Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles



R. Hamnett*

*(With inputs from staff of the Institute of Upland Stockbreeding and Agriculture, Troyan and Forage Crops Research Institute, Pleven)



     2.1 Major Topographical Features
     2.2 Major Soil Types


     3.1 General climate
     3.2 Climate zones
     3.3 Agroecological zones


     4.1 Dairy
     4.2 Beef and Veal
     4.3 Cattle Breeds
     4.4 Breeding and Selection
     4.5 Sheep
     4.6 Common Pasture Utilization
     4.7 Veterinary and Hygiene Problems








The Republic of Bulgaria had a population of 8.24 million people in 1998 but according to the World Factbook it was 7,385,367 by July 2006 with a growth rate of -0.86%. It covers an area of 110,994 square km. Its greatest distance from north to south is 330 km and from east to west 520 km. It is situated in SE Europe on the Balkan Peninsula between latitudes 41° and 44 ° N and longitudes 22 and 28° E. To the north is Romania, to the west, Serbia and Macedonia, to the south, Greece and Turkey and to the east the Black Sea.

Figure 1 Map of Bulgaria
Reproduced by kind permission of Trident Press International

According to official figures (National Statistical Institute, 1998), arable land, permanent crops and grassland constitute 6.2 million hectares, about 55% of the total country area. This represents a maximum potential figure because of extreme topography limitations and it is likely that more marginal areas will be progressively abandoned, and this figure will therefore reduce. About 69% of agricultural land is arable, 3% permanent crops and 28% grassland. Approximately 30% of the agricultural land is currently not farmed, which is a reflection of the depressed state of agriculture following the change to a market economy. 

Table 1. Livestock Numbers for selected years 1985-2005












Thousand head

Total cattle


































































Source: FAO database 2006
n.r. = no record

In 1999, official statistics (National Statistical Institute, 1999) indicated 221,000 farms with cattle, averaging 2.75 cattle per farm. 96% of dairy cows are owned by rural households, which have two cows or less per household. There are a few private dairy farms with 25 – 30 cows. Average milk yield per dairy cow is estimated at 3100 litres per annum (1998) with a national production of 1286 million litres and an annual production per population head of 151.4 litres (Todorov,1999). Very few cattle are currently kept for beef. Sheep rearing has always been significant in Bulgaria. Sheep are mainly used for the production of milk for cheese and yoghurt. Total numbers peaked in the 1980’s reaching 10 – 11 million head, but current numbers (see Table 1) were estimated at only 2.8 million (2.1m ewes) in 1999, < 2.3 million in 2001 and around 1.7 million in 2005. Goat numbers are small but have increased up to 2000 (declining somewhat since), and this reflects the increased use of milk by households.

Table 2. Livestock Production for selected years 1985-2005


Metric tonnes

Home Production








2002 2003 2004 2005

Cow milk production (,000)








1306 1308.5 1344.8 1358.6

Sheep milk production (,000)








93.5 88.7 117.7 115.6

Beef & veal production (,000)








23.7 28.5 30.8 24.9
Mutton & lamb
production (,000)
88.9 60.2 39.9 45.7 50.0 51.3 44.4 46.5 38.7 36.9 36.5
Pig meat
production (,000)
334.3 405.8 256.4 248.1 267.1 242.9 237 245 250 250 250
Wool, greasy
production (,000)
33.8 27.8 8.8 8.0 8.0 7.0 6.6 6.5 6.5 6.5 6.5


Beef & veal








22316 22481 33239 n.r.

Cheese & curd








2039 2747 4108 n.r.

Sheep meat








5 46 25 n.r.
Milk equivalents
78.8 67.4 83.4 71.2 60.1 76.3 53.1 76.6 128.0 164.2 n.r.


Beef & veal








492 354 90 n.r.

Cheese & curd








1415 13834 15170 n.r.

Sheep meat








6397 7031 7047 n.r.

Source FAO database 2006
n.r. = no record

The trends in production and trade (Table 2) show how livestock production peaked in the late 1980’s but has since declined markedly, so that net export balances have also reduced. 

The change to a market economy began in 1989 resulting in a steady disintegration of the livestock sector as a consequence of liquidating state-controlled co-operatives and companies. The decline in the livestock sector has been more pronounced than that in arable cropping. Livestock numbers were artificially boosted in the centrally planned economy so the change to a market economy has had a greater effect. The changes in farm structure, the drop in purchasing power of the population and a loss of traditional export markets have all led to the marked reduction in ruminant livestock output (EU DG VI report, 1998). 

