Animal husbandry is an area of agriculture concerned with domestic animals being raised for different commodities such as milk, eggs, meat and/or other products. Animal husbandry includes day-to-day care, breeding and the raising of livestock. Bovines, swine, poultry, caprines, ovines and rabbits are the most commonly found domestic animals in Maltese farms due to the popular demand for their produce. Beekeeping is also a subcategory of animal husbandry, since bees perform a very important role in the agricultural sector both as pollinators of mainstream crops and orchard fruits as well as colonizers of many garigue areas.
Bovines – Current statistics as of February 2020 report that the cattle stock presently amounts to 14,211 heads distributed across 248 farms. In the past the bovine sector in Malta predominantly focused on dairy production with very little emphasis on rearing for beef, however recent statistics showed that out of 248 bovine farms 158 are non-dairy farms. The Maltese Cattle breed is a Maltese Bovine breed that is not particularly suitable for meat or milk production. This breed is very specialised and widely used since it adapts well to the Maltese climate. In the past, farmers prominently used this breed as a work force as an aid to plough fields which at a later stage it was replaced by modern agriculture machinery.
Did you know that: We have around 14,000 cows in Malta of which 12,000 produce milk. On average, each cow produces more than 25 liters of Milk a day but needs to eat the equivalent in kg of feed!
Caprine and Ovine – The Maltese goat originates from the Middle East. It has a white body with long hair, black head and large dropping ears. While, the Maltese Sheep typically has a long slim body with a silky coat. Their muzzles have no wool and their head and feet are not fleeced.It is reared in small flocks and is very prolific however the population declined significantly after the second world war. The sheep and goat sector has in recent years grown in numbers and popularity. The primary by product from this sector is production of the local delicacy ‘Maltese Ġbejniet’. This particular cheese is a staple in the Maltese diet and is made predominantly from sheeps milk. Both pasteurised and unpasteurised products are available on the market. Each ovine and caprine animal is identified with a unique number by means of two ear tags. Each ear tag bears the seven digit number, bar code, Maltese logo and two letter country code Malta-MT.
Swine – The swine sector has faced significant difficulties and is one of the hardest hit sectors at risk of collapse. Most pig farmers form part of the Pig Breeders Cooperative Society of Malta. This cooperative is responsible for the provision of advisory services, vaccines, farm equipment and any aid possible that the farmer may require. Breeds that are farmed locally are selected for productive efficiency, white skins and lean meat. They are also stress free and suitable for Malta’s warm hot climate. Small scale farms are ideal for the pigs to receive individual attention and achieve high welfare standards. Feeds fed to pigs are locally milled to ensure freshness, cereals are imported and tested for any undesired substances.
Poultry – Most poultry farming on the Maltese Islands is carried out using barn systems, however layer farms are also present on the island with most consisting of barns with enriched cages. Organic egg laying chickens are also free range, but were not treated with antibiotics or hormones and received organic feed. Furnished cages are also utilised which are modified to allow the hens to perform their natural behaviours whilst keeping their husbandry and economic advantages. The Maltese black hen is an ancient breed dating back from the 6th Century B.C. It features an all-black plumage which acts as a camouflage at night time, a red comb and white ear lobes which give an indicative colour of their egg. The development of the Maltese black hen commenced in 1934. It was developed as a rustic breed to produce eggs and chicken meat for rural families. It is capable of producing around 205 eggs per year which could be somewhat smaller in weight than the ones normally available as table eggs. The egg shell is white, but different shades of whites are also possible.
Did you know that: In Malta we rare mainly two types of chicken. One for their meat (broilers) and another for their eggs (layers). We have around 800,000 chicken (broilers +layers). 400,000 (layers) of which lay around 300 eggs per year.
Rabbits – Around 330 million rabbits are consumed every year. The Maltese are listed as to be one of the top consumers of rabbit meat, with over 3kgs of rabbit meat consumed per annum per capita (European Commission report). Recently, the EU Parliament has approved a motion to prohibit breeding of rabbits in cages. Rabbits are rather small species that can be easily bred in domesticated conditions, having a short breeding cycle that delivers a large litter that shows a productive efficient profile. Many Maltese rabbit farms provide rabbits to butchers and restaurants. These farms follow a rigorous sanitary regime, and full compliance with EU directives is necessary to ensure an efficient and least problematic production cycle.
Beekeeping – During the 20th Century, bee-keeping was given a low degree of importance. The honeybee can be cited as the perfect example of a green economy. Honey production provides a good income for beekeepers through a collaborative synergy between keeper and bee colony. Apiculture in the Maltese islands is a very small sector but it is a vital source of fertilisation ‘pollination’ in agriculture. In Malta, apiaries are run by hobbyists and private fields. The Maltese bee is known as an endemic subspecies Apis mellifera rutneri. Bees are well adapted for high temperatures, dry Summers and cool Winters. Colonies have lived all year round with a positive reaction to Maltese seasons with very well adaptation to its natural environment. The Maltese bee has a highly defensive character that is not highly appreciated by the local beekeepers.