Pastures in Italy occupy an area of 4.7 million hectares. More than a quarter of this area is in Sardinia which has 1,212,000 hectares – 60% of the island’s surface. These pastures are of considerable value as they enjoy a high level of biodiversity and are an integral part of the countryside.
Permanent pastures and meadows constitute a strong link between breeding, agriculture and the environment and in Sardinia, where they occupy an extensive area, they have special characteristics. Consequently, Sardinian farmers have acquired a wealth of knowledge as far as fodder cultivation and the sustainable and economic use of pasture and fodder resources is concerned, particularly with regard to dairy sheep. This asset is not evident in other parts of Italy.
Due to the availability of pasture land, the most common breeding system in Sardinia is the semi-extensive or semi-intensive breeding system, which is mainly based on the exploitation of fodder resources through grazing.
As the production cycle of sheep bred in Sardinia is still seasonal, milk production is mainly concentrated in winter and spring. The quantity and quality of the milk varies, also on the basis of the diet to which the animals are subjected.
There are four principal types of pasture land present on the island: wooded, consisting of various tree species – mainly oaks and wild olives; mature scrub where, amongst others, Myrtle, Pistacia lentiscus and heather represent an important source of food for the animals together with herbaceous plants such as grasses and leguminous plants; low scrub, consisting of Rock Rose, rosemary and broom which are commonly found on less productive land; and herbaceous, which is chiefly made up of annual species of grasses and leguminous plants such as Bromus, oat, rye-grass and the subterranean clover together with Wood Fescue, meadow clover and lucerne.