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Integrating goats into Mediterranean forests

Vasilios P. Papanastasis

Vasilios P. Papanastasis is a Forest Range Scientist with the Forest Research Institute in Vassilika. Thessaloníki, Greece. This article has been adapted from a paper presented at the IX World Forestry Congress in Mexico City from 1 to 10 July 1985.

It is the mismanagement of goats, rather than the mere presence of goats, which has resulted in damage to Mediterranean forests in the past. Now, with better information available concerning the role of goats in Mediterranean ecosystems, it is possible for them to maintain their important role in the economic and social life of rural people in Mediterranean countries without causing significant damage to the forest. Moreover, the author argues, the presence of goats can bring concrete benefits. Achieving this will require that foresters work in harmony with range managers and goat shepherds to develop and maintain forage resources.

· Domestic goats are blamed for much of the destruction of the Mediterranean forests. There is hardly a single study on deforestation in the Mediterranean Basin which does not specify goats as a primary cause. In discussing the factors underlying deforestation in the Mediterranean countries, for instance, Thirgood (1981) considers grazing by domestic animals among the major causes, with goats being singled out for their predilection for woody forage. The prejudices against goats were so strong a few decades ago that several countries had to take decisive measures to reduce their numbers or even to eliminate them completely by subsidizing their slaughter (FAO, 1964).

Over the last few years, however, it has been realized that it is not goats per se that are the real culprit but the continuous, uncontrolled overgrazing for which humans are responsible (French, 1970). All domestic animals' if they are not managed properly, can damage forests through overgrazing (Owen, 1979). According to Huss (1972), most of the world's deteriorated rangelands were damaged by cattle and sheep overgrazing: the pasturage left - browse or shrubs - could be used only by goats.

At present the campaign against goats has largely ceased, although the policies excluding them and other domestic animals from Mediterranean forests still hold (Papanastasis, 1984). Goats represent an efficient localized production system for people locked into poverty. Some countries on the northern shores of the Mediterranean have reduced or eliminated goats in forests in recent decades, but this was more a result of increased economic growth that attracted poor goat-raisers to urban centres than of better management techniques. However, the majority of the countries in the region continue to have acute problems because of irrational grazing patterns. Unless a solution is found, the already diminished forest resources will further deteriorate, resulting in desertification - some thing which has already happened in the drier parts of the region. The best solution appears to be proper integration of goats into Mediterranean silvipastoral systems.

GOAT-DAMAGED BRUSH LAND IN GREECE a result of bad management

There are large numbers of goats in the Mediterranean countries. In 1981, there were about 45 million head, amounting to more than 10 percent of the world population. Turkey, Morocco and Greece had the highest numbers and Israel, Yugoslavia and Cyprus the lowest (see the Table). There was a slight decline in the total goat population in the Mediterranean during the period 1971-81, caused mainly by the considerable decrease of goats in Morocco. Out of the 17 Mediterranean countries, however, ten showed an increase, with the Syrian Arab Republic and Tunisia registering the highest increases - 58.1 and 57.4 percent respectively. This means that goats continue to play an important role in the life and nutrition of Mediterranean people.

Although a number of goats are raised in intensive farming systems, especially in the industrialized countries, the majority of them are free-range animals grazing on community or state-owned lands, including forests. The traditional pattern is for goats to graze in association with sheep. For example, in the Kasserine region of central Tunisia 77 percent of the flocks are mixed, with goats comprising 25 to 30 percent: of the remaining flocks, 17 percent are solely sheep and 6 percent are purely goats (El Hamrouni, 1978). Nevertheless, there is a tendency for the number and size of the pure goat flocks to be increased in some countries, e.g. Greece (Boyazoglou and Zervas, 1977).

Of several types of husbandry systems commonly practiced, two principal ones may be discerned. The most common is the nomadic system, which involves the seasonal movement of the flocks - horizontally in the drier parts of the Mediterranean region but more often vertically. Vertical movement, also known as transhumance, occurs either within the territory of a single village or between different villages. The second is the sedentary system, which presupposes that the flocks have a permanent base all year round, i.e. the village, where they return every night after grazing in rangelands.

Present silvipastoral practices

The role of forests. Mediterranean forests are rich in plant species and life forms (Le Houérou, 1981). Partly because of the light tolerance of the dominant tree species and partly because of their mismanagement in the past, these forests have relatively open crowns. This permits the growth of a lush understorey consisting of both herbaceous and especially woody species. The woody plants are mostly evergreen, which means that green leaves and twigs are available throughout the year. As a result, Mediterranean forests constitute an important year-round source of feed for livestock.

