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The addition of a flock of sheep to a dairy farm : development of such a production system on an experimental farm

INRA Prod. Anim., 8 (5), 341-352.


1INRA Domaine expérimental d’Orcival, Le Roc 63210 Rochefort-Montagne

2INRA Economie de l’Elevage, Theix 63122 Saint-Genès Champanelle
3INRA Adaptation des Herbivores aux Milieux, Theix 63122 St Genès Champanelle


The existence of milk quotas in the European community since 1984 has entailed modifications in dairy farm development. Briefly, the increase in the milk yield per cow has resulted in a reduction in herd size. This latter factor means that some forage areas may now be available for other uses. When cereal crop production is not possible, the alternative production choices are few and are basically limited to the raising of other herbivores : heifers, beef cattle, suckling cows, sheep.

In mountainous zones where sheep are already being bred, as in the Massif Central region, dairy breeders could easily modify their holding with such an addition. This paper presents the results of a 5-year study undertaken on an experimental farm (1989/90 - 1993/94). The goal of the study was to develop a sheep production system that was adapted to the constraints and requirements of an intensive dairy farm, and which also took into account the possibilities of raising lambs commercially. The experimental farm was located in an INRA site, located in the mountains of Auvergne at 1000 m altitude. The sheep were a local breed (Limousine). The economic complementarity required by the dairy cows restricted the sheep production to a level that was than less productive than a specialized sheep production system, but it also required less work while making the upkeep of the land easier. The system that was finally adopted had only a single lambing per ewe per year in July-August before the beginning of the calving period in October. This permits the work to be spread out. Part of the summer field growth could be reserved for the nursing sheep. Light-weight lambs (2 to 2.5 months) could be produced for the southern European market. This would require only a small addition of concentrate as a supplement (44 kg per ewe and per year, on average for 3 years).

The technical and economic results obtained are comparable to those obtained by a group of specialized sheep breeders located in the same region of North of the Massif Central, who were also using a local sheep breed. The more this system is perfected, the more the general reflections and possible future applications that could be initiated by this experiment must be remembered.

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