Livestock Research for Rural Development 24 (9) 2012 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

The domestic livestock resources of Turkey: Economic and social role, species and breeds, conservation measures and policy issues

Orhan Yilmaz and R Trevor Wilson*

Department of Animal Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Igdir University, 76100 Igdir, Turkey
* Bartridge Partners, Umberleigh, Devon EX37 9AS, UK


Turkey covers an area of almost 784 000 square kilometres and has a very varied ecological and climatic environment.  There are some 4 million agricultural enterprises of which almost all are mixed crop-livestock operations and about two-thirds are smaller than 5 hectares in size.  The country has one of the largest livestock populations in the world and due to its long and chequered history Turkey is a major repository of domestic livestock species and breeds.  There has, however, been a steady decline in numbers of most livestock species since the middle of the 20th century with the exception of poultry in which species the population has greatly expanded. 

Output of red meat and milk have increased slightly over the same period due to changes in breed structure and white meat and egg production have been greatly augmented since the introduction of hybrid birds and the industrialization of the subsector.  Livestock’s contribution to agricultural Gross Domestic Product is about 23 per cent.  Government support for livestock varies with species and breed but in general budgetary allocations to the sector have not been commensurate with its contribution to the national economy.  Since the mid 1990s conservation programmes, including in situ and ex situ conservation of live animals and cryopreservation of genetic material have been put in place for some indigenous breeds of cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goat and horse.  Policies for livestock in the past have varied and have not always been well directed.  Future policies should be coherent and holistic with a view to increasing the output of livestock products for a market that will be more demanding than in the past whilst conserving the nation’s rich genetic heritage. 

Key words: farm animals, genetic diversity, meat, milk, poultry, ruminants


Turkey covers an area of 783 562 square kilometres situated between approximately 36° and 42° N latitude and 26° and 45° E Longitude.  The census of 2011 showed the human population to be 74.7 million in that year, occupying the land at a density of 97 persons/km2 and increasing at a rate of 1.8 per cent per annum (Turkstat 2011).  The climate is of the continental type over much of the interior characterized by dry hot summers and cold winters with snow.  On the Mediterranean coast in the west and on the shores of the Black Sea in the north the climate is more Mediterranean with warm-hot summers and mild and moist winters.  From being an overwhelmingly agrarian (and military) economy under the Ottoman Empire of the early twentieth century the economy of the Turkish Republic of the early twenty-first century is dominated by the service and industrial (and military) sectors with the urban population surpassing that of rural areas (including small towns) in about 1985.  Agriculture’s share of Turkey’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell from 33.0 per cent in 1968 to 9.3 per cent in 2009 when the contribution of industry was 25.6 per cent and that of services was 65.1 per cent.  Urban dwellers were equivalent to 69.1 per cent of all Turkish people in 2009 but the traditional agricultural sector still employed about 30 per cent of the population. 

More than 95 per cent Turkey’s four million agricultural enterprises are mixed crop‑livestock farms.  Farm sizes are less than 5 ha for 65 per cent of holdings which accounts for only 22 per cent of the agricultural land whereas the remaining 35 per cent of holdings with an individual area of greater than 5 ha occupy 78 per cent of the land.  The family farm is thus still the basic unit of agricultural production and family members provide almost all the farm labour requirements.  An overwhelming proportion of output is for subsistence.  Any surplus is usually small and is normally marketed through middlemen because of the distance to markets.  In spite of the small and fragmented nature of agriculture more than 45 per cent of rural income derives directly from agriculture which is the key component of rural household livelihoods. 

