Animal breeding in the Ionian Islands

Animal breeding in the Ionian Islands

Project Team of the Institute of Vet Research - Hellenic Agricultural Organization DIMITRA

  • Andreas Divanis, Project Leader, Coordinator
  • Dr. Loukia Aikateriandou, Technical Coordinator, Director of Research
  • Dr. Ilias Bouzalas, Scientific Coordinator, Commissioned Researcher
  • Dr. Athanasios Gelasakis, Head WP3, Assistant Professor AUA
  • Dr. Georgios Samouris, Head WP4, Director of Research
  • Dr. Evridiki Boukouvala, Head WP5, Principal Investigator
  • Dionysios Birmpilis, Technical Assistant


The Project Team of the Ionian Islands Region contributed to the research

Charalambos Papaioannou, Head of the Project Team, Head of the Vet Department, Directorate of Agricultural Economy & Veterinary Science Kefalonia Regional Unit,

Efthymios Spinos, member of the Project Team, Head of the Directorate of Agricultural Economy and Veterinary Science Kefalonia Regional Unit.

Efstathios Komis, member of the Project Team, Head of the Directorate of Agricultural Economy and Veterinary Science Zakynthos Regional Unit,

Oppel Marion, member of the Project Team, Directorate of Agricultural Economy and Veterinary Science Zakynthos Regional Unit,

Nikos Kentarchos, member of the Project Team, Head of the Directorate of Agricultural Economy and Veterinary Science Corfu Regional Unit,

Evgenia-Adriani Tseliou, member of the Project Team, Head of the Directorate of Agricultural Economy and Veterinary Science Corfu Regional Unit,

Vasilis Lampris, member of the Project Team, Head of the Directorate of Agricultural Economy and Veterinary Science Lefkada Regional Unit


We would like to thank for her help, Ms. Christina Aktypi, veterinarian, External collaborator of the Directorate of Agricultural Economy & Veterinary Science Zakynthos Regional Unit


Animal breeding in the Ionian Islands

Sheep and goat farming is an important sector for the Ionian Islands, for economic, environmental and sociological reasons. Through MοbiLab, there was an effort to record in detail the sheep and goat farming in the Ionian Islands. In the Ionian Islands, sheep milk is used to make traditional types of cheese, such as white barrel cheese and ladotyri, as well as yogurt. The majority of sheep and goats are reared based on the semi-extensive system, which is characterized by grazing all year round in public or private pastures, while during the winter rearing is supplemented with animal feed. Indigenous sheep breeds dominate the islands, although, in recent years, high-yielding rams of various indigenous (Chios, Frizarta, Karagouniko) and foreign dairy breeds (Lacaune, Assaf, East Friesian) have been introduced for improvement.


Η κτηνοτροφία στα Ιόνια Νησιά



According to the Agricultural Cooperative of Kefalonia & Ithaca and the Hellenic Agricultural Organization - DIMITRA, the Ionian Islands produce 0.87% (6876 tons) of the total Greek goat-sheep milk, and are in the 12th place among the 13 Regions.

Regarding milk prices, the highest average price for sheep milk (1,046 €/kg) is noted in the Prefecture of Samos and for goat milk (0.6849 €/kg) in the Prefecture of Kefalonia. Specifically in the Region of the Ionian Islands, the 565 breeders delivered a total of 6876 tons of milk, of which 5011 tons is sheep milk with an average price of € 0.922/kg and 1775 tons is goat milk with an average price of € 0.572/kg.

Μεταξύ των νησιών του Ιονίου, στην Κεφαλονιά παράγεται η μεγαλύτερη ποσότητα γάλακτος

Among the Ionian Island, Kefalonia produces the biggest quantity of milk. Animal breeding on the island is semi-extensive (traditional) and is mainly based on free grazing. Moreover, products rich in nutrients and organoleptic properties are also being produced. The indigenous sheep breed of Kefalonia (katseno) prevails, but there are also other Greek breeds or crossbreeds. Goats have also been reared for many years, and are fully adapted to the living and feeding conditions on the island. Insular topography in conjunction with the diversity of the Mediterranean flora and the abundance of aromatic plants constitute important advantages that give exceptional quality and special taste to the goat and sheep meat.

Στην Κεφαλονιά, 150.000 πρόβατα και γίδια εκτρέφονται σε 600.000 εκτάρια βοσκοτόπων


In Kefalonia, 150,000 sheep and goats are rearing on 600,000 hectares of pasture, in semi-extensive rearing breeding conditions with supplementary feeding whenever needed. The diversity of flora and the semi-mountainous environment on the island contributes to the excellent quality of milk and other products. Animals are kept in traditional, but often improved farms and the production of meat and milk is done in a traditional way.

