“Donkeys and goats, so overlooked in the past few decades, are the source today of value-added products,” stresses Georgios Arsenos, an associate professor of veterinary medicine and head of the Animal Husbandry Laboratory at Thessaloniki's Aristotle University. The academic firmly believes that promoting the breeding of these two animals provides an opportunity for innovation in Greek livestock farming, and he is doing just that at his lab and at a barn that has been set up right in the middle of the northern port city.
Experts estimate that in 1950 Greece had a robust population of some 500,000 donkeys. By 2000 that number had nosedived to 15,000 and now stands ate around 12,500. However, in some parts of the country, donkeys are making a comeback, but not as beasts of burden, which was their traditional use in the past. A number of farms are breeding donkeys for their valuable milk and dairies are processing it for other products. There are currently 15 such farms with a total of 600 jennies.
“Donkey’s milk can be used in the cosmetics industry as well as for human consumption once pasteurized,” says Arsenos.
The selling price of products containing donkey’s milk is a good indication of their superior qualities: A simple bar of soap goes for 5 euros, anti-aging soap for 6-8 euros, shower gel around 20 euros, moisturizing cream at 16-20 euros, food supplements at 55 euros and liqueur for 20 euros.
Goats are also an important resource that have been overshadowed by the widespread breeding of sheep, cows and pigs, though Greece does breed the largest number in Europe.
“Greece has the highest goat population in Europe, breeding around 5 million heads. And even though Greece also has 47.6 percent of the Europe Union’s milking goats, breeding goats is the least developed area of animal husbandry in the country,” says Arsenos.
To help the cause of the country’s donkeys and goats, the Aristotle has created a 200-square meter barn as part of the Helexpo fair, where animals will be milked on a daily basis. A small dairy attached to the barn shows the potential of processed donkey and goat milk. Expert are also on hand to answer questions regarding the products and the facilities needed to breed the animals.
“The barn, the equipment and animals present an environmentally friendly and sustainable breeding model,” explains Arsenos, urging potential breeders to rely on their own strengths rather that seek subsidies.
“Subsidies, and more precisely the way they were implemented, effectively destroyed Greek agriculture and livestock farming,” argues Arsenos. “A subsidy should be a tool for growth and not a motivation for idle minds. No form of subsidy should be given out in an uncontrolled and horizontal fashion, as was the case in the past, but only under specific conditions that are linked to the quantity and quality of the product being produced.”