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Szanda, János
Agricultural Research and
Development Utility Company
Szarvas, Hungary



Importance of the subject

In Hungary a very significant part of the country's land, about 1.3 million hectares, is covered with grasslands.
These steppe type grasslands have been used for sheep grazing for several centuries. After the Second World War, the newly established big state farms plowed the grasslands which were on better soils, and the fields were used for arable crop production. The low grass crop of the remaining grasslands offered enough food only for extensive sheep keeping. As a result of the unfavourable fodder supply and the labour organization problems of the socialist farms, sheep milk production and processing declined to a very low level in Hungary. After the change of the political system in 1990, several small and medium size farms were established, the area of which was covered by so-called actual grasslands. If these grasslands are supplemented with fodder-producing crop rotation, the nearly forgotten milking of sheep and home processing of sheep milk could be reborn.

The range of food

Profitable sheep farming in Hungary is possible only if the sheep are kept on the grassland during the vegetation season. But in our continental climate, most of grasslands are extremely rich in May, when there is an abundant grass crop. Then it is followed by a weak or medium sprouting in June, and the grasslands get scorched between the middle of July and September. There is practically no crop during this time. As a result of the rainy period in September, the grasslands become green again and offer the necessary amount of grass for the animals until the time of stabling. The traditional, extensive sheep farms, producing wool and meat, were able to operate even in the so-called depression season of the grasslands, as the animals needed fodder only for subsistence. Production of sheep milk is possible only if the animals are supplied with nutrients continuously, and the feeding, or the necessary nutrient supply, is enough not only for subsistence but also for milk production.
In the Irrigation Research Institute investigations have been carried out for several years to find the solution for continuous fodder supply in summer. Several experiments were carried out, three of which are shown as follows:

Irrigation of grasslands

If the grasslands are irrigated from May to September, it is possible to grow three or four cuts of grass, which offer enough fodder for the animals. The disadvantage of this method is the extremely high cost and the extra labour requirement of irrigation.

Grazing on second crop

We tried to eliminate the depression season of grasslands by sowing drought resistant plants on the grasslands in spring, but this trial was not successful. In 1993 when we had a spring drought, the Sudan grass and the mixture of Sudan grass and Alexandria clover did not even sprout.

Alfalfa grasslands

The highly drought-resistant, deep-rooting alfalfa grows very well on the Great Plain which is characterized by sodic soils. The trouble with this plant is that it causes hoove of rumen, and several animals are lost because of this disease acute hoove of rumen. Thus we were afraid of troubles which may be caused by alfalfa, but it was found that alfalfa did not cause any difficulty if the technological order was maintained. These experiments have been carried out for more than three years and it was found that the grassland - alfalfa land rotation offers the continuous green crop for the animals by the following process:
The grasslands (grass and alfalfa) are divided into sections, and in May the grazing is started on only one section of the grasslands. The rest of grasslands (as there is peak in crop!) and the first cut of alfalfa are harvested for hay. The grazing is continued on the after grass, while the second cut of alfalfa is also harvested for hay. The animals are moved gradually from the dried out grassland to the alfalfa fields divided into sections, and the herd is driven back to the grassland after the beginning of autumn rains when the grasslands are renewed.

Milk production

As the continuous fodder supply of sheep can be ensured, there is not any obstacle to milking ewes after the weaning of lambs. We have studied the possibilities of increasing the specific amount of milk on a given unit of grasslands, and the following three methods were analysed:

Traditional species:

In Hungary the biggest part of sheep herds is formed by the merino species. This species has been selected for wool and meat for several centuries, thus its milk production is not really significant. The merino ewe produces 20-80 litres of milk during the 80-100 days after the weaning of lambs. The solution is the super-selection of ewes which give the biggest amount of milk. But it is a time consuming and expensive solution.

Change of species:

During the past 15-20 years several milking sheep species were imported to Hungary, but none of them was able to spread. It is partly because of extremely high costs of import and partly because of diseases and losses of sheep due to the problems of acclimatization. The females of merino sheep selected in our Institute, were crossed with pure line males of species having good lactation character. The milk production of crossings F1 - R1 - R2 is two to three times higher than that of the merino species, while the merino basic line offers protection against the difficulties of acclimatization.

Early weaning of lambs

In Hungary the biggest part of lambs are sold at six to seven weeks age. It is well-known that the lambs need milk mostly in the first one or two weeks of their life. After they have learnt grazing, the daily amount of milk can be decreased or substituted by cheaper milk preparations. Based on this experience, the weaning of lambs was carried out at 21 days age, and after this time they received the milk preparation `Pinguin' which can be used in cold form. The following results were achieved: the early weaned lambs needed six more days of growing than the breast-fed lambs, but they needed 20 litres less milk and their feeding was cheaper by 26 percent. The milk production of ewes, the milking of which was started earlier, gave 22 percent more milk (which could be processed) than the others.
Processing of milk

Based on our experiments it was found that the optimum size of milk producing herds is 250-300 ewes; partly because a herd of such size can be cared for without difficulties and partly because the milking time of such a herd is about three to three and one-half hours. If the shift is started at five o'clock in the morning, the milking is finished at about half past nine or nine o'clock, and the animals can graze before the start of the very hot daytime temperature. The ewes of the crossbred stock gave 0.5-0.6 litres of milk as a daily average; that means about 150-200 litres of milk production every day. It is not profitable to transport this rather small amount of milk for long distances. It is more economical and easier to process it on the farm, for two reasons: The farm processing of milk offers a new job for the members of the family and, at the same time, the processing of small quantities of milk offers new and excellent products for the market which could not be produced by the big milk processing factories.
In our model farm we produce fresh and soft cheese with different flavours by trickling. The cheese is consumable in 24 hours after the beginning of milk processing. The cheese is made of cattle and sheep milk mixed in a ratio of one-third to two-thirds. One kilo of cheese is made of five to five and one-half litres of mixed milk.


Nearly all the newly established small- and medium-size farms have grasslands in the Great Plain. These grasslands are situated on the worst soils, thus they cannot be used for arable crop production profitably. But these grasslands can be economically utilized by small milking ruminants - supplemented with some arable crop lands as well. It offers the farmers a new source of income and at the same time the utilization of out-of-use grasslands offers a favourable service for environmental protection as well.

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