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SHEEP AND GOAT HUSBANDRY IN LITHUANIA

Remeikene, Joana
Kaunas, Lithuania

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ABSTRACT

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INTRODUCTION

People have been raising sheep since long ago in the place where present day Lithuania stands. They used them for food and for clothing. The historical sources specify that in the beginning of the second millennium B. C. in the territory of Lithuania, people had already domesticated cows, pigs and sheep.
More precise information about livestock can be found in the beginning of the thirteenth century. The Society of Sheep Breeders was established in 1926 in the Lithuanian House of Agriculture. This Society was spreading English meat Shropshire and German Blackface sheep. By crossing Native Coarsewooled ewes with rams of the above-mentioned breeds, the Lithuanian Blackface Sheep breed was created. Sheep of this breed are still raised in Lithuania.
Recently the number of sheep in our country has decreased constantly (Table 1).
Table 1. The number of sheep and its ownership

Year

Total number of sheep

Number of sheep in the State enterprise

Number of sheep in the private sector

1941

610 600

1 200

609 500

1951

378 200

96 500

281 700

1961

370 900

125 600

245 300

1971

153 900

7 100

146 800

1981

61 500

20 400

41 100

1991

56 500

11 700

44 800

1995

39 900

1 500

38 400

1996

32 300

1 100

31 200

1997

28 200

700

27 500

The sheep breeds and farm size

At present six sheep breeds are raised in Lithuania, they are: improved Native Coarsewooled, Lithuanian Blackface, Lettish Darkheaded, Precoss, Romanov and German East-Friesian. Of course, most of them are Lithuanian Blackface sheep. Ewes lamb once per year. The season of lambing lasts the whole spring. Romanov ewes lamb twice per year.
In our country there is only one State enterprise of sheep-breeding - "Seduvos Avininkyste", in the district of Radviliskis. This enterprise was established in 1963 and in 1964 it became the centre of breeding. There are about 600 Lithuanian Blackface sheep in this enterprise, of which 360 are ewes. Also there are two registered sheep-breeding farms in Lithuania. J.Milisiunas, the owner of the first farm, keeps 30 Lithuanian Blackface ewes; on the other farm, which is owned by farmer P.Gaidamavicius, there are 50 Romanov ewes. Farmer V.Kondratas keeps large number of various sheep breeds on this farm. However, this farm isn't registered as a sheep-breeding farm because it belongs to production-commodity type enterprise. There are about 500 sheep on this farm, including Lithuanian Blackface, improved Native Coarsewooled and Precoss sheep.
The size of farms fluctuates from 2-3 ha in small farms to 600 ha in the State enterprise "Seduvos Avininkyste". This is the largest farm, which can hold 2 000 animals, but it has never been completely filled. The highest number of sheep on this farm was 1 500, and at present there are only 600 heads. Small farmers of our country raise on the average 3 to 5 sheep, and owners of sheep-breeding farms raise between 50 and 100 sheep. The prevalent production type in Lithuanian farms is semi-intensive. The main products of sheep husbandry are: mutton, skins and wool. Milk of ewes isn't produced in our country. The largest part of the profit farmers receive is from the sale of mutton. Skin demand is rather large too, but recently wool doesn't have place on the internal market.

The prices and support

Although the demand of sheep husbandry products in the foreign market is large, these products are not exported from Lithuania; because of the small number of sheep it is impossible to make up even a minimal batch for export.
The average prices of sheep husbandry products are:
· 1kg of live weight-up to US$0.50;
· 1kg of carcass-between US$0.95 and 2.00;
· one salted skin-between US$3.75 and 7.50;
· sheared wool without processing-up to US$0.50;
· 1kg of woollen thread-between US$2.50 and 3.75.
Generally farms are selling primary unprocessed materials - carcasses, wool and salted skins. Only the State enterprise of sheep-breeding and breeding farms are selling live animals as the breeding stuff. It isn't worthwhile to sell live sheep for mutton, because of the very low purchase prices.
Breeders of pedigree sheep receive governmental support for each ewe - US$50 yearly. When pedigree sheep are sold or bought, the government pays an "addition to the breeding value", which is 400 percent for elite and 350 percent of live weight for the first class animals. Also in the future sheep breeders are expecting governmental support and waiting for acceptance of the "Sheep Husbandry Development in Lithuania" programme, which is now in the preparation stage.

Lands and technology

All farmers keep their own animals and use their own lands and barns and arable and pasture lands. Only large sheep-breeding farms rent some of the lands and barns if they don't have enough of their own. The State enterprise "Seduvos Avininkyste" raises sheep that belong to our government, and also it uses barns and land of the government, too. Most of all, only family members work on farms, excepting the farm of V. Kondratas and the State enterprise, in which employees work.
Not any farm, not even the State enterprise, has machinery or necessary equipment. On all farms manual labour is used, or horse power where available.
Feeding everywhere is self-produced fodder, only vitamins and mineral additions are bought. It isn't worth buying fodder, because of the high price.
There are no extension services for sheep breeders in Lithuania, so all necessary services and means are received from the general service net of animal husbandry.
The main problem of our farmers is the lack of finance. Because of the high interest rates farmers can't use credit. This lack provokes other problems. Only those farms survived which were not specialized only in sheep-breeding. In parallel, they raise animals of other kinds or grow various agricultural plants.