In addition, there is another reason why Mediterranean forests are indispensable for livestock. In the regional climate, the unfavourable season for plant growth is summer, which may last from less than one month in the sub-Mediterranean to more than six months in the xerothemo-Mediterranean bioclimatic zone (Unesco/FAO, 1963). In regions where this period is quite long, severe shortages of adequate and nutritious feed for grazing animals occur. Forests in these regions play the role of forage reserves (Poupon, 1980). Under their canopy, herbaceous vegetation can stay green and thus nutritious during most of the summer period while the woody understorey species provides succulent leaves or twigs when their counterparts growing in the open have already lost their high nutritional value because of the earlier termination of the growth cycle.

Goats, among all kinds of livestock, make the best use of the understorey vegetation grown in the Mediterranean forests. This is because, compared to other ruminants, they are superior in digesting organic matter, crude protein and particularly crude fibre, and thus make good use of low protein, high-fibre roughages (Huss, 1972).

Contrary to common belief, however, goats are not pure browsers. From a recent review of the literature on the feeding behaviour of goats grazing in rangelands, Malecheck and Provenza (1981) concluded that the yearly diet of goats is about 60 percent shrubs, 30 percent grass and 10 percent forbs.

Goats: an unusual fire-break

The part played by livestock, particularly goats, in the reduction of fuelwood supplies and me degradation of forests is common knowledge. What is not so well known is the contribution that domesticated animals such as goats can make to forest protection. In tine South of France a Hock of goats was recently used to help set up a fire-break. How was this reversal of the goat's traditional role brought about?

The forestry services of Gard wanted to clear a space in a 2000-ha stand of evergreen oak to serve as a fire- break. Considerable work and the use of expensive mechanical equipment is required in order to clear land for this purpose and keep it clear. A local goat-breeder, however, proposed at the clearing be done by his Rock at a considerably lower price than that being asked by the land-clearing team. An agreement was quickly reached and the goats set directly to work.

Between March and September a 10-ha fire-break, 100 m wide and 1 km long, was established almost-entirely thanks to the work of the goats.

The goat-owner had divided the area to be cleared Into seven pens of 0.5-1 ha each, enclosed by metal fences. The pens were opened to the flock one after another, with an instantaneous stocking density of 100-200 animals per ha. The goats were allowed into the pens only for 4-6 hours a day, just long enough to take their meals.

The first results showed that of the 2 900 kg of edible dry matter per ha, the goats ate 2 300 kg. The shoots and seeds were almost untouched, but all the acorns were eaten. As regards the animate, they were able to meet 60-75 percent of their food requirements by this grazing; and, In addition, to Increase by up to 10 percent of live weight per month.

Apart from the undeniable economic advantage of the operation, two other points are to be noted: first, the fire-break was successfully established without any damage to the oaks; and, second, the goat-owner was able to maintain a sufficiently high rate of production of both milk and kids to keep his farm going.

From Forêt méditerranéenne, 1985

Under certain conditions, however, the grass component can reach 80 percent or more while fortes rarely constitute more than 20 percent of the diet. In a Quercus coccifera brushland converted to grassland with prescribed burning and subsequent seeding of palatable range grasses in northern Greece, it was found that yearling goats were eating mostly the seeded grasses in the spring; later in the season they preferred the shrub sprouts (Liacos, Papanastasis and Tsiouvaras, 1980). This means that goats select different plants or groups of plants during different periods and can thus utilize practically all plants grown in the Mediterranean forests.

Pastoral activities. Because of their importance as a food source, Mediterranean forests are traditionally an integral part of the feeding calendar of domestic animals and consequently of the pastoral systems of the region. The other parts include rangelands and croplands (stubble). For northern Africa, a fourth part must be added, the fallowlands, which include the lands not planted with crops but used for grazing (Stubbendieck, 1978; Le Houérou, 1981).

Under the pastoral system of transhumance forests normally serve as summer grazing lands since most of them are situated in the higher elevations (Poupon, 1980; Papanastasis, 1981). In the countries and regions where worthwhile subalpine grasslands can carry the flocks of sheep and goats for the summer period, forests are grazed as the animals move to and from the subalpine areas, namely in late spring and early autumn. However, forests are sometimes used as winter ranges as well. This is the case with the warm coniferous forests such as the Pinus halepensis forests in Tunisia (El Hamrouni, 1978).

