Status and Prospects of Mountain Farmers Milking Sheep and Goats
A large part of the world does not have the cow for providing milk and dairy products (Kosikowski, 1977). Instead sheep, goats, water buffaloes, camels, reindeer may be milked because of climate or mountainous terrain. Goats and some sheep breeds are much better adapted to and are natural in the mountains, no matter how steep and stony these are or how harsh the vegetation is as forage feed. Swiss goats, the Saanen, Alpine, Toggenburg, Oberhasli, Appenzell, Chamoisee, Schwarzhals, Grisons, Verzasca evolved as dairy breeds and became improver breeds for many other countries. Saanen, Alpine and Toggenburg have become world leaders in milk production in United States , New Zealand, Israel, Germany, France, Greece, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Norway, China and others. The Jamnapari from India also is known worldwide in its improved descendant of the Anglo-Nubian, and the Damascus goat is widely used in the southern and southeastern Mediterranean and Mideastern region. The mountains of Europe, the Alps, Pyrenees, Balkans, Tartars, Greek, Cyprus, Scandinavian, Turkey, India, China mountains have been and are home to the world's largest goat populations. Together with some sheep breeds for milk, meat and wool production, they provide the main life support and income for mountain farmers.
Many mountain farmers, like many in Greece, have no electric facilities nor refrigeration, thus the art and necessity of converting the perishable milk into yogurt and cheeses that have a long shelf life developed long ago. Homer (1959) in his Odyssey more than 3,000 years ago, wrote: ". . . and he milked the sheep and bleating goats, let half of the white milk coagulate and set it away in tightly woven baskets for settling and firming . . . baskets were overflowing with cheeses . . . and all utensils and buckets, into which he milked, were swimming in whey . . ." Thus, cheese making was and is as natural to and synonymous with mountain farmers as are goats.
The land area of Greece is 35 percent semimountainous and 57 percent mountainous, a total of 92 percent (Table 5). Not surprisingly, the cow population of Greece is only 800,000, while goats number close to 6 million and sheep more than 10 million for only 10 million people. Total milk production per person per year is higher in other countries (Table 1), but sheep milk and goat milk production with more than 8 and 4 percent, respectively, of the world production from only 2 percent of the world's sheep and goat population, makes Greece unique among the dairy countries of the world (Table 5). Also, cheese consumption per person per year with 52 lb in Greece is by far greater than in any other country.
Feta is probably the best known and most widespread Greek cheese, originally made only from sheep and goat milk. Feta is now also a generic name for similar cheeses from cow milk made in many other countries, but lacking very much the typical Greek Feta taste and flavor. The typical composition of Greek Feta cheese is relatively high in moisture and salt, medium in fat, protein, calcium and cholesterol, but low in calories compared to other popular cheeses (Table 4). If ripened, Feta may undergo typical changes in composition towards no lactose contents, less moisture and proteins (Table 2). The changes in protein composition are part of flavor development and typical for many cheeses (Table 3). The ripening process breaks down proteins into amides and free amino acids, as it also breaks down triglyceride lipids into free fatty acids. Thus with increasing age of Feta as with other cheeses one finds more non-casein nitrogen and acid soluble nitrogen instead of whole proteins.
Greek cheeses besides Feta number at least 20 varieties according to the Greek authority, Professor Emmanuel M. Anifantakis (1991) (Table 9). They are recognized as cheeses in brine, soft cheeses, hard cheeses and whey cheeses, and differ widely in composition. They may all contain some or mostly sheep and goat milk besides cow milk. Specific chemical, microbiological and organoleptic standards for each cheese have been developed by the National Dairy Committee of Greece, and through legislation the composition and quality classification of each Greek cheese variety has been established within the categories of cheeses which ripen, very hard, hard, semmihard, soft; cheeses without ripening; and whey cheeses (Anifantakis, 1991).
UNIQUENESS OF SHEEP AND GOAT MILK
Sheep milk is especially suitable for yogurt and cheese production because of its high protein and solids content (Table 6). Goats have a longer lactation than sheep, which extends the production season for mountain farmers, when he has sheep and goats for cheese and yogurt making. There are considerable differences in average milk composition and lactation yield among the different native sheep and goat breeds and possible imports from other regions (Table 6, 7). Especially the wide differences in yield give room for genetic selection and management improvement.