The organizations and their works

A governmental programme for "Conservation of the Native Coarsewooled Sheep" has already been created. It is planned to prepare a programme for the utilization of small ruminants in sterile and hilly areas of Lithuania.
As we can see from surveys, sheep husbandry in Lithuania today is a rather complicated situation. Among other problems, farmers are facing difficulties in choosing and obtaining sheep breeds during the reorganization of Lithuanian agriculture. Also there is a shortage in veterinary assistance, knowledge and experience in sheep-breeding. Due to the insufficient collaboration between farmers and companies which process sheep wool and skins, and those which purchase meat, the problems of quality improvement and distribution of sheep products are of great importance. Sheep-breeders and processing companies are going to solve these problems together and have established the Lithuanian Sheep Breeders Association on 28 April 1994 to facilitate this work.
All persons who are breeding sheep, purchasing and processing wool, skins and meat, veterinary and agriculture experts, scientists, businessmen and other relevant persons are eligible to join the association.
The association provides to its members useful information and consultation, and also represents them and defends the common interests of the members of the association, organizes various activities and seeks to develop more favourable conditions for the development of sheep-breeding in Lithuania.

LITHUANIAN NATIVE SHEEP BREEDS

Lithuanian Native Coarse-wooled Sheep

At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, mostly late-maturing yet undemanding coarse-wooled sheep were bred in Lithuania. There were two types of sheep - long-thin-tailed (mostly bred in Suvalkija) and short-tailed, a northern type mostly raised in the eastern district of Lithuania. Long-thin tailed ewes and most rams were polled and their hair was mostly white.
The wool of northern short-tailed sheep was dark to black in colour, and the colour of the head and legs varied. Most rams and some ewes were horned. The sheep were smaller in size than the long-thin-tailed sheep. The differences between the two types of coarse-wooled sheep eventually became smaller due to crossbreeding, and sheep possessing characteristics of both breeds became predominant. The annual fleece weight was 1.0-1.5 kg of grey, white, tan and black wool. The live-weight of sheep was 30-40 kg, and ewes dropped two to three lambs per lambing. The sheep were characterized by thin legs, an often naked belly covered only with coarse wool, thick skin, narrow nose and wide forehead, short ears and medium length tail.
At present, small groups of local coarse-wooled sheep that were collected from the eastern district of Lithuania are bred at LIAS (Lithuanian Institute Of Animal Science) and the LVA (Lithuanian Veterinary Academy) Training Centre.

Lithuanian Native Blackface sheep

The Lithuanian Blackface sheep breed was developed in the middle of the twentieth century by crossing local coarsewooled ewes with Shropshire and German Blackface rams. The sheep are of mutton-wool type, polled, and drop from one to three lambs. The live-weights of rams, ewes and weaned lambs are 80-90, 50-60 and 30-35 kg, respectively.
The wool of Lithuanian Blackface sheep is white, semi-fine (25-34 microns thick), containing 11-14 percent of yellowish or white yolk. Clean wool yield is in the range of 48-66 percent. Fleece weight reaches 3-4 kg in ewes, 5-6 kg in rams and 1-1.5 kg in 7-month-old lambs. Wool length varies from 5 to 12 cm. Clothes of natural wool cannot be replaced by those of artifical fibre fabric.
The meat content of Lithuanian Blackface sheep is comparatively high. Dressing percentage amounts to 50 percent. The protein content in mutton is almost the same as that in beef or pork and the fat content is higher than that in beef and lower than that in pork. The cholesterol level in mutton fat is low amounting to 29 mg per kg, while in beef it reaches 75 mg per kg and in pork 126 mg per kg per kg meat. Mutton eaters are less subject to Larteriosclerosis.
Sheepskins are often used for production of coats, waistcoats, caps, boots and mittens. Sheepskin articles are hygienic and long-lasting. Coats are made with either wool inside or outside with imitations of different fur animal skins.

GOATS HUSBANDRY IN LITHUANIA

Recently goats have been very popular in Lithuania. Their number is constantly increasing (Table 2).

Table 2. The number of goats during the last years

Year

Number of goats

1990

3 900

1991

5 200

1992

6 300

1993

8 800

1994

10 400

1995

12 500

1996

14 000

1997

15 000

People raise not only native goats, but also foreign breeds - Zanen dairy, Czech and German White goats. Native goats are perfectly adapted to local conditions, disease-resistance and not demanding fodder. Their weight is between 30-40 kg, and the body is covered in coarse wool. Goats can be coloured black, white, grey, brown, motley, and are always horned. Each day does give between one and three litres of milk. If they are being well cared for and fed, they can give up to four litres. Besides, native does are highly reproductive, sometimes they bring forth even four kids.
The biggest part of goats are raised by farmers, country dwellers and even townspeople. At the present in Lithuania four goat-breeding enterprises are registered: one goat-breeding ground and three goat-breeding farms. On these farms are an average of about 20-30 goats each.
In our country goats are raised only for milk at a price between US$0.50 and 1.50 for one litre.
All goats, lands and barns belong to the owners. Only family members are working on farms. Goat breeders have the same opportunities to get governmental supports as sheep breeders.
At present there isn't any governmental programme for goat husbandry, because the number of these animals is quickly increasing and there is no danger for them to vanish.
In 1994 the Lithuanian Goats Breeders Association was established, which has 150 members. This Association organizes regular meetings, explains to goat breeders about nutrition, breeding, diseases and prevention of disease, and also presents the achievements of goat husbandry in other countries.

Other aspects of goat husbandry are the same, or very similar to sheep husbandry.

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