Friday, 14 October 2022

Drought Especially Tough on Croatian Sheep Farmers: Hardest Year in Last 30

October 14, 2022 - The drought created big problems for Croatian sheep farmers. The largest sheep farm in Krk produces five and a half tonnes of cheese annually. And while last year, despite the pandemic, was good for them, they are adding damage due to the drought this year.

As HRT writes, they do hope that the sheep will recover by the time they need to be milked and that they will persist in the quality of the cheese.

Both in summer and winter, about four hundred sheep of the Mrakovčić family roam freely in the pastures on the sunniest side of the island of Krk. They learned everything about sheep from their ancestors and founded their OPG and Sirana (family farm and cheese production) about thirty years ago. But due to the dry summer, this is their first year which they think could be critical.

"We normally do not add fodder or dry hay during the summer, but only during February and March when the vegetation is scarce. I don't remember having to add so much water and food," says Mirjenko Mrakovčić, owner of OPG from Kornić, Krk.

Typically, sheep consume a cubic meter of water daily and up to twelve hay bales." And you can see that the sheep are not in the best condition and have lost some weight. Well, you can't see it now because of the wool, but if you fleeced them, it would become apparent. They graze on grass, eat young olive leaves, blackberries, whatever they find, and laurel is the sweetest for them", said Marko.

Everyone hopes the sheep will have recovered by the time they need to be milked.

"We exclusively milk sheep who graze on vegetation; we do not add anything, which is why our milk and cheese are of high quality," emphasizes Mirjenko.

They are the eight-time champions of Croatia and the region. The flavours of their cheeses - Green and Black Bodul, Ordinary, and Magriž - are enjoyed on all continents. They even refined the offer on the doorstep with olive oil and sweet delicacies.

"One month is better; another is worse; we get some incentives from the county and some from European funds. We have had customers for about 20 years," pointed out Vesna Mrakovčić, owner of the OPG.

Their good results are spoiled by wild boars and jackals, killing about twenty sheep yearly.

"As far as I know, two farms are now selling sheep; there is no future if the wild boars and jackals are not removed from the island of Krk," emphasized Mirjenko.

The reality is these humble OPGs are just desperate to maintain the high quality of their products.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated Lifestyle section.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

How Coronavirus Saved Lika’s Lambs, But Not Its Shepherds

May 14, 2020 — The coronavirus doesn’t cause death and disease wherever it goes. For some creatures, it’s been a savior. Just ask Lika’s sheep, and their worried shepherds.

If you do not know Tomo Matanić’s phone number, just stop by his gate in Mušaluk not far from Gospić and yell: “Hosts!” He will materialize with a quick step and show you the arch in which you will bypass his shepherd dogs. There are five of them, according to Jutarnji List’s Marija Pušića

The boss claims his dogs are dangerous, but only one of them disinterestedly poked his head out of the shade of an old acacia.

A dozen domestic cats hang around the houses, one, the owner's pet, is a tricolor, he says. The others are stalk mice, as well as sausages and bacon from the table.

Matanić is a civil servant who lives in an apartment in Gospić, but for almost three decades he has been renting an agricultural farm on which he breeds “Lika pramenka,” an autochthonous sheep breed from the area. He has about a hundred heads.

The dangerous coronavirus can hardly find its way to his farm, but it will still have very significant consequences in the stables. While in the rest of the world the virus sows disease and even death, here it sows life. 

Due to the coronavirus, Matanić will increase his breeding herd by about fifty head next year. These are lambs that now have no buyers because there is no tourism to go to the Adriatic; no weddings; no birthdays and baptisms are celebrated with a small roast. He doesn't know what will happen next.

Matanić has already reconciled that he will leave the female lambs, and he hopes that everything will get better, to get rid of the male ones, because where will he go in the fall with 50 young rams? 

It is estimated that tens of thousands of lambs will remain unsold in Lika due to the coronavirus situation. 

“The number is constantly around a hundred sheep,” Matanić said. “So far, my market has been Plitvice, where we marketed through our Association of Sheep Breeders Lika. The rest is local for weddings and baptisms. We leave ten percent for the rejuvenation of the herd, but because of the virus, it will be 50 percent, which means that all the female lambs will remain. 

“I went to get rid of the males first,” he added. “I managed a little bit, but it’s all pathetic and sad. I listen to winemakers when they complain that they have wine left. The wine will not spoil, but to us when the male lamb grows to large, we have little use for it.”

If he doesn’t sell the rams now for the skewer, he will try to sell them in the fall for meat. Matanić believes he will have top quality meat, even though the animals will be ten months old. 

The most important thing, he says, is to survive, and everything else will somehow sort itself out.

Matanić maintains his flock demands a top-quality price. The level of his care for the lambs? He plays the sheep music in the barn while they are feeding. To relax them.

Dr. Tomislav Rukavina, a veterinarian and director of the Veterinary Clinic Gospić says that there is no household in Lika that does not have at least a few sheep.

Technically speaking, “Lika lamb” is a product obtained by this special species of sheep bred in the geographical area of ​​Lika. It’s an EU-protected product, but that doesn’t make it any easier to sell. The glut on the market will be hard to move on.

“Who will eat it all, I don't know,” Rukavina said. “My advice to breeders is to adapt, to overhaul the herd, to leave as many female lambs as possible, in the fall to get rid of old sheep, and to sell the males.”

Breeders were told to sell to overstock buyers, who offered well under the value they were used to. 

The lambs must grow in the Lika-Senj County and part of Zadar, in the Gračac area. As for the lamb’s meat, it ripens much later. The flavor and aroma is hard to describe — unique, the shepherds claim.

“How do you describe the smell of a banana?” Rukavina said.

More importantly — how do you persuade a flooded market to buy more lamb?