In a 2000 census, it was reported that sheep and goat populations reached to 54 and 27 million heads respectively (Table 1-5) accounting for a GDP equal to $7.6 billion. This potential composes 400,000 tons of meat, 820,000 tons of milk, 60,000 tons of wool, 8400 tons of goat fuzz and hair, 22 million skins and 188,000 tons of guts.
At present, more than 1.6 million people are directly involved in sheep and goats breeding which plays a significant economic role in rural and nomadic livelihood. In fact, such flocks constitute an outstanding capital quite influential in their households. Averagely, 22.6% of sheep and goat populations are reared under nomadic and semi-nomadic systems and the remaining 77.4% are managed under composite (rural-farm) method. Every rural/nomad household keeps about 95 sheep and 65 goats. Traditional movement and shepherding are almost conventional countrywide. Animal-keepers are used to displace their flocks in between the provinces.
Generally, rams are integral parts of the rural herds, while in nomadic system; they only stay 1.5 to 6 months with the herd. In 1991, there existed 47.7 million sheep and lambs which increased to 54 million by 2001 (8.2% growth), comprising of 26 pure breed and their hybrids (Table 1-5). This trend expresses an increase from 24.7 to 27 million heads of goat during the same period (3.2% growth) bearing 9 native breeds and their hybrids (enclosed maps numbers 6 and 7 indicate the sheep and goats distribution by regions in the country).
Most Iranian sheep and goat breeds primarily impressed and developed by natural selection and adaptation to environmental condition, followed by impacts from various breeders. These breeds are traditionally named upon their breeding tribes or geographical origin. To date, Iranian sheep or goats are not racially registered but claimed as native stocks. Only a few percent of many identified breeds have undergone the National Breeding Plan (Ram performance test) which constitutes 2% of the total sheep and goat population. Nearly 65% of the available sheep are relatively pure whereas the remaining 35% are hybrid. Less than 14% of goats are genetically pure and 86% are categorized as either scrub and mixed or untitled.
Many sheep breeds are multipurpose and used for meat, milk and wool production. Besides, three other pelt breeds exist in the country. More than 96.3% Iranian sheep are fat tail and the 4% semi-fat or tailed breeds. "Zel" is the sole tailed breed together with well-known semi-fat Taleshi and Dalagh (Atabai) breeds living in northern areas and Caspian shore (Table1-6). Different goat breeds are raised for their meat, milk and hairs. There are populous and famous breeds as "Raeini" and "Siahmouie", together with less populous ones as "Marghoz", "Najdi" and "Tali".
Traditional, nomadic and semi-nomadic are the major operation systems so far identified. Normally, nomads and rural communities are used to implicate traditional system.
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Semi-intensive systems predominantly represent fattening and breeding of sheep and goats in farms, whereby in intensive system, sheep tend to be grown at agro-industries run by public holdings and large cooperatives. In nomadic and semi-nomadic breeding systems, various animal species i.e. horses, mules and sometimes camels are kept together with sheep and goats mainly for transportation purpose.
Moreover, the system composes of some poultry i.e. hens, cocks, geese, ducks and turkey, living with sheep and goats as the main flocks near the black tents. At the rural level, in addition to sheep and goats, cattle and poultry farming and in places, buffalo and camels are also conventional. In industrial and semi-industrial systems, raising any species (goats and sheep) is specially conducted for their meat. These systems practically enjoy rather productive and
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heavy breeds for raising intention (Table 1-7).
In triple system, raising sheep and goat shall thoroughly comprise of locally adapted breeds. There exist some genetic disturbances at border strips, for instance Pakistani goats along the Iranian south-eastern border are very similar to Bital and Tary breeds. Given the diversified climates, ranges, traditional rearing systems, and socio-economic status of the animal-keepers, there are particular importance and opportunities for locally adapted breeds. Also worth noting are a few foreign breeds, e.g. Sanan goat, Merino sheep, and Suffolk were recently imported for research and training centers, came up with new hybrids which however were not fully developed for some reasons. Sheep and goat husbandries are predominantly run by private ownership. Cooperative units constitute smaller portions and minor industrial sheep-breeding farms enjoy public ownership.
Generally, sheep and goat herds include 100 to 150 productive animals and albeit, other quantities are more or less traced. Nowadays, sheep breeding systems is mostly self-sufficient followed by negligible imported drugs for veterinary purposes. So, any fluctuations in imported medicines, cannot affect them significantly. Flocks reared in industrial systems are relatively less vulnerable to dryness, social issues, access to capital and labor force, but rather sensitive to diseases and exchange fluctuations. In semi-intensive and extensive systems either rural, nomadic or semi-nomadic, greatest impact originates from dryness, social changes and access to capital.
Presently, social changes and demand for more welfare may create serious threats to rural and nomadic rearing systems, and if not appropriately addressed, the production shall experience a drastic loss. In view to remarkable population rise at the rural level, scarcity of the resources, socio-economic problems, and basic changes in consumption patterns, there expects a fundamental inclination of traditional and subsistent sheep and goat production towards intensive and semi-intensive systems. This scenario entails a rapid switch-over to adapted breeds upon indigenous stocks which may lead to elimination of some low-yield breeds from production cycle. Therefore, significant tasks have to be foreseen for sustainable development and genetic resources protection, relying on the state of the art
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technology and know-how through grasping workable mechanisms for action.
In a preferred order, meat, milk, wool, quail, skin, hair, mohair, edible and inedible additives form the most important sheep and goats products. To date, economy of scale assumes as the highest feature in sheep breeding operation (Table 1-8). Meat production deserves the first priority in all regions, but sometimes, its position could be occupied by milk and fibers. Noteworthy that there is no significant role played by exotic animals in sheep and goat breeding in Iran. Meat and milk are totally consumed in domestic markets, and the sheep wool is employed in carpet weaving industry but the quails are exported to foreign markets. Goat hairs are partially exported while its mohair used for knitting traditional cloths. Sheep skins are greatly exported as pickles, whereas goat skins used as leather for local purposes. All guts have domestic consumption but intestines are exported after treatment. Manures are normally applied as fertilizers or sometimes as fuel by rural households.
Over the past decades, no significant change was experienced in relative production shares of sheep or goats at national scale. Hopefully, introduction of enabling systems in future, may lead to deserve higher shares for the afore-mentioned outputs. Unless a reliable condition created for optimum utilization of native genetic resources, all the foregoing yields and in particular, the animal protein provision would expose serious risks in future.
In the last decade, traditional pastorals were decreasing mainly owing to socio-economic impacts and government policies. For instance, reduce the pastures and range area, destruction of pastures, pasture and livestock equilibrium plan, withdrawal of livestock from forest and range areas, tendency to migration, urbanization, and greater welfare have contributed in giving up nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralism. The same adventure runs in public-owned industrial systems explicitly for poor policies formulated on entrusting such holdings to private or cooperative entities.
Therefore, due to prevailing climatic, socio-economic and environmental conditions plus government consideration, there are promising chances for development of semi-industrial system compared to traditional and industrial ones.
It is expected to compensate the missing shares by implicating suitable change in semi-industrial mode which however, entails serious considerations by policy-makers and professionals at the national level. Over the past decades, outstanding diversification was enforced in milk and dairy products mainly by importing the state of the art of technology in processing and packaging fields. Meat and skin also enjoyed diversified outcomes.
In general, tangible progressions are now realized in recording techniques, genetic breeding, technical supports and processing industries (slaughter-houses, dairy plants, etc). Such steps have either supported producer and production, or improved quality and quantity of the products, which rationalizes further inputs for an integrated patronage.