Possibilities and challenges of sheep farming

Austria has a high proportion of grasslands, especially in mountain areas. Even if cattle grazing is dominating, small ruminants like sheep are also important “landscape keepers”. Typical pastoralism in the sense of transhumance is rather the exception in Austria; sheep are mainly kept in (often extensive) pasture systems. With the increasing presence of predators likes wolves, this kind of sheep husbandry is getting rather difficult, especially in remote alpine regions. Some other current challenges are the high share of sideline farms (often hobby sheep keepers), low profitability, rising land prices and difficult marketing of products like old sheep meat and wool. In contrary, possibilities arise in increasing demand for halal meat, the positive image of sheep farming in public perception concerning sustainability and animal welfare and the high potential of sheep as grassland converters with low environmental impact.

In order to meet the challenges constructively and make use of the opportunities, appropriate educational offers are of utmost importance. The offer for training and further education in the overall field of sheep farming is very wide-ranging in Austria. On the one hand, there are different agricultural schools as Agricultural and forestry professional schools (LFS, 3 years) or secondary agricultural and forestry schools (HBLA, 5 years, and universities. On the other hand, further education is offered through various adult education institutions. The most important player in the non-formal sector is The Rural Training Institute LFI, which is the further education organisation of the Chamber of Agriculture. Additional providers are Bio Austria, the Rural Youth Organisation or the the Association for Sustainable Animal Husbandry Austria.

Many offers focus on the sheep and goat sector together and are specialised in specific topics such as feeding, health, husbandry, breeding but also processing of products.

Currently there are 3 longer training courses in Austria, whereby one specialises in alpine pasture husbandry.