There is one slaughterhouse on the island.

 There are 17 cheese factories in Kefalonia and operate in accordance with the national and community legislation. They have been certified in accordance with HACCP specifications and produce high quality products, implementing traditional methods in conjunction with modern technological means.


Η Κεφαλονιά διαθέτει 17 τυροκομεία


The tradition of cheese production dates back to Homeric times, making the Kefalonians among the oldest cheesemakers in Greece. Until the catastrophic earthquake of 1953, animal breeding was one of the main activities of the locals, and the main lever of development for the island. The breeders of Kefalonia gained international recognition with the "barrel cheese of Kefalonia" (which is similar to Feta), the exceptional hard cheese "Kefalotyri", the special cheese "Prenza", as well as butter, yogurt, etc. The "Barrel cheese of Kefalonia" has its own special name and label that distinguishes it from other barrel cheeses in the Greek market.

 Στη Ζάκυνθο, η κτηνοτροφία είναι επίσης ημιεκτατική

In Zakynthos, animal breeding is also semi-extensive, especially in mountainous areas where there are pastures. The size of the farms is small-medium, and the indigenous breed prevails (pure or crossbreed). However, there has been a decrease in the number of animals reared in the last decade, with the exception of goats, whose number has slightly increased. The main reason for this reduction is the degradation of the island's pastures. The local cheese is called "Ladotyri from Zakynthos”, and is mainly produced at farm level, using goat and sheep milk. However, it does not have a quality certification for added value, to indirectly contribute to the further increase in the number of goats and sheep bred on the island.

Ζακυνθινό λαδοτύρι

The local sheep breed has high yields in milk and meat and is adapted to the conditions of the area. It should be noted that there is no slaughterhouse on the island, which makes it difficult to breed sheep and goats and also increases the cost of meat.

In Corfu, animal breeding is developed mainly in the northern part of the island and especially in Mount Pantokratoras, as well as in the middle part of the island (Ropa Meadow). Cow breeding is more popular than sheep and goat breeding. Until the mid-1980s there was self-sufficiency in meat and milk, and significant production of local dairy products, such as the famous Corfu butter and Graviera, which were in great demand throughout Greece. In recent years, animal breeding is in crisis due to tourism development, but also due to strict rules that have been established (welfare, marking, etc.). There is also lack of organization among producer groups, lack of using new technologies and lack of training in breeders. Moreover, the lack of farm zones results in the cease of operation for many of them due to problems they create especially in residential and adjacent tourist areas. Finally, the inability to produce animal feed on the island means that they must be brought by the mainland, which significantly increases production costs. Although the number of farms is small, there are two cheese factories and recently a butter production unit, which produce a limited amount of traditional local products.

In Lefkada, sheep and goats are reared mainly, semi-extensively and extensively. The milk produced is available at facilities in Epirus. It should be noted that there is no cheese factory in the prefecture. Traditionally, each house in the villages of Lefkada had its own animals to cover its needs for meat and dairy products. Lefkada's participation in tourism, strict animal welfare rules and the absence of animal breeding farms have led to a dramatic reduction in animal production. However, there is no slaughterhouse on the island. Due to this absence, slaughterhouses in the neighboring area of Aitoloakarnania are used.

 Στη Λευκάδα, τα αιγοπρόβατα εκτρέφονται κυρίως, ημι-εκτετικά και εκτατικά

In Ithaca, the native breed of sheep "red sheep-katseno" is reared, its features are similar to those of the Syrian sheep breed and is a common ancestor of sheep breeds in Southeastern Europe and the Middle East. The milk produced is used for the production of cheeses in a traditional way of processing. There is an innovative cheese factory on the island. However, due to the limited milk production by local farmers, there is a strong dependence of the local cheese factory from the neighboring Kefalonia.



A total of 56 herds were included in the project study as shown in Table 1. The population that participated in the study consisted of approximately 12,000 sheep and 2,500 goats, representing about 10% and 5% of the sheep and goat population on the islands, respectively.


Table 1 Distribution of farms participating in the study


Number of farms












Συλλογή Δεδομένων Συλλογή Δεδομένων


Data were collected from June to December 2018, from five trained veterinarians/biologists during pre-scheduled visits to each farm, with interviews with a specific questionnaire that included questions about the animals, the facilities, the equipment, the nutrition, management practices, breeding management, preventive veterinary medicine and the most important health problems of reared sheep.

The average age of breeders was 48.4 years. The average values for the age of the interviewed breeders in the five islands are presented in Table 2.