Privatisation of livestock ownership has been quicker than the restitution of land. Nevertheless, the privatisation of land and former state assets has resulted in almost 4 million new landowners i.e. nearly half the population. Very often one landowner has land in several widespread plots and may live in the city, far from the land holdings. Currently there is no established land market that could begin the process of consolidation and rationalisation which would result in more desirable, larger, private farms. This is mainly because the cost of legalising ownership through registration is prohibitive. Much land remains as household plots, farmed and owned by country dwellers as a supplement to other activities rather than as their sole livelihood. 

Reliable detailed information on emerging farm structures is difficult to establish. Nevertheless, it can be said that new types of co-operatives and very small private farms are currently dominant. Most new farming co-operatives are based in the predominantly arable areas and are typically around 700 ha, often with two per rural settlement, whereas in former times there were very large industrial complexes typically with 14000ha. Within current co-operatives there are likely to be 300 – 400 members, 80% of whom are also landowners. Their land will be within the co-operative but often they keep some land back for their own use. Average plot sizes are 0.7 ha. The co-operatives are mainly in the lowland areas and are predominantly arable. Very few now have dairy cows. Most intensive livestock and former large dairy units have been abandoned. There are at present few private farms with substantial holdings. By 1998, 42% of land was farmed by co-operatives/collectives, 6% by the state and 52% by individuals (OECD, 1999). These statistics hide the fact that although officially farmed, much land has in practice become common grazing.

Nearly all ruminants are now based with householder plots, where dairy cows, goats and sheep are kept for domestic production, usually to produce cheese and yoghurt. The main reason for the popularity of household plots is the severe economic recession and high unemployment levels. With low earnings, much of the population is forced to rely on domestic food production. A poor market for agricultural production also means that larger private farms are very slow to develop. 

Much of the ruminant population tends to be in the mountainous and upland regions where large areas are defined as common land with unrestricted access to grazing animals. These areas are severely under-utilised. Village livestock are usually communally grazed under the supervision of a herdsman. 


2.1 Major topographical features

The landscape is diverse. Topographical features run from north to east and are featured in the map above (see Figure 1). In the north there is an extensive lowland plateau between the Balkan Mountains and the River Danube. The Danube forms the northern border with Romania. The Balkan Mountains, also known as Stara Planina, cross the country from the north west corner to the Black Sea in the east. These are the highest mountains together with the Rila-Rhodope massif to the south, rising to 2925 m (Mount Moussala). Their watershed is to the Danube in the north and the Aegean Sea in the south. South of the Balkans is a series of narrow plains, notably the Thracian plain centred on the city of Plovdiv. This is the most fertile region. Further south the Rhodope Mountains form the boundary with Greece. More than half of Bulgaria is hilly or mountainous and the country has an average elevation of 480 m. The capital, Sofia, lies on an upland plain.

2.2 Major soil types

Table 3. Soil types in Bulgaria

Soil types

Area , km2

In lowlands and hill areas %

In hilly and mountain lands, %

Cinnamon forest soils 








Grey forest soils




Alluvial-meadow soils




Chernozems-Mediterranean black soils




Mountain meadow and forest soils












Source: Soils in Bulgaria, Gerassimov, 1960

There are about 20 soil types and sub-types that match the varied Bulgarian environment (Boyadgiev,1994). They can be grouped into three main regions: 

  • Northern Bulgaria – The Danubian Plain is characterised by the fertile black earth soils known as chernozems. On the lower northern slopes of the Balkan Mountains up to 700 – 800 m are grey forest soils which have good physical characteristics but are low in organic matter and phosphorus. 
  • Southern Bulgaria – Cinnamon forest soils with acidic (cinnamonic) traces – by far the most extensive single category – as well as the modified chernozems, known as chernozem-Mediterranean black soils, which is a zonal soil with a deep and rich humus horizon.
  • Mountain regions – These have brown forest, dark mountain forest and mountain meadow soils. The soils are typically shallow and prone to erosion and are usually acid to strongly acid.


3.1 General climate

The climate has well defined seasons and is moderately continental in the north and tends towards a Mediterranean type in the south. The average annual temperature is 10° C. The coldest month is January at –2° C and the warmest is July at 25° C. Typical precipitation is 630 mm but varies between less than 450 mm in the lowland north east to over 1000 mm in the highest mountain regions. The lowlands receive snowfall from mid-October to mid-March (snow can fall up to May in the highest mountain regions only) with an annual average of 25 – 30 days of snow cover. The highest peaks have snow cover throughout the year. 