Poverty levels are high.  More than one third of the population relies on the agricultural sector for employment and for generation of income.  Household food security is very important to the impoverished populations of the rural and periurban areas and small scale farms that include the rearing of livestock contribute significantly to the nation's food supply and to local economies.  Most livestock are still managed traditionally, rely mainly on extensive and low quality grazing for their feed supply and nutrition and receive very little in the way of veterinary care.  The situation is exacerbated in winter as housing standards are low, feed is often of even poorer quality and cold and crowding produce stress that reduces tolerance to disease.  The fragmented nature of traditional agriculture is often accepted as the norm and its sustainability and contribution to the nation’s wealth and health are neglected.  Small scale farms nonetheless contribute to human welfare (especially that of old and infirm people and children), are guardians of the common patrimony.  They work, within their limits, to protect the soil, water and air and maintain and enhance biodiversity in addition to producing essential and high quality animal protein for the betterment of everyone.  The income derived from small farms is not only used to buy additional items of food but also helps to pay for other and various items including health services, school fees, water and electricity and new assets.  Products – meat, milk, eggs, wool and hides – from the livestock subsector in Turkey contributes 30 per cent of total agricultural Gross Domestic Product.  Notwithstanding the continuing importance of the subsector, Government financial and technical support for livestock production has often been neglected in spite of the fact that relatively small inputs can result in large to very large increases in outputs (Olhan et al 2010). 

This paper reviews some aspects of livestock production in Turkey.  It aims not only to provide basic information on the livestock subsector in the country but also to act as a background to a series of other papers which cover individual domestic animal species in more detail (Wilson et al 2011; Yilmaz et al 2011; 2012a; 2012b; 2012c; 2012d). 

Livestock numbers and outputs

Animal populations

Turkey’s very broad array of livestock includes cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goat, camel (one-humped and Bactrian), pig, horse, donkey, mule and poultry (domestic fowl (layers, broilers and backyard), turkey, goose, duck and pigeon).  Dogs are still used for guarding small ruminant flocks.  Apiculture and sericulture are also important activities generally included in the livestock subsector (GDARP 2011).The total ruminant (cattle, buffalo, sheep, goat) population was about 72.67 million head in 1960.  By 1980 this had risen to 81.39 million in 1980.  In the last 30 years the number has fallen to less than 37.69 million head in 2009 (Figure 1).  Numbers of cattle and sheep appear to have been at a peak in about 1980 before the declining trend set in but for goat and buffalo numbers have been declining steadily for at least 50 years since 1960.  Ruminant numbers overall in 2009 were only about 45 per cent of those in 1960.  The proportionate decline of the main food species has been greatest in goats in which species numbers in 2009 were only 32 per cent of those in 1980 but the population of the iconic Angora breed declined from 3.66 million to 147 thousand in that 30-year period, equivalent to a loss of 96 per cent of the first year’s standing stock.  Reductions in the numbers of water buffalo have also been massive with the 2009 population being only 14 per cent of that in 1980.  Sheep numbers in 2009 fell to 45 per cent of the 1980 population with cattle numbers declining by only 33 per cent.  The reduction in cattle numbers has not been accompanied by a concomitant reduction in product output as the genetic structure of the national herd changed from native types with low output towards exotic dairy or dual purpose breeds (known as “culture” breeds in Turkey) with the potential for much higher production (although at much higher feed, health and management costs).

Figure 1.  Changes in numbers of Turkish ruminant livestock species, 1960-2009 (Sources: FAO 1961-2000; Turkstat 2011)

Numbers of other quadruped species showed a similar downward trend over the longer term.  Camel numbers (about 3000 in 1980) declined by 66 per cent to 1000 in 2009 and pigs (8000 in 1980) by about 80 per cent to 1700 in 2009.  Transport animals have not escaped the negative tendency with horses being reduced from 807 000 animals in 1980 to 180 000 in 2009, donkeys from somewhere in the region of 2 million to 160 thousand and mules from more than 300 000 to less than 52 000 (Turkstat 2011). 

In contrast to the situation in quadrupeds poultry numbers have increased dramatically in recent years.  From a total of 29.9 million birds in 1960 and 58.2 million in 1980 the 2009 population was estimated at 234.1 million in 2009 (having been 323.9 million in 2005).  All except 1.7 per cent of total poultry are domestic fowl (“chickens”) with turkeys accounting for about 70 per cent of the non-fowl numbers, geese 19 per cent and ducks 11 per cent.  As for cattle there has been a major transformation of the genetic resource of poultry from traditional scavenging types to highly productive hybrid strains managed intensively.  Specialist layer birds represent about 30 per cent of the modern poultry subsector with 70 per cent being broilers.  The number of beehives has also shown an increasing trend, from about 2.2 million units in 1980 to approaching 4.5 million in 2009 (Turkstat 2011). 