Kefalonia (n=25)

Lefkada (n=11)

Zakynthos (n=10)



Ithaca (n=3)



Average age







Years of experience








Based on this study, many conclusions were drawn regarding the structure, current and future challenges and the viability of sheep and goat breeding in the Ionian Islands:

  • There is a longstanding tradition in goat and sheep breeding, as well as in cheese making, especially in Kefalonia.
  • It is feasible to preserve and increase the number of animals from the indigenous breeds of Kefalonia/Ithaca and Zakynthos, since they are durable and adapted to the given breeding conditions and the environment of the islands where they are reared.
  • The state of health and well-being of the animals was relatively satisfactory, with the exception of certain seasons and in cases where supplementary feeding did not meet the needs of the animals.
  • Although reproduction management is insufficient, the reproduction indicators are quite satisfactory.


Συλλογή Δεδομένων  Συλλογή Δεδομένων


The following conclusions were drawn regarding the structure and organization of animal breeding on the islands:

  • The average age of animal breeders is high, and many of them have no successors.
  • The average size of the herds remains small, leaving the economies of scale unexploited.
  • The inability to set feasible goals on a medium and long term basis is significant.
  • There is also a clear decline in the sheep and goat population in the Ionian Islands, especially in the more touristic areas (e.g. Corfu).
  • Dairy products do not have a special identity associated with local tradition and history.
  • The possibilities of processing and selling dairy and meat products in the local market and beyond are limited.
  • Tourism tends to be a much more competitive than supportive-affiliated activity for the development of sheep and goats on the islands, especially on the island of Corfu.
  • A major disadvantage is the unfocused management system and the reluctance of farmers for targeted animal management and planning based on data systematically recorded.
  • There is a lack of individualized feeding programs and the adjustment of feeding regimes according to the nutritional demands of the animals is not a given. There is a significant lack of scientific support, due to the absence of expert local consultants.
  • The allocation of available resources is insufficient and improper.
  • Expert personnel is not available and modern technologies and knowledge have not been integrated into farm management.
  • The infrastructure and equipment are not sufficient to support the further development of animal breeding in the Ionian Islands and there is a lack of modern facilities.



Tourism is a factor with a significant effect on animal breeding in the Ionian Islands. Almost its entire population is seasonally employed in the tourism sector. Animal breeders and cheesemakers have realized the importance of coordinating their agricultural and tourism activities to optimize their income. By coordinating their work, animal breeders will be able to spend less time at breeding during the summer months.

However, it should be noted that the tourist season has not been associated with the availability of lambs and goats ready to be slaughtered.

Hence, for the primary sector to benefit from tourism, the following must be done during the tourist season:

- have lambs and goats available for slaughter and preferably to be available cut and packaged

- have dairy products available

- properly promote the products in the tourism industry.

   Τουριστικός Παράγοντας

Strategy to address the difficulties faced by sheep and goat breeding and the role of MOBILAB

The viability of small farms in the Ionian Islands is undermined by factors, such as insufficient information, training, professional know-how, reduced productivity, increased production costs, insufficient connection of crop and animal production, differences in the quality of the products produced, their unavailability, social isolation and devaluation of the animal breeding profession and the lack of targeted development strategies for the industry. All partners involved must contribute to the creation of an optimal environment for the sector’s development. These may not only include breeders, which are often also cheesemakers, but also cheesemakers, scientists, the local authorities, and the policy-makers on the islands. The development of an integrated network for the transfer of research and technology based on innovation, to boost dairy products and their production systems is absolutely necessary for the economic development of the entire region.


Mobilab και οικονομική ανάπτυξη στα Ιόινια Νησιά

MOBILAB contributes to the development of an enhanced environment for animal breeding in the Ionian Islands by:

  • strengthening the agricultural policy at regional and national level, by developing innovative tools in animal breeding and dairy production,
  • boosting economic activities, by improving animals at regional and national level
  • improving management systems, to ensure competitiveness and effectiveness in animal management
  • production of products with added value.


Mobilab Δράσεις

There are already specific initiatives implemented through MOBILAB. However, efforts must continue even after the end of the project. MOBILAB shall provide a fixed Decision Support System and a road map, to preserve the sector’s viability. The Decision Support System shall include elements such as:

  • Animal breeding farms management, to maximize milk production. Includes targeted actions that must be taken over by animal breeders.
  • Sheep and goat reproduction management, with an emphasis on the peculiarities of Ionian Islands and tourism. Includes a detailed time schedule to improve reproduction management, taking into account the limitations set up tourism activities.
  • Animal health principles. Includes animal health management and the description of the most critical health risks in sheep and goat breeding
  • Operation of small-scale cheese factories, product marketing, labels and brands.
  • Principles of policy-making for local government officials.



Co-financed project by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the National Participation of Greece and Italy

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