3.2 Climate zones

Bulgaria can be divided into 5 inner climatic zones 

  • Temperate continental zone: includes north Bulgaria and the valleys in the west of Bulgaria, to the south of Konyavska Mountain. The continental climate is best featured in this zone. It is affected by the air currents coming from the north-west, west and north.
  • Transitional continental zone: characteristic of the valleys south of the Balkan Range, the upper Thracian valley, the district of Kyustendil and Blagoevgrad, the region of Doupnitsa, etc. The average temperatures are higher and less unsteady. There is little difference between the precipitation amounts in the summer and winter (in winter there are both snowfalls and rainfalls), the snow cover lasts less and the frost-free periods are longer;
  • Transitional Mediterranean zone: typical of the river Arda valley, the eastern parts of the upper Thracian valley, the valleys of the rivers Mesta and Strouma (the middle reaches). The ostensible Mediterranean climatic influence is apparent in the highest temperature values, mild winters, occasional snowfalls, short-lasting snow cover (15-30 days). The summer droughts are less severe than in the true Mediterranean. The precipitation maximum is reached in November and December, and the minimum in August and September. 
  • The Black Sea coastal zone: characteristic of the narrow coast line (20-40 km and, according to some authors, even 50-60 km). The climate is strongly influenced by the Black Sea. The air humidity is higher, the temperature fluctuations are narrower. The climate of this zone changes from north southward and on the Stranja coast we have both the Black Sea and the Mediterranean influence (the rainfall amount in winter is elevated as well as the temperatures).
  • Mountain zone: characteristic of the mountains higher than 900-1000 m. The annual precipitation exceeds 800 mm and the temperatures are lower, fluctuating within a narrower range than in the lowlands. The snowfall is heavier and the snow cover thicker lasting from November through March. Occasional snowdrifts can be seen in the summer.

3.3 Agro-ecological zones

Figure 2 Map of Agroecological Zones
Reproduced by kind permission of Trident Press International

Figure 2 shows the agroecological zones and if these are compared with the physical map, it can be seen that they are closely related to topographical features, most notably the two main mountain areas of the Balkan range and the Rila-Rhodope massif. 

The most fertile areas for cropping are the extensive Danubian plain to the north and the Thracian plain to the south. Sugar beet has historically been important and was grown mainly in the north but the area has dramatically declined since 1989. Tobacco remains a significant crop and is grown mainly in the central plains and the south. Wine and grape production is also important and is concentrated towards the south-east and the central part of the Danubian plain, around Pleven. Cereal production covers the greatest area and wheat is the main crop grown. Irrigation has been historically vital to sustain crop yields in arable areas, but most irrigation equipment is no longer functioning. In terms of crop production the following 8 regions can be defined:

(i) The Danubian Plain: the basic crops are winter wheat, winter barley, maize, sunflower, sugar beet, tobacco, rice, vineyards, orchards.

(ii) The north Bulgarian region: includes the Balkan Mountains and the northern Fore-Balkan. The predominant crops are winter wheat, winter barley, oats, maize, sunflowers. In the uplands potato and flax are grown, strawberries, raspberries, vineyards. Fruit-tree growing is widespread.

(iii) The West-Bulgarian region: includes the high mountains in the south of Bulgaria and the valleys between these mountains. The agricultural crops are of mid-European nature: winter wheat, rye and barley, oats, maize, sunflowers, potatoes flax, vegetables, hops, orchards, raspberries and strawberries, forage grasslands.

(iv) The south-west Bulgarian region: predominantly mountainous plus the valleys of the river Strouma and Mesta. The sub Mediterranean climate favours crops such as rice, sesame, cotton, aniseed, tobacco, peanuts, apricots, peaches, pomegranates, figs, seedless grapes.

(v) The Thracian region: around the basin of the river Maritsa, the upper Thracian valley, the lower parts of the Rhodopes. The cultural crops grown include essential oil crops (rose, peppermint, lavender) and high quality oriental tobacco.

(vi) The Stranja region: the main crop is tobacco plus other crops typical of the central parts of the country.

(vii) The Black Sea coast: vineyards, orchards, wheat, barley, cotton, maize, etc.

(viii) The Doubrudja region: the largest wheat-producing region in Bulgaria.


4.1 Dairy


To understand the current situation, it is necessary to look back at the development of dairy production prior to the end of communism in 1989. At this time milk was produced by large state co-operatives while butter and cheese was manufactured in state-owned processing plants. Typical dairy herds were housed in large 200 place buildings (called K200’s). The cows were tied, machine milked (50 cows milked by one person) and the effluent removed by chain and conveyor. Feed, carted in via central passageways, was based on a combination of grass, maize or lucerne silage, together with hay, supplemented by cereals and protein concentrates, such as sunflower cake. By Western European standards, these structures were not very efficient in terms of animal performance and were labour intensive. It is estimated that 80% of the national dairy herd was in state control on these large farms, with the remaining cows in household units, of one to two cows each.

