Conference for Producers of Small Ruminants on Pasture
Grazing by domesticated animals has been an integral part of the Mediterranean ecosystem for thousands of years. In the modern era, most of the small ruminant (sheep and goat) farms are intensive systems that prefer to use prepared feed rather than pasture, for economic and efficiency reasons.
Producers of small ruminants on pasture constitute a small to negligible part of the small ruminant production industry. Despite the nontrivial challenges, herds that use pasture have many benefits.
In addition to high-quality agricultural produce, whether meat or milk, small ruminant production from pasture provides an ecological service (grazing). Plant consumption by goats reduces the amount of dry plant material that is the main source of fuel for woodland and forest fires. In addition to reducing the risk of fire, grazing services create a more diverse landscape and increase plant diversity.
Despite the importance of grazing services, many small ruminant producers are not aware of, and do not profit from, provision of this important service.
The goat herd at Ramat Hanadiv is a managed for provision of grazing services in woodlands, with the aim of reducing fire damage, opening up the dense woodland and increasing species diversity.
A conference of small ruminant producers took place in late April; among its aims were increasing awareness about taking herds out to pasture, exposing challenges and strengthening the small ruminant pasture industry. Seventy producers and other professionals came to the conference, which also dealt with other aspects related to use of pasture:
Effects of grazing on the ecosystem – grazing results in a mosaic landscape leading to a wide range of habitats that support a diversity of plants and animals.
Health characteristics of pasture species – in addition to pasture many pasture species serve as a food source that acts as a natural medicine for animals suffering from intestinal parasites and other health problems. Furthermore, feeding on pasture affects the quality of the goats’ milk.
Monitoring the herd in pasture using advanced technologies – use of GPS systems allows real time monitoring of the herd in pasture, with respect to distribution of the herd, research or theft prevention. Newer systems provide a warning when an animal strays from the defined area (virtual fencing) and thereby assist agricultural theft prevention.
Animal welfare, and the ‘healthy animal’ standard – a standard that aims to improve animal welfare and food quality, whether in relation to milk, cheese or meat (further details at www.haibari.co.il)
Although the industry is relatively small, the uniqueness of this conference is in connecting producers together and in raising awareness, among both producers and consumers, about the importance of using natural pasture.