each side of Lawah. A third held a large metal dish below to catch the frothy white milk.

For best results, milkers squeeze quickly rather than pull the teat, making strong forearms essential. Hamlula was rushed out of a side gate and other mothers were rushed in. The milk produced was then poured into huge plastic pails to be distributed at the end. Mr Musabih was quietly confident in Hamlula's chances this weekend, citing her age and diet. "Dry grass, flour and corn. This makes milk," he said proudly.

Hamlula's record is 6.5kg. But it could be a close race: the winning camel at this year's Liwa competition produced over 10kg of milk and some of Liwa's best producers are in RAK this weekend.