The change since 1989 has been very dramatic. The state-controlled co-operatives were liquidated and most cattle were distributed amongst former employees. These new owners were short of facilities for keeping cattle; feed was expensive and land was not easy to buy or lease ahead of the land restitution process. These circumstances were not conducive to the formation of new dairy farms selling milk for processing. Many cattle were sold for slaughter. Most of the remainder finished up as household cows. Thus between 1990 and 1995, cow numbers dropped from 617,000 to 354,000, causing a similar dramatic drop in milk production. 

Few large dairy units now remain and consequently milk production is currently very fragmented. It is now estimated that rural households own at least 85% of the dairy cows, with less than two cows per holding. It is reported that in 1997, the largest herd was about 700 cows. Ninety farmers had 20 cows on average and 109 co-operatives and private farms had between 25 and 400 cows per herd (EU DG VI, 1998). 

During the summer months, many household cows may be kept in small paddocks and supplemented with cut-and-carry forage from surrounding, common land. Tethering is not as popular as in some other European countries and it is common for rural communities to develop a communal herd system, where several individual household cows are grouped in a single herd by day, and cared for by a village herdsman. Cows are then milked and housed for the night before returning to the communal herd the following morning after milking (Todorov,1999). 

There has been a big decrease in the proportion of marketed milk, which is now estimated to be around 40% of total production (EU DG VI, 1998). Self-consumption and local direct or barter sales account for the remaining 60%. There is now some re-location of milk production close to the big cities, with some private farmers selling their own production every day in town markets. 


With such fragmented milk production, there is little control of production methods and no proper scientific approach to feeding a balanced ration. In the past Maize silage was balanced with lucerne hay or haylage plus cereal/legume silage and concentrate feed. Silage making is now rare.

Now the main fodder feed is poor quality hay from meadow grass, supplemented in winter with cereals and usually there is inadequate protein supplementation. Straw and sometimes some lucerne hay may supplement some of the meadow hay. Maize stalks (after grain removal), distillery by-products and roots are also fed. 

One positive change has been a greater use of grazing during the summer. The large herds of former times were mainly zero-grazed on cut forages and silage during the summer and any grazing offered was ‘rather symbolic’ (Kirilov, personal communication).

Milk yield was estimated to be 3,100 l/head/year in 1998 (Todorov,1999).

4.2 Beef and Veal

Prior to 1989, most meat production was based in large-scale, intensive factory- farmed units. This was supplemented by small-scale production in household plots. Red meat consumption, however, has never been popular in Bulgaria, so the beef market has always been small. The beef was produced in feedlots using predominantly maize silage supplemented with cereals. There has never been a tradition of producing beef from grazed cattle. Veal production has traditionally been more popular, based on in-door finishing.

Since privatisation began, there has been a drop in meat and veal production, so that it is now less than half its former level.

4.3 Cattle Breeds

The following breed structure existed in 1998 (Todorov,1999). 

Table 4. Cattle breeds by percentage number



Bulgarian Brown Cattle


Black and White (crosses)


Bulgarian Simmental


Bulgarian Red


Bulgarian Grey


Bulgarian Rhodope


Other Breeds


Since 1950, there has been a major effort to develop new breeds with higher performance in parallel with the development of collective farms. Thus the Bulgarian Brown, Simmental, Black and White and Rhodope are all new breeds. The Grey cattle are indigenous. The Bulgarian Black and White are based on breeding from imported Friesian/Holsteins. The Bulgarian Rhodope resulted from cross-breeding Jersey cattle with local breeds. Bulgarian Browns are most popular in the Balkan Mountains since they are more hardy than the Black and Whites, which are more numerous in the lowland areas. As the name suggests, the Rhodope are popular in the southern mountain range; they produce milk with a high fat content and are well adapted to local conditions.

About 2% of the dairy herd are buffaloes.

4.4 Breeding and Selection

Breeding policy up to 1989 was under the control of the National Breeding Service (NBS) and good progress was made to improve the genetic merit of the national herd. The NBS still exists and artificial insemination is used in favour of natural service. However, with the reduced budget and fragmented dairy production it is now impossible to monitor the productivity characteristics of cattle so that bulls can be progeny tested. It is likely, therefore, that the overall genetic potential will now start to decline. There is also said to be insufficient qualified staff to provide a good AI service except where dairy herds are concentrated around busy towns (Todorov, 1999). This is clearly an area of concern for the future.

4.5 Sheep

There is a traditional high demand for sheep milk, either consumed fresh or made into yoghurt and white and yellow cheeses. 