In spite of the recent reductions in the numbers of ruminant animals Turkey still has one of the world’s largest national livestock populations. 

Livestock products and consumption 

Agricultural output increased from 4.8 billion dollars in 1998 to 39.5 billion dollars in 2008.  Agriculture’s annual rate of growth fluctuated rather widely on an annual basis between these two years but in spite of the 8-fold increase in the 11-year period its output did not increase as much as other sectors and its share of GDP fell from 12.1 per cent to 8.1 per cent (Table 1).  The livestock sector’s contribution to agricultural GDP has shown a steady downward trend from about 35 per cent in 1990 to about 23 per cent in 2008. 

Table 1. Agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP), share of agriculture in toral GDP and annual agricultural growth rate, 1998-2008


Total agricultural GDP

(Billion US$)

Share of agriculture in total GDP

(per cent)

Agricultural growth rate

(per cent)













































Source: Turkstat 2011

Output of red meat almost tripled in the 30-year period between 1980 and 2009 (Table 2).  Milk output also increased by about 30 per cent.  Poultry meat and eggs also showed large increases in output.  In contrast the production of hides, skins and wool was greatly reduced.  Differences among years in production show peaks and troughs that are mainly related to restocking (in part influenced by Government support and policies and in part due to world and especially European markets and prices) but some differences are related to greater output per animal.  This applies especially to increased quantities of milk and reflects changes in national herd structure from native breeds to crossbred and high grade exotic types.  Increased meat production per head by cattle is also due mainly to changes in breed structure.  The smaller sheep population has resulted in greatly reduced output of mutton and lamb mainly because there has not been a similar shift in breed structure from indigenous types to higher producing strains and local farmers have failed to adopt the plethora of crossbreds produced on Government farms (Yilmaz et al 2012d) which could possibly assist in increasing output.

Table 2. Output of main livestock products in Turkey, 1980-2009




(per cent) 1980-2009








Red meat ('000 t)


1 003

1 161

1 181

1 397

1 594

1 936


Milk ('000 t)

9 615

9  670

9 617

10 602

9 794

11 108

12 542


Hides (million)

2 283

2 764

3 133

2 037

2 298

1 639

1 507


Skins (million)









Wool (tonnes)

61 285

68 000

60 559

50 775

43 139

46 176

40 270


Poultry meat (‘000 t)







1 293


Eggs (million)


5 838

7 699

10 269

13 509

12 052

13 833


Source: SIS1993; 1996; 2001; 2002; 2009

In 2009 cattle were 25 per cent of all animal numbers slaughtered but contributed 79 per cent of meat produced.  Sheep were equivalent to 66 per cent of animal numbers slaughtered but their contribution to meat production was only 18 per cent.  Goat, buffalo, pig and camel (in that order of percentage contribution) provided the rest of national red meat production.  Cows contributed about 92 per cent to national milk production in 2009, sheep about 6 per cent and buffalo and goat combined the remaining 2 per cent.  A total of 1.5 million large ruminant hides was produced in 2009 (99.7 per cent cattle) as well as 18.8 million small ruminant skins (87.2 per cent sheep, 12.8 per cent Angora and common goats combined).  Sheep wool production was 68 000 tonnes in 1985, peaked at 72 897 tonnes in 1988 and fell to 44 166 tonnes in 2009.  Production of hair from common goats amounted to 4461 tonnes in 1985 but to only 2002 tonnes in 2009.  Mohair production was 2271 tonnes in 1985 but by 2009 production had fallen to a mere 174 tonnes (Turkstat 2011). 