Differences in composition between goat and sheep milk are also found in lipids, amino acids and minor constituents beyond the gross composition. These have considerable influence on flavor and taste development of yogurt and cheeses made from different proportions of the two milks and can be used for distinguishing varieties of cheeses. This can also be utilized to considerable market advantage, when identifying and labeling certain brands of cheese made only from a certain region. Efforts to improve yields of milk and cheese by changing breeds and species and by modifying grazing and feeding systems must be tempered, however, by the market demand and the main goal of a decent net return to the farmer.
CREATING A MARKET DEMAND
While market demand may not exist yet, but can be created or stimulated by innovative promotion. The first requirement would be to capitalize on identifying the uniqueness of the product. If mountain farmers are unique by only possessing sheep and goats, then their product should reflect this in name and promotion. No cow milk should be allowed to be mixed in, and the label should say so. If sheep milk produces a unique cheese in quality and taste compared to that made with additional goat milk or from goat milk alone, then this would also be a promotional unique advantage. If mountain farmers have different browse and grazing forages with their unique different tastes imparted on their sheep and goat milk, yogurt and cheeses, then this would be a unique promotional advantage compared to valley farmers and their dairy products.
The U.S. goat cheese production on a commercial scale was essentially non-existent 15 years ago (Haenlein, 1996). Today an estimated 12,000 t goat milk is produced into various types of goat cheeses, mostly of the French soft-type chevre, but market demand is exceeding market supply. There is still goat cheese imported, from France alone more than 600 t/year, because of the created new demand.
The milk market from sheep and goats has essentially 3 facets (Haenlein, 1996):
Facet (2) is a fast-growing market phenomenon, fostered by much favorable publicity in up-scale food, connoisseur and gourmet magazines. Restaurant interests in the growing demand for fancy salads on the menu use much Feta, Chevre, Roquefort or Gorgonzola cheeses. Greek salad is a widely recognized special salad, which of course must include Feta cheese. Facet (3) is not well researched but has widely accepted anecdotal backing (Mack, 1952; Nestle, 1987; Haenlein, 1992). Cow milk allergy in a Swedish study (Host et al., 1988) has been reported to be at a level of 7 - 8 percent of the population. In the United States there is an estimated medical need of 1 person in 1,000, which is probably on the low side, but at least 1 liter per week translates already into an annual potential market of 12,000 t goat milk. Dairy sheep farmers in England are also promoting their milk as an alternative to cow milk allergy (Gloria Mills, personal comm.). In the absence of widely available fresh goat or sheep milk, much of this market is supplied by goat milk powder from California or New Zealand.
VALUES FOR HUMAN NUTRITION
The uniqueness of goat milk, yogurt and cheeses in human nutrition has several aspects besides the allergy against cow milk and is based on some major differences in composition, besides other minor components, which aid in and explain better human digestion and metabolism:
These differences have not been used much in promotion of goat and sheep milk products, especially not the unique item (3). The medical and pediatric literature, however, has much interesting documentation for the treatment benefits with medium chain fatty acids in cases of malabsorption syndromes, premature-infant feeding, cholesterolemia, gallstones, cystic fibrosis ( Greenberger and Skillman, 1969; Kalser, 1971; Babayan, 1981), which have not been but strongly deserve to be utilized to justify the special market niche of goat and sheep milk. Sheep and goat cheeses with their higher contents of medium chain fatty acids than cow milk cheeses have a superior value in human nutrition, because the medium chain fatty acids are directly used as energy in human metabolism instead of deposited as fat in tissues like the longer chain fatty acids, and they lower, limit or inhibit cholesterol deposition (Schwabe et al., 1964). These values can be even better appreciated when tables of composition are on the basis of dry matter composition (Table 10) rather than on the incomparable as-fresh basis (Table 4, 9, 10).
CHALLENGES TO MOUNTAIN FARMERS
Politics have had their influence on goat and sheep mountain farming, especially from environmental and forest concerns (El Aich, 1995), but also from new interests in free-market policies. Austria and Switzerland have had a lot of experience on how to ensure that forests and goats co-exist very well. They even strive for the economic benefit of mountain farmers, as well as of mountain hotels, ski resorts and tourism in general, which have provided incentives to mountain farmers to keep farming in the mountains, and for legislatures to provide mountain-farmer subsidies.
One of the more recent challenges to sheep and goat milk marketing and its products come from concern in sanitary controls and the desire to install quality testing and standards. Of course, the transmission of milk-borne diseases like tuberculosis and brucellosis must assuredly and effectively be prevented. However, there is no proof that with appropriate inspections and control testing the production of raw sheep and goat milk is not totally safe (Haenlein, 1993), and their processing into yogurt and cheeses not even superior to pasteurized products.