Historically, a nomadic system of mountain sheep farming existed until collectivisation. Flocks of 2,000 sheep were common. They moved from pasture to pasture, along with the shepherds and their families. During the summer, from late March to the end of October, they stayed in the Balkan Mountains, and in winter moved south to the Stranja Mountain area and even as far south as the Greek coast of the White Sea where the growing season is long. The shepherds used special breeds of sheep, horses and sheepdogs that were very well adapted to the mountains and coastal environment. The dogs guarded the flock from predators and were not used for sheep handling. The nomads were Bulgarian and were called Karakachani and the sheep breed had the same name (Todorov,1999). 

Other flocks were more local and smaller in size (100 – 200), often with 5 – 30 dairy cows and calves for finishing. In winter the sheep were housed on the homesteads in foothill regions below 600m, where they were fed meadow hay and small quantities of grain. The ewes usually lambed indoors in January/February and the lambs weaned on turnout grass in late March/April. Lambs not needed as replacements were sold at light weights for meat. The ewes were milked at grass after weaning, with the milk used mainly for yoghurt and cheese production, the cheese often being made by the shepherds. As the season developed, the sheep were moved to higher alpine pastures.

During the communist period the nomadic system of pasture utilisation was destroyed. The Karakachani were settled in villages and large co-operative flocks were established; these were operated on a similar system to the smaller flocks of previous times. Suitable infrastructure was established on mountain pastures with stock buildings and housing for workers and their families. A number of pasture improvement measures were carried out, including clearing, fertilisation and shrub removal. 

Since 1989 these large co-operative flocks have been dispersed and this has lead to a vacuum in terms of pasture utilisation. The greater part of the pastures (over 85%) is either state-owned or communal and is used without any real control. This is particularly true of mountain pastures where there are few claimants for land restitution.

Local Bulgarian sheep breeds include the Staroplaninski Tsigai, Karakachan and the Pleven Blackhead. The Tsigai has good wool quality but low prolificacy and medium milk yield. The Karakachan is favoured for its hardiness in mountain areas but has poor wool quality. The Pleven Blackhead has the highest milk yield. 

4.6 Common Pasture Utilization

Present utilisation of permanent pastures, particularly on common land, is usually of mixed cows and sheep. The typical household farmer may have one or two cows plus five to six sheep or goats and rearing stock for future breeding. As previously mentioned, several owners group together to organise a communal grazing system on common land. Each species is usually grazed separately. The communal group either hires a herdsman, or take turns in herding the flock. Both sheep and cattle are brought back at night for milking because of risk of predation and theft.

Hay is made from local meadows that are regularly cleared of shrubs and woody plants. Currently these meadows only occasionally receive small amounts of fertiliser. Most are semi-natural, unseeded meadows. Surveys have shown that only 4% of the meadows in these foothill areas get any fertiliser (Totev, 1985).

While communal grazing solves problems associated with small-sized household units, there are also many problems developing related to the uncontrolled communal access to pastures. Stocking rates have declined to less than half former levels. There is therefore under-grazing and no improved measures in place, so that grassland is steadily degrading with a return to woody shrubs, particularly Juniper. Forests are also expanding over former grassland areas.

4.7 Veterinary and Hygiene Problems

Bulgaria is working hard to install the necessary veterinary regulations to comply with EU rules. Once these are in place, there will be considerable work needed to bring processing plants up to the required standards, so that they can be certified for export to EU markets. The EU DG VI (1998) report indicated that only 17 meat processing establishments were approved to export to the EU. These represented a low proportion of total capacity. At the same time milk plants, which had been formerly approved, had their licences revoked. According to news reports three Bulgarian dairies may be approved for exports during the year 2000. Although only a small proportion of processing capacity, this indicates hope for the future, but the problems are still immense.

Most dairy processing companies are operating well below capacity, which means that they cannot generate the funds to refurbish/replace unsatisfactory buildings and plant. The systems of milk production on farms are also unsatisfactory by EU standards, with poor hygiene and limited milk cooling facilities.