Animal products, especially red meat and milk, have traditionally been important in the Turkish diet (Aksoy et al 2009).  Meat consumption has shifted over time, however, from red to white (and fish) due to changing costs and (possibly) tastes.  In 1960 the average daily energy intake  was 2881 Kcal per person of which 15.7 per cent was from animal products whereas in the early 2000s calorie intake had risen to 3357 but that derived from animal products had declined to 9.5 per cent.  Over the same period the average daily protein intake was 90.8 g of which 27.8 per cent was derived from animal products at the beginning and had risen only slightly to 95.4 g at the end but the share of animal protein had fallen to 22.3 per cent.  Fat consumption increased from 67.7 g per caput per day in 1960 to 91.6 g in 2002 with the share of animal fats falling from 44.5 to 22.7 per cent over the period.  The 35.3 per cent increase in fat consumption largely reflects increased use of cooking (vegetable) oil (Akbay and Boz 2005).

Red meat consumption per person fell slightly between 1960 and 2009 due to a combination of factors including a greatly increased human population, high rates of inflation, increased consumer prices and continuing low incomes.  Total per caput meat consumption increased, however, between 1960 and the early twenty-first century due to a switch from red meat to poultry (whose consumer price is much below that of beef).  Large and small ruminant meat accounted for 67 per cent of all meat eaten in 1960 but this had fallen to about 25 per cent by the early years of the 2000s.  Consumption of milk fell from 174.7 kg in 1960 to about 95 kg in 2009 for reasons that are similar to the fall in red meat consumption and sheep and goat milk production has fallen dramatically.  Egg consumption increased more than 4-fold during the period under review as did that of honey (Turkstat 2011). 

Livestock genetic resources

Archaeological evidence shows that sheep, cattle and goat were domesticated in Anatolia or in the nearby Fertile Crescent and Turkey is a major world country in terms of the diversity of its farm animal genetic resources.  This diversity results from the accumulation and blending of stock from the many and varied cultures that have occupied and lived in Turkey over many millennia.  The varied environmental conditions that result from Turkey’s position on the planet and its wide range of altitude and climate and the preferences of its people also contribute to the diversity of the country’s domestic animal resources (Ertugrul et al 2010; GDARP 2011). 

Sources differ in the numbers they consider to be the types or breeds of Turkish livestock.  There is also considerable confusion in the nomenclature not only outside but also within the country.  Several native or indigenous and exotic types are listed as are various crosses between these although some of the crosses have had limited utility and an ephemeral life.  Thus according to one authority domestic animals comprise six varieties of cattle, 13 of sheep and four of goat but none is identified individually (MARA/FAO 2001).  An earlier publication on Turkish biological diversity identifies six types of cattle, one of buffalo, 13 of sheep (of which one has six subtypes), four of goat, one of horse (with three types), four of domestic fowl, one of turkey and one of goose (Anon 1987).  A search of one authoritative source (Mason 1996) brings to light several to many more breeds and types of livestock than the previous two sources as does the breeds database of the Food and Agriculture Organization (DAD-IS 2012).  Turkey’s own official inventory of breeds includes six cattle, one water buffalo, 25 sheep, five goats, two domestic fowl (and an additional “layer hybrid”), two pigeons, one rabbit, three dogs, two cats, one honey bee and three silkworm lines but admits to deficiencies in not listing horses and ducks (GDARP 2011).  Economic and social factors have increasingly exerted pressure on what may be termed the land races of Turkey and many are greatly reduced in numbers and veering towards extinction (FAO 2000). 

Cattle and buffalo

In spite of official efforts to modify the genetic nature of Turkey’s cattle population many animals in the traditional production systems are a nondescript local type (which can be loosely referred to as the Anatolian Brown).  Several native types (including Anatolian Black, East Anatolian Red and South Anatolian Red) have been collectively nominated Anatolian native (Mason 1996).  Distinct breeds and breed groups have been identified on morphological or regional grounds but cluster analysis and genetic distancing studies have shown that several to most of these are closely related (Ozbeyaz et al 1999).  Many of these native types are being indiscriminately “graded up” to Brown Swiss and other exotic breeds including Simmental and Holstein-Friesian.  Very little work has been done on the single water buffalo type.  A recent publications on cattle has provided detailed information on six native cattle types (Yilmaz et al 2012b) and one on buffalo covers its history, use and status (Yilmaz et al 2012a). 

