Luis Miguel Ferrer, senior lecturer of Animal Pathology in the Faculty of Veterinary in the University of Zaragoza, who belongs, as well, to the Ruminants Clinical Service in the Veterinary Hospital and to the Instituto Agroalimentario de Aragón (IA2) (Aragon Agri-Food Institute (IA2)), explains that Aragonese livestock products have an environmental and demographic added value but their prices neither pay for production expenses nor guarantees breeders a decent life in the rural world.
What are the special features of sheep and goat livestock in Aragón? What is it characteristic for and how has it changed in the last few years?
Minor ruminants livestock is, essentially, extensive, with leading shepherding and totally dominated by sheep livestock. It is mostly based on rustic native breeds and some synthetic highly prolific breed (Salz and INRA 401), which are seriously decreasing due to the improvements obtained by means of Santa Eulalia gen.
Nowadays the livestock census is decreasing and the lack of extensive farming is having a rather negative impact on environment and rural depopulation. Urban world still does not understand that food and landscapes are bred and preserved in villages and we haven’t managed to slow down rural depopulation yet.
What does it mean and involve, in your view, animal welfare? What is its importance to a farm?
Animal welfare, in productive systems, is a totally different concept from the one in pets’ world. Most world’s population live in cities and think their pets’ welfare means them living as human beings. This a fully mistaken conception since animals must live as animals and living like humans is a stressfulk issue in most cases.
Production animals must live meeting their species, breed, weight and behaviour specific requirements. And so is what a vast majority stockbreeders do with their livestocks. Animals produce more because they feel good and comfortable. Any stressful agression make them reduce their productions or get sick.
Many time, the animal welfare itself is against farm animals. At some moments it is necessary that animals are hungry for some day to keep healthy, colliding with their right not to be hungry. However, all of us go through diet periods in order to improve our health. Likewiss, tail docking using anaesthetics, meeting the current rules, is more stressful than traditional tail docking, without anaesthetics. Human and animal conceptions don’t have to be necessarily the same.
One of the basis of this welfare is animals’ health. Which illnesses should Aragonese livestock breeders concern about? What in the importance of early diagnosis?
The key points to animal welfare are health and diet. A sick or poorly fed animal does not produce and can get sick and transmit illnesses to other animals even or to humans. To be able to implement these health programmes, the first and most necessary stage is too diagnose the illnesses we have and classify those which can be prevented, can be treated and those which require to slaughter the animals or to live together with the illness not heavily affecting production.
A correct diagnosis is the only way to start the correct treatments and prevention systems and to minimize the use of drugs in stockbreeding. Without a diagnosis you fight blindly against everything, using more drugs than the strictly needed.
Extensive stockbreeding in Aragón is closely related to organic production. What does it involve for animals, producers and final consumers?
Extensive stockbreeding is a very sustainable model, practically organic in most cases, but it has the difficulty of led shepherding. The cost of shepherds, the lack of them and their poor training have become, in many cases, the main problema of the sector.
Animals live in a very similar productive environment to the ancestral one, but with little health, diet, genetics or handling improvements, which allow to get good results without big changes. Producers don’t notice the quality of their productions is valued and more and more livestock farms are closing down. Although the financial side is really important, the slackness of social services makes livestock breeders give up their business and leave rural areas. Consumers receive very high quality products (Aragón lamb, kid or cheeses) but the price they pay for them does not compensate production costs. Many times not even supports make extensive livestock farms profitable.
Consumers are not aware of the fact that those products have an added environmental and demographic value which should make the prices obtained by livestock breeders could allow them a decent lifestyle in rural areas. As long as we do not understand this, we will not stop the fall in our stockbreeding and rural areas depopulation. As I always say: It is the shepherd the last one who leaves a village.