It is not clear which diseases are endemic in sheep and cattle in Bulgaria. Foot and mouth disease and sheep and goat pox were reported in 1996. The domestic herds are said to be clear of bovine, ovine and caprine brucellosis, but bovine tuberculosis and enzootic bovine leucosis are endemic. Although eradication schemes exist, these need stronger enforcement (EU DG VI Report, 1998) 


Grassland is mainly confined to foothills, intermediate mountain areas and alpine pastures and meadows. Most grassland is now permanent semi-natural pasture, with only very limited areas of sown pasture. The total area is about 1.74 million hectares of which 84% are range lands and 16% are meadows (cut for hay). According to Kirilov (personal communication) the grassland is distributed as follows:

Lowland 15% 

Hill 100 to 700m 58% 

Mountain 700 to 1000m 12% 

High mountain over 1000m 8% 

Unclassified 7% 

In the Balkan range rising to 700m (and even 1,000m on south-facing slopes) natural meadows are described as being of the Chrysopogon gryllus type. This is the most widespread type of grassland association and these meadows accounts for 35% of the hay crop. They are characteristic of badly aerated, infertile soil, with a pH of between 5 and 7 with yields of 2 – 2.5 tonnes conserved weight of hay per hectare. Digestibility is low at 56.8% before ear emergence and as low as 41% before flowering (Cheshmedjiev,1980). Most hay will be cut around the flowering state. The main grass species is Chrysopogon gryllus and Trifolium incarnatum the main legume. Typically grasses:legumes:forbs are in the ratio of 7:1:2. (Todorov, 1999). 

Between 350 to 1,200 m, particularly on north facing slopes, Agrostis tenuis (also known as A. capillaris) / Festuca fallax (also known as F. rubra subspecies commuatata) are the dominant grasses. Amongst the legumes, Trifolium pratense and repens plus Lotus corniculatus grow naturally. The in vitro digestibility of hay made is generally around 55% of the dry matter. The ratio of grasses:legumes:forbs is typically 5:2:3 (Todorov 1999). The higher legume content probably explains the better digestibility compared to natural Chrysopogon gryllus- type grasslands. 

On the upper altitudes, between 900 – 2000 m Nardus stricta is the dominant grass, in association with Festuca ovina, Lotus corniculatus and Bromus species. Juniperus spp. and Vaccinium spp. tend to ingress in most areas because grazing pressures are so low.

According to Todorova (personal communication) permanent grasslands can be classified as follows: 

1. Andropogon ischaemum – 34.1 % of the total pasture area; average grazing output of 1600-2600 kg/ha.

2. Cynodon dactylon – Lolium perenne – 11.2 % of the pasture area; average grazing output of 4500-6500 kg/ha.

3. Nardus stricta – 4.4 % of the pasture area; average grazing output of 2000-3000 kg/ha, poor forage quality. 

4. Chrysopogon gryllus – 5.7 % of the pasture area. 

5. Agrostis vulgaris – Festuca fallax - 6.8 % of the pasture area; average grazing output of 3600-4400 kg/ha, good forage quality. 

6. Festuca pseudovina - 10.1 % of the pasture area; average grazing output of 2000-3500 kg/ha, medium forage quality. 

7. Dryland pastures of mixed composition (others) - 14 % of the pasture area; poor quality grazing until midsummer drought periods, following which the grass cover wilts. 

8. Festuca myuros-Bromus sp. - 8.7 % of the pasture area; poor quality grazing until summer drought periods, following which the grass cover wilts. 

9. The remaining pasture types occupy a small percentage of the total area.

The larger portion of the permanent pastures in Bulgaria is situated on infertile soils in regions of insufficient moisture. For many years now they have been neglected and scarcely any measures have been taken to improve the grassland or introduce correct management and utilisation by the grazing animals. They are subject to uncontrolled extensive grazing with no grassland management and no inputs. This has led to deterioration of the sward composition as a result of weed infestation and shrub encroachment. The surface of a considerable number of them is strewn with anthills, molehills and uneven patches, all of which reduce the utilisable grassland area. This is the main reason for the low herbage output (1500-5000 kg/ha of green grass) and poor forage value.

Many traditional, agriculturally useful species grow naturally in lowland areas and on slopes up to 1,000m. Dactylus glomerata, Festuca pretensis, Phleum pratense, Poa pratensis, Festuca arundinacea and Lolium perenne can all be found growing wild. Lolium perenne tends to be found in moist fertile areas, particularly where well dunged by passing livestock. 

On lowland areas it is traditional to sow complex mixtures, typically with Dactylis glomerata, Festuca arundinacea, Poa pratensis, Lolium perenne and both Trifolium pratense and T. repens. Medicago sativa and Zea mays are traditionally most popular for forage in arable areas. 

At higher altitudes, on more acid soils, Festuca rubra, Festuca arundinacea, Phleum pratense and Agrostis capillaris are the main grassland species sown. Arrhenatherum elatius is also used. Lotus corniculatus often replaces Trifolium species in acid conditions. Inoculants are available for legumes on these soils. 

Currently, however, there are major problems producing adequate supplies of certified seeds even though there are locally-bred varieties. This is because seed was multiplied on state farms and these no longer exist. So far there are few suitable replacement seed-producing farms.