Sheep and goat 

Most Turkish sheep are probably descendants of the mouflon Ovis moufflon (Zeuner 1963) and ancient Turkey had a major role in the domestication process (Zeder 2008).  Several types of Turkish sheep are not strictly indigenous as they have the same or very similar contiguous populations in neighbouring countries (Save-Focus 2005).  Ancient Turkish breeds have, however, been instrumental in the formation of other genotypes by crossing with locals and notably the Mytiline of Lesbos in Greece (Mason 1996).  Fat-tailed, fat-rumped and thin-tailed groups are usually recognized and recent phylogenetic analyses based on genetic distance estimates have shown the close relationships among three fat-tailed breeds and a clear separation between the fat‑tailed group and those belonging to the thin-tailed one (Uzun et al 2006).  Turkey’s own classification (GDARP 2011) uses Fat-tailed Native (9 breeds), Fat-rumped Native (1), Semi-fat-tailed Native (1), Semi-fat-tailed Native (4), Thin and Long Tailed Native (3) and Thin and Long Tailed Breeds and Types (7).  A recent paper (Yilmaz et al 2012d) provides descriptions and production characteristics of 12 fat-tailed and 6 thin-tailed types and 7 crossbreeds: most of the last are exotic x indigenous but some are indigenous x indigenous.  Crossbreeding of sheep started soon after the establishment of the Turkish Republic in the 1920s and in the last 80 years there have been multiple attempts to modify the natural gene pool.  Partly as a result, many distinct breed types are in danger of or have already suffered extinction but, in general, crossbreeding has not led to successful outcomes through lack of funding and long term effort but mainly because local small scale producers have not been convinced of the utility of the novel types. 

The wild goat or bezoar Capra aegagrus ranges widely in Turkey, east from the Datca peninsula and through the Taurus and Anti‑Taurus mountains of southeastern, eastern and northeastern Anatolia (Kence 1987).  There can be little doubt that domestic goats in Turkey developed mainly in situ from this wild ancestor.  The iconic Angora that produces mohair is clearly separated from the “common” or “hair” goat.  The official catalogue of Turkish livestock (GDARP 2011) lists the Angora and five hair breeds as Turkish Native goats but it is possible to identify as many as 17 breeds or lines in the country (Yilmaz et al 2012c).  Less attention has been paid to crossbreeding in goats than in sheep.  There has, however, been more private effort with this species than with sheep mainly using regional and international dairy breeds in efforts to increase milk production.  The once common Angora has lost proportionately more numbers than hair goats and the quality of its mohair has also declined.

Minor food species

The pig may well have been domesticated in eastern Anatolia as early as the Neolithic (Meadow et al 2001).  The archaeological evidence shows that the pig has a very long and almost certainly continuous history in Turkey.  In general, however, it is only the Tunguz Turks (historical immigrants from Manchuria and from whom the Turkish word for pig ‘domus’ is derived) that have raised pigs both before and after the advent of Islam.  The pig is now a very minor species raised almost solely by a small number of Turks of Greek origin and there is some evidence that its husbandry is being discouraged by some sections of the administration (Wilson et al 2011). 

Both the one-humped (Camelus dromedarius) and Bactrian (C.bactrianus) camels are present in Turkey.  Formerly more widespread than at present they were transport, dairy and meat animals but are now used mainly by the resource-poor Yoruk people as transport beasts and kept as hobby animals for the popular Turkish sport of came wrestling (Yilmaz et al 2011). 