Quality testing of any milk for commercial use today is mostly based on the regular monitoring of somatic cell counts in milk or the numbers of leukocytes, which they represent and which is indicative of the healthy, subclinical or clinical status of the mammary gland. It is now known that here again goats and sheep differ from cows and their milks (Haenlein and Hinckley, 1995). Instruments must be calibrated for goat or sheep milk to give valid results and total somatic cell counts must be corrected for true leukocyte counts. In addition, a general somatic cell count for any month of the year will probably never be valid for the majority of goat or sheep milk produced on a seasonal basis, if not corrected for stage of lactation, because healthy goat and sheep udders have physiologically normally high counts at the beginning and end of lactation, and seasonally producing goat and sheep flocks produce no mixed milk but all in the beginning or middle or end of lactation. Thus applying cow milk somatic cell count standards to quality control of goat and sheep milk production is inappropriate, discriminatory, counterproductive and must be guarded against clearly in any regulatory code.
Economic analyses in recent years in various parts of the Mediterranean region have repeatedly shown that profitability of mountain sheep and goat farming can be documented (El Aich et al., 1995). Typical data from a detailed Greek study (Hatziminaoglou et al., 1995) (Table 8) indicate a greater net return potential per animal and per 100 liter milk, when changing from extensive to intensive management. Labor is a major part of the total expenses, but can be significantly reduced by increasing the yield of milk per animal. Since milk is usually the main source of income, profit directly improves from higher milk production per animal even when there are more expenses for feed supplementation. In comparison to cow dairying, where feed expenses make up 50 percent of all expenses, labor in goat and sheep dairying will always be relatively high, thus profitability from goat and sheep dairying, even under modest economic conditions, requires a higher price per unit milk or yogurt or cheese than obtained for cow milk and its products. Simply, it just takes more goats and sheep to produce 1,000 liter milk than it takes milking cows. In most studies (El Aich et al., 1995) it is evident that availability of manpower is the limiting factor in goat and sheep dairying, including the concern of keeping the younger generation to continue the parents' mountain farm. Another factor in maintaining profitability is vertical integration from milk to cheese to market or retail income rather than wholesaling the milk to processors. Forming a retailing cooperative is an alternative with similar benefits.
In conclusion, sheep and goat mountain dairy farming is complementary to cow dairying, but provides products with unique properties in human nutrition, as a specialty food, a natural food, and a medically valuable food, which deserve their own market niche and a higher price, because of higher production costs. Sheep and goat farmers contribute to diversification, risk distribution and stabilization within a country's agricultural and overall economy. Sheep and goats are thus an important component of strategies in political, economic and climate risk management. Sheep and goats also are a source of emergency cash and a storage of savings. Sheep and goats are a way to start and maintain a farming business with a small amount of capital. And sheep and goats under disciplined management are a profitable way of marketing marginal natural resources without endangering the environment. Under improved genetic selection and feeding higher profits from fewer animals are easily possible. Quality milk and cheese production can be assured and monitored with somatic cell count testing, if three conditions are met:
An increasing number of international conferences in the Mediterranean region in particular are making important contributions to all mountain farmers and Greek mountain farmers in particular by the focus on sheep and goat milk and cheese values and by calling attention to the need to better recognize the importance of the mountain farmer.
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Babayan, B.A. 1981. Medium chain length fatty acid esters and their medical and nutritional applications. J. Amer. Oil Chem. Soc. 59: 49A.
El Aich, A., Landau, S., Bourbouze, A., Rubino, R. and Morand-Fehr, P., 1995. Goat Production Systems in the Mediterranean. Wageningen Pers, Netherlands, EAAP Publ. 71, 239 pp.
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Haenlein, G.F.W., 1992. Role of goat meat and milk in human nutrition. Proc. 5th Int. Conf. on Goats (R.M.Acharya, ed.), ICAR, New Delhi, India, Indian Agr. Res. Serv. Publ. Recent Advances in Goat Production II(2): 575.
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3.2 million sheep (31.2%) on farms with < 100 head
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(1) Anifantakis, 1991.
(1) Hatziminaoglou et al. , 1995.
(1) Hatziminaoglou et al., 1995.
(1) Anifantakis, 1991.
(1) Posati and Orr, 1976.
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