Mediterranean forests constitute an important year-round source of feed for livestock.

Goats continue to play an important role in the life and nutrition of Mediterranean people.

PINUS BRUTIA STAND ON THASSOS the understorey is a fire hazard

45 MILLION COATS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN their role can be positive

Under the sedentary pastoral system, forests usually serve as forage reserves for the animals during critical periods, especially summers.

In either case, grazing is both cost-free and uncontrolled, resulting in great damage to forests. Although this damage is a result of the entire system of management, the dominant cause is overgrazing as a result of high numbers of animals (Thirgood, 1981). The damaging effect of overgrazing is especially evident in even- or uneven-aged forests with relatively closed crowns that lack sufficient understorey shrubby vegetation. There, goats are forced to browse tree seedlings, young trees or branches of the older trees, thus preventing the regeneration of the forest while at the same time trampling the forest floor and its soil.

GOAT-DAMAGED ACACIA IN TUNISIA a need for areas suitable for goats

Goats and sheep in Mediterranean countries


Goats (thousands)

Sheep (thousands)

Forests and woodlands (thousand ha)




% change



Goats and sheep





1 170

1 242




2 546

2 723


13 600

4 384












1 166

1 451


1 599



1 525.00



1 241


12 980

14 582




4 063

4 650


7 920

2 619












1 032

1 009


9 277

6 346






-24 6





Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

1 222

1 500


6 258





8 467

6 200


14 840

5 195







5 130

3 641




2 656

2 170


14 887

15 270



Syrian Arab Republic


1 200


11 738








4 967





20 129

19 043


48 630

20 199







7 388

9 290




46 120

44 643


161 327

85 563



Source: FAO, 1981.

A GOAT HERD IN TURKEY management should include goat shepherds

Goats, however, are not so great a problem as is commonly believed. There are about 85 million ha of forests and woodlands in the Mediterranean countries. If it is assumed for the sake of comparison that all 45 million goats graze on these lands, then the stocking rate would be 0.52 goats/ha (see the Table). This is a rather low figure if it is considered that, for the four-month grazing period, the capacity of Mediterranean forests is estimated at 1.5 goats/ha (El Hamrouni, 1978: Papanastasis, 1981). Of the 17 countries only 6 - Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Syrian Arab Republic and Tunisia - exceed this figure, indicating possible overgrazing.

These figures, although general and therefore subject to qualification, indicate that goats do not overgraze forests in most of the Mediterranean countries. Moreover, in quite a few countries, goats are, by law, either banned from all forests (Cyprus, Yugoslavia) or from the most productive forests (Greece). However, when sheep - which also graze in forests with or without goats - are included, the problem is aggravated. The Table shows that the stocking rate increases from an average of 0.52 to 2.41 head/ha if both sheep and goats are considered, and that the number of countries with overgrazing increases from 6 to 12. Only 5 of the 17 Mediterranean countries - Albania, France, Lebanon, Spain and Yugoslavia - are, in theory, not overgrazed.

Integration of goats

The preceding discussion leads to the following conclusions:

· goats are, and will continue to be, an important element of production systems, especially in the developing countries of the Mediterranean region;

· although total goat numbers are relatively high, goats do not constitute by themselves a danger to the forests;

· forests are indispensable and thus an integral part of the Mediterranean pastoral systems; and,

· the real threat to forests comes from irrational and uncontrolled goat grazing.

To integrate goats successfully into Mediterranean silvipastoral systems, a number of measures should be taken. These include restriction of goats to the forest types where they can exist compatibly with forestry, the development of alternative food sources and the application of rational grazing management. Before discussing this, however, it is necessary to give an overview of the functional role of goats in Mediterranean forests.

Benefits from goats. Although uncontrolled goat grazing has contributed to the destruction of Mediterranean forests, their controlled grazing can be beneficial. The benefits may be ecological, silvicultural and economic.

In discussing livestock grazing in the Mediterranean forests, Liacos (1980) argues that domestic animals are instrumental to the functioning of these ecosystems because they contribute to nutrient cycling and thus to an increase of their productivity. Because of low temperatures in winter and the lack of sufficient moisture in the summer, decomposition is slow, resulting in the accumulation of organic material on the ground. This can lead to devastating wildfires. Grazing animals can reduce this material and thus prevent forest fires.

