Structure and performance of Awassi and Assaf dairy sheep farms in northwestern Spain

M. J. Milán, G. Caja*, R. González-González, A. M. Fernández-Pérez, X. Such

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Data of 69 dairy sheep farms (70% Assaf and 30% Awassi crossbred), located in the Spanish Autonomous Community of Castilla y León and grouped for receiving technical advice, were used to study their structure and performance. Farm surface was 55.4ha, on average. Approximately 25% of the farms did not have cultivation land, and the other 75% had, on average, 73ha (from which 67% were devoted to forage). Farms used 2.1 annual work units (familiar, 90%), 493 ewes, and yielded 147,000 L/yr of milk. Farmers were tenant (84%), younger than 45 yr (70%), had new houses, and were grouped in cooperatives (83%). Sheep were fed indoors (occasional grazing only) in modern loose stalls and had machine milking. Planned mating (summer to fall) was done in 91% of farms (hormonal treatment, 54%) but artificial insemination was scarce (23%). Annual milk sales averaged 309 L/ewe (fat, 6.5%; protein, 5.3%; log10 somatic cell count, 5.7), and milk was sent to local dairy industries for cheese production, and 1.35 lambs/ewe were harvested as milk-fed lambs (lechazo). Artificial lamb rearing was done in 38% of farms (automatic, 81%; manual, 19%). Total mixed rations were used in 33% of farms, and the rest used rationed concentrate (including self-produced cereals) according to physiological stage of the ewes (0.45 to 1.97 kg/d) and ad libitum forage (dehydrated, 70%; hay, 68%; fresh, 25%; silage, 12%). The concentrate-to-forage ratio ranged between 32 and 61%. In total, 68% of farms bought more than half of the forage, and 87% of them bought more than half of the required concentrates. According to structural, productive, and managerial traits, 4 types of farms were differentiated by using multiple correspondence analysis and cluster analysis. Type groups were: 1) large-surface farms, devoted to cereal and forage production, predominantly with Awassi crossbreed sheep and a high level of self-consumed commodities (12% of the farms); 2) large flocks with intermediate farm surfaces devoted to forage production and predominantly with Assaf sheep (30% of the farms); 3) high-yielding farms, with intermediate sized flocks of Assaf sheep and very intensive management (42% of the farms); and, 4) no-land farms predominantly with Assaf sheep (16% of the farms). In conclusion, the dairy sheep farms studied showed more adoption of intensive production systems than traditional farms, which resulted in higher milk and lamb yields. Despite all of them being based on familiar units, as traditional farms, they were highly dependent on external resources and became more vulnerable, faced with future uncertainties of the market. © 2011 American Dairy Science Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)771-784
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2011


  • Assaf
  • Awassi
  • Dairy sheep
  • Farm typology


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