The following list of grass-legume forage crop cultivars bred in Bulgaria has been provided by P. Todorova (personal communication):

  • Medicago sativa L.: cv. Dounavka, Nadezhda-1, Nadezhda-2, etc., bred by the the Research Institute of Agriculture and Seed Production "Obraztsov Chiflik", Rousse; cv. Pleven-6, Pleven-13, etc bred by the Forage Research Institute in Pleven;
  • Onobrychis Gaerth: cv. Yubileina-25;
  • Bromus inermis Leyrs: cv. Nika;
  • Dactylis glomerata L.: cv. Dubrava, developed at the Forage Research Institute in Pleven;
  • Festuca arundinacea Stchreb: cv. Albena developed at the Forage Research Institute in Pleven, and cv. Elena bred at the IUSBA, Troyan;
  • Lotus corniculatus: cv. Turgovishte bred in the Research Station in Turgovishte;
  • Phleum pratense: cv. Troyan bred at the IUSBA, Troyan;
  • Lolium perenne: a cultivar has been bred at the Research Station in Sredets.


With a halving of grazing livestock numbers and little immediate prospect of a recovery, any general improvement in the pasture resource is unlikely in the short term. 

Recovery in livestock numbers is dependent on several factors: 

  • Most importantly there needs to be an improved market for the livestock products and this will depend on an upturn in the economy. Progress with the economy and greater spending power will mean that the population becomes less dependent on household domestic production. At the same time the market for agricultural produce is likely to improve.
  • There is also a need for consolidation of household plots into larger, more economically viable private farms. A land market needs to be developed to encourage this but this is still some years away. It again depends on a better market for agricultural produce to stimulate a demand for land. 
  • Better prospects for export of livestock products to the EU. This will need an upgrading in hygiene and veterinary standards. There will also be limited prospects for increased exports to former communist bloc states. 

In the meantime, there needs to be focus on development of systems that can better utilise the pasture resources. These can provide guidance for improvements in the future, as conditions slowly improve. 

The FAO project (TCP/RER/6711 – Low Input Grassland Production Systems for Grassland Feeding) is one example where the aim was to develop new technologies based around private farms (Krajkovic, 1999). It has involved co-operation between three countries (Slovakia, Poland and Bulgaria) which have many of the same problems. The counterpart organisation for the project in Bulgaria was the Institute of Upland Stockbreeding and Agriculture (IUSBA) at Troyan in the Balkan Mountains. 

In conjunction with experts from the Institute, the project produced two booklets on "Suckled calf beef production" and "Grassland Establishment".


Suckled calf beef

The relatively larger private farms were used as pilot farms together with the institute’s own farms at Troyan and Smolyan in the Rhodope Mountains. The first priority was to encourage reseeding/improvement of grassland in limited areas to produce better grazing and forage conservation to meet the nutritional needs at critical stages of the animal production cycle. These included early lactation for dairy cows and tupping and late pregnancy for the sheep flocks. It was realised that full utilisation of pastures was not possible but the message was that it was better to utilise some pastures fully to improve sward quality rather than to under-utilise all the grassland. Extensive unimproved grassland could still be used for the less critical periods of the production cycle. 

It has already been mentioned that outdoor grazed beef has not been traditional, but suckler herds are well suited to the extensive conditions and good results have been achieved by the IUSBA with Hereford, Angus and other breeds of cattle in the Balkan Mountains. The recommendation was to crossbreed these with local cattle to increase the availability of suckler cows and to achieve benefits of hybrid vigour. The project has also encouraged technology transfer between the three countries and as an example Slovakia has carried out trials on the production of two-year beef from grassland with two seasons at grass. Similar grass finishing of beef will also be possible for Bulgaria as markets develop. 

Livestock production is more or less organic but there is no certification protocol or organisation in place to achieve this. It is a priority that this be established for the future. Organic production could improve marketing opportunities for outputs from Bulgarian grassland. 

Silage production is now almost non-existent except on a few larger dairy farms. The need for silage production in place of hay is largely accepted as a necessary change to achieve improved winter feeding. A by-product of this would also be better grassland management. The resources and machinery needed, however, are not currently available. Large-scale machinery is not necessary and the technology for producing silage in small, field clamps is well practised in Poland and other countries and could be adapted for use in Bulgaria. A more expensive alternative is the shared use of big bale machinery but this is likely to need outside funding to demonstrate the potential first.

A shortage of available seed for pasture improvement remains a problem that must be solved along with an upgrading of seed certification procedures. There needs to be financial incentive for private farmers to multiply certified seed for sale.