The role of livestock in reducing fuel has received special attention in the last few years (Blanchemain, 1981; Calabri, 1981). Partly as a result of the change in traditional social systems and partly because of policies of exclusion of livestock, especially goats, from the forests in the past decades (Papanastasis, 1984), the amount of fuel has increased considerably, resulting in both a higher number of fires and larger areas burned each year. In Italy, for example, the mean annual number of wildfires increased from 3 200 in the 1960s to 6 400 in the 1970s and the mean annual forested area burned increased from 35 000 to 50 000 ha respectively for the two periods (Calabri, 1981). In Greece, the mean annual number of wildfires in forests increased from 233 in 1972-76 to 347 in 1977-81, while the mean annual area burned increased from 6 600 to 14 500 ha respectively for the two periods (Megalophonos, 1984). Similar trends exist in other countries. As a result, a research programme was initiated in France and Italy in 1979 to test the role of sheep and cattle in the prevention of forest fires (Bonnier, 1981). The programme is financed by the European Economic Community. Early results show that sheep are not capable of controlling the understorey vegetation as well as cattle and especially goats.

Goats can also benefit forests silviculturally. Liacos (1980) argues that livestock, by controlling the understorey vegetation, can reduce the competition with trees for water, which is the limiting factor to plant growth in the Mediterranean environment. Since goats are much more capable than other animals of consuming woody species, they are the right animals to be used. Moreover, they can control sprouts and thus assist in the thinning and management of coppice forests. A successful application of this type occurred in Grevena, northern Greece, where goats were used to suppress unwanted sprouts in the management of Ouercus conferta coppice forests.

Finally, goats can play an important role by converting organic matter into products such as meat, milk and wool. On the Greek island of Thassos, covered by 24 550 ha of Mediterranean forests, chiefly Pinus brutia, 12 000 goats and 10 000 sheep graze uncontrolled for 7.5 months per year. Eleftheriadis (1978), using shadow prices, evaluated the 5 000 tonnes of forage produced here annually to determine that the net value of this resource was US$ 7 per ha of forest land, represented by 3 kg of meat and 10 kg of milk. Although this benefit is quite low, it exceeded that derived from wood products. It follows that the contribution of Mediterranean forests to the production of meat and milk cannot be ignored, especially in the poor and densely populated countries of the region.

Restriction to suitable forests. Even under proper management, however, not all forests are suitable for goats. For example, dense forests managed for timber - whether even- or uneven-aged - cannot support vegetation for grazing and therefore goat grazing is inappropriate.

Liacos (1980) attempted to classify Mediterranean forests on the basis of species ecology and the similarity of grazing problems. He concluded that only the warm coniferous forests, a small part of the deciduous and a larger part of the evergreen oak forests - an area of about 20 million ha - are appropriate for livestock grazing. However, Mediterranean firs and laricio pines, as well as beech and chestnut forests, cannot be managed for grazing and thus livestock must be kept out of these forests.

To decide when a forest should be grazed by goats and the length of the rotation time, detailed information about the feeding value of Mediterranean vegetation is needed. Unfortunately, such information is very limited. Le Houérou (1980a) gives a list of about 300 woody species grown in North Africa with their palatability to livestock, including goats, as well as a list of 110 species with information about their chemical composition and nutritive value. Although this information is very valuable, it has not been obtained under actual grazing conditions and, more importantly, under the crown of forest trees.

Shrubby species in general have higher lignin, phosphorus, calcium and protein content than grasses or fortes (Hues, 1972). However, their energy content - which is crucial for the nutrition of goats - is lower. Nastis (1982) found that the foliage of Quercus coccifera, a common Mediterranean evergreen shrub, is nutritious for goats only in the spring; in the summer and autumn it becomes deficient in crude protein content and usable energy. The situation becomes worse under the forest canopy. Koukoura (1984) found that the same shrub grown in the shade (under a Pinus brutia canopy) had less water-soluble protein and more lignin and tannins than the one grown in the open during most of the spring, and that only toward the end of spring did its palatability become higher than in the open. Nevertheless, other types of woody forage such as Fraxinus xanthophylloides, Quercus ilex and Juniperus oxycedrus can better meet the nitrogen demands of goats during most of the year (Bourbouze, 1980).

Since woody plants cannot provide a balanced food for goats throughout the year, herbaceous species may be encouraged under the forest canopy. Liacos (1980) recommends a special management scheme which includes opening up the forests with thinning, artificial pruning and occasional use of prescribed burning together with seeding improved grasses among the ashes - all combined with livestock grazing.

Alternative food sources. If certain forests are either excluded from goat grazing or are inadequate to provide a balanced diet, alternative food sources should be developed. These may include natural brushlands, plantations of fodder shrubs and agricultural crops.

