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Supporting the extensive dairy sheep smallholders of the semi-arid region of Crete through technical intervention


The objective of this field study was to depict the extensive system of dairy sheep farming in the semi-arid environment of the island of Crete and to assess the potential margins of improvement through technical intervention. Forty-three family-run farms keeping a total of 13 870 sheep were surveyed in seven representative areas of the island. Several parameters were dealt with, concerning socio-economy, flock management and productivity. Study areas differed widely regarding feeds supplied per sheep, land cultivated for feeds, grazing land utilized and housing space. A range of parameters were recorded on flock size and their production characteristics such as births, fertility and number of lambs weaned. Milk yield and parameters associated with milk quality, such as somatic cell counts and total microbial flora, were also recorded. Technical intervention was directed towards removal of non-productive animals, programming of matings, balancing of diets, management of grazing lands and health care. Ewe fertility and numbers of lambs weaned per ewe, as well as harvested milk and milk quality (based on somatic cell counts and microbial load of milk) were also significantly improved. Information derived from this study stresses the important role of extension services to small farm sustainability and contributes to our knowledge of the dairy sheep farming systems in countries around the Mediterranean and elsewhere.

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Correspondence to I. Hadjigeorgiou.

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Volanis, M., Stefanakis, A., Hadjigeorgiou, I. et al. Supporting the extensive dairy sheep smallholders of the semi-arid region of Crete through technical intervention. Trop Anim Health Prod 39, 325–334 (2007).

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  • Sheep
  • Smallholders
  • Low-input systems
  • Sustainability
  • Extension service