The municipally owned common grazing (land) will continue to deteriorate due to lack of management control. A legal framework needs to be established to control access and perhaps apply grazing charges so that a fund and plan for improvement can be established, as exists in other countries.

All these changes need to be co-ordinated with an improvement in downstream food processing, so that suitable markets can be found for products. 


Establishment and contact details

Key personnel

Research topics

Institute of Upland Stockbreeding and Agriculture, 281, V. Levski Str., Troyan 5600
Tel: +359 67022802
Tel/fax: +359 67023032
Email: or

Dr. M. Todorov, 

Dr Ilia Ralchev
(Deputy Director)

Dr P Todorova
Dr M. Yonkovski
Dr T. Mihovsky
Lyuba Deliskaya

Beef production 

Extension services

Grassland research
Milk Production
Plant Breeder
Librarian and translator/interpreter

Forage Crops Research Institute
89, General Vladimir Vazov Str., 5800 Pleven
Tel: +359 64 22474
Fax: +359 64 38528
Email: or

Antanas Kirilov

Roumen Chakarov Todor Kertikov

Emil Vassilev

Breeding and seed production of alfalfa, clover, pea, grasses etc. in the lowlands; agrotechnical management of perennial and annual forage crops, plant protection; forage harvesting technologies, conservation and evaluation.

Agricultural Academy
30, Souhodolska str.
1373, Sofia
Tel: +359 2 2929481/481
Fax: +359 2 211905

Prof. Dr. Hristo Kurdjin, President


Research Experimental Station
Turgovishte 7700
Tel: +359 601 24312
Fax: +359 601 26490

Dr. D. Dimitrov,

Breeding, seed production and variety preservation of major perennial and annual forage legumes; development of systems for improvement of permanent pastures and commons

Research Experimental Station
Vidin 3700
Tel: +359 94 23811
Fax: +359 94 20068

Zh. Andreinski, Director

Development of technologies for growing alfalfa, maize, forage pea, broad beans

Research Experimental Station
Sredets 8300
Tel: +359 05551 4737

K. Stoeva

Development of technologies for growing of annual forage crops and maintenance of permanent grasslands

Research Experimental Station
35, Nevyastata Str.
Smolyan 4700
Tel: +359 0301 32704
Fax: +359 0301 33501

Dr. V. Kafedjiev

Breeding and maintenance of local varieties of annual and perennial forage grass species 


Boyadgiev T. (1994) Soil map of Bulgaria according to the FAO-UNESCO-ISRIC revised legend explanatory notes. Soil Science Agrochemistry and Ecology, N 4-6, p.52-56.

Cheshmedjiev B. (1980) Feed characteristics of the permanent pastures and meadows in Bulgaria, Zemizdat, Sofia.

EU DG VI Report (1998) Agricultural Situation and Perspectives in the Central and Eastern European Countries – Bulgaria – European Commission Report by the Agricultural Directorate (VI). 

FAO Database 2006 (website

Gerassimov, I. P. (1960) Soils in Bulgaria, Sofia.

Krajkovic, V. (1999) Final Report for F.A.O. Project TCP/RER/6711 (A) "Low Input Grassland Production Systems for Livestock Feeding". December 1999 - Report prepared by Prof. Vladimir Krajkovic. 

National Statistical Institute of the Republic of Bulgaria. Statistical Yearbooks and Reference Books 1998 and 1999.

OECD (1999) Agricultural Policies in Emerging and Transition Economies, July 1999, ISBN 92-64-17058-8.

Todorov M. M. (1999) Bulgarian Report for FAO Project TCP/RER/6711.

Totev T. (1985) Effect of raising rates of nitrogen applied singly or at a P60 background on the productivity of natural meadows of the transitional association Chrysopogon gryllus – Agrostis capillaris in the Troyan region. Plant Science, vol XXII, No 9, 78-86.

Dr A Kirilov, personal communication – see Forage Crops Research Institute, Pleven for contact details.

Dr P Todorova, personal communication - see Institute for Upland Stockbreeding and Agriculture, Troyan for contact details.


Grateful thanks are due to many of the staff at the Institute of Upland Stockbreeding and Agriculture at Troyan (especially Director Dr. M. Todorov and Dr. P. Todorova) and Dr A. Kirilov from the Institute of Forage Science, Pleven, for their generous help in providing information for this profile. Particular thanks are due to Lyuba Deliskaya at Troyan for her hard work translating Bulgarian texts into English. Dr John Frame’s advice was also much appreciated.

This profile was written and will be updated from time to time by:  

Bob Hamnett
33 Stankelt Road
Lancs LA5 0TF

Tel/Fax: 00 41 (0)1524 701394

Livestock production data updated by S.G. Reynolds in November 2002 and October 2006.