Natural brushlands (maquis and garrigues) occupy an estimated area of 23 million ha in the Mediterranean countries (Le Houérou, 1981). They constitute an important resource for all kinds of livestock, especially goats. Their present productivity, although varying substantially among bioclimatic zones, sites and years, is relatively low owing to long mismanagement (Le Houérou, 1981)

Over the last few years, several studies, mentioned by Le Houérou (1981), have shown that the present productivity of the evergreen brushlands can be increased many times if appropriate techniques are used, such as mechanical clearing, prescribed burning, seeding and fertilization. Proper management of these lands for goats (Papanastasis and Liacos, 1980; Liacos, 1982) will certainly reduce the animals' pressure on forests and at the same time increase their productivity.

In the arid and semi-arid regions of the Mediterranean Basin, where summers are very long and dry, establishment of plantations with fodder shrubs appears to be a solution toward securing roughages that are rich in protein and minerals for goats and at the same time reducing the pressure on forests. Such plantations have been already established in some Mediterranean countries such as the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Syrian Arab Republic and Tunisia. The main species used are Atriplex nummularia, A. halimus, Medicago arborea and Opuntia ficus-indica var. inermis (Le Houérou, 1980b). In the meantime, experiments are being carried out in other countries as well: namely Spain, Greece, Turkey and Italy, through the FAO subnetwork on Mediterranean pastures (Anonymous, 1983).

In the subhumid and humid regions, there is a considerable shortage of nutritious food for goats during the winter. In these regions, forage crops grown in agricultural areas are needed to produce hay to provide energy for the animals. In northern Greece, goats grazing in a Quercus coccifera brushland lost weight during the winter if they were not fed with alfalfa supplements (Liacos, Papanastasis and Tsiouvaras, 1980).

Grazing management. Integration of goats in the Mediterranean silvipastoral systems is inconceivable without applying proper grazing management. However, this is not easy to do because of two main difficulties. One is the need to coordinate goat grazing with forest management. Since forests are suitable for grazing only for a limited number of years within their rotation time, and only for a few months each year, goat management must be adjusted to these limitations. On the other hand, one goal of forest management should be to provide forage for goats on a permanent basis. Therefore, close cooperation between the forester and the range manager is needed.

The other difficulty in implementing proper grazing management lies with the people who own and handle goats. Experience has shown that no grazing plan will succeed, no matter how technically perfect, if goat shepherds do not accept it. Involving local people in grazing management projects is extremely important - and something very often neglected in practice.

Controlling goat numbers is a fundamental requirement of proper grazing management in forests. Yet information about their grazing capacity is very limited. Although some forests may be highly productive, the majority have lower forage production and therefore lower grazing capacity than rangelands (El Hamrouni, 1978; Poupon, 1980; Le Houérou, 1981; Papanastasis, 1981). This must be taken into account when planning stocking rates in Mediterranean forests.

The dual use of Mediterranean rangelands by sheep and goats, often in the same flock, results in better utilization of vegetation (Bourbouze, 1984). For forests, however, mixed flocks do not seem to be a good solution because they make it difficult to control the preferences of each species. Instead, pure flocks of goats can be better adjusted to the management plan. Furthermore, local breeds of goats are more effective users of Mediterranean vegetation than improved ones. For example, Damascus goats, brought from Cyprus by the Forest Service in Greece to replace local goats in forest lands, proved unable to adjust to such a harsh environment (Papanastasis, unpublished data). Nevertheless, improved Angora goats were found to be more suited to controlled grazing of brush ranges in Israel than black Mamber goats (Naveh, 1972). This means that the selection of the appropriate breeds of goats in forests is an open question that needs to be studied intensively before concrete suggestions are made.


Goats need Mediterranean forests because they supply woody understorey vegetation; forests need goats to help maintain stable ecosystems; and both need proper management. This thesis is different from the one which prevailed in the past, when goats were indiscriminately considered enemies of Mediterranean forests. However, in order to integrate these animals rationally in silvipastoral systems, range management should be properly coordinated with forest management and vice versa. In other words, foresters, range managers and animal scientists should undertake joint projects aimed at the integrated development of forage resources that do not damage forests. These projects should actively involve the local people who own the animals. In the meantime, more research is needed about the nutritive value of the Mediterranean vegetation to goats under actual grazing conditions so that the technical aspects of goat grazing in forests are sufficiently understood.


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