Rabbit production is a very minor activity which may be due in part to the prohibition of eating its meat by the powerful Alevi-Bektashi sect.  There was some minor activity in the 1960s including imports of New Zealand White by the Ankara Poultry Research Institute as well as imports of California and Chinchilla types (Testik 1992).  The Angora rabbit (Turkish = Ankara Tavsanis) is registered as Notification Number 2004/39 promulgated in the Government Gazette number 25 668 of 12 December 2004 by the Animal Breeds Registration Committee of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock: supposedly a dual-purpose meat and fibre animal its main product is 700-1000 g of fibre per year produce from four shearings (GDARP 2011). 

Poultry, bees and silkworms 

As already indicated poultry numbers and production of meat and eggs have increased almost exponentially since the 1950s.  This is due in its entirety to “new” production but not necessarily to the detriment of “old” production.  New production has resulted from a step change with the introduction of hybrid layers and broilers and the industrialization of the subsector which supplies mainly the urban market.  Old production of the backyard scavenging type continues to be important in the rural sector.  The changes in genetics and technology even for the early part of this revolution led to massive increases in output whereby between 1950 and 1985 bird numbers increased from 24.2 million to 54.9 million (2.26 times) whilst egg production rose from 45.3 thousand tonnes to 343.4 thousand tonnes (7.58 times) and meat output from 18.0 thousand tonnes to 260.0 thousand tonnes (14.4 times) (Akbay 1990).  Poultry meat production increased again between 1995 and 2007 being 4-times greater in the latter than in the former year (Cinar et al 2009) and poultry meat production also doubled between 2000 and 2009 (Senturk and Guler 2012).  Turkey has developed three of its own layer hybrids for the industrial sector and these – named ‘atak’, ‘atak-s’ and ‘atabey’ have been registered by the Animal Breeds Registration Committee (Notice Number 2006/15 in Government Gazette number 26 147 of 22 April 2006).  Two native fowl breeds – ‘denizli’ and ‘gerze’ – have also been registered under Notification Number 2004/39 in Government Gazette number 25 668 of 12 December 2004. 

Average honey yield per hive increased from 5.3 kg in 1960 to 17.9 kg in 2002.  The number of beehives in 2003 was three times greater than in 1960 but due to increased output per hive, honey production increased almost 10 times in the period (Vural and Karaman 2011).  Notification Number 2004/39 of the Animal Breeds Registration Committee included the Caucasian honey bee and three native silkworm lines. 

Transport animals

All three domestic equines – horse, ass and mule – have a long history in Turkey.  The Central Asian steppes, the original home of the Turkish people, are a probable centre of origin of the horse about 5000 years ago (Turkmen 1996).  A major historical reason for keeping donkeys in Turkey was for the breeding of mules.  Whereas the archaeological evidence is not clear, ancient texts attest to the fact that mules were at least present in Anatolia as early as the first part of the Second Millennium BC as both carriage and riding animals for important people (Michel 2004) although this does not necessarily mean they were bred there. 

In common with a large part of the world in the 21st century, equines in Turkey have lost much of their role as mainstays of the rural economy and have been replaced by mechanical means of transport and power as a consequence of which their numbers diminished greatly during the second half of the twentieth century.  There has been some academic study of horses over this period (see Yilmaz et al 2012e for a partial bibliography) but there is very little information on the much abused beasts of burden that are the donkey (Yilmaz and Wilson 2012a) and the mule (Yilmaz and Wilson 2012b).  A total of 24 “functional” breeds of horse has been identified for Turkey of which five or six are extinct but only two of these – the Turkish Arab and the Turkish Thoroughbred – benefit from organized breed societies.  There is limited support for horses from Government with five breeds having recently been added to the cryopreservation project (see Subsection “Cryopreservation” hereafter).  The official “catalogue” of Turkish livestock (GDARP 2011) does not, however, list any equine breeds although at least one horse breed has been registered by the Turkish Standards Institute.  There is virtually no public nor private support for donkeys and mules. 

Dogs and cats 

When the present inhabitants of modern Turkey arrived in the country from Central Asia in the middle of the eleventh century their herds and flocks were accompanied by the guard dogs that protected these livestock and hunting dogs that assisted in the search for food.  In the one thousand years since the Turkish arrival in Asia Minor and Thrace several dog breeds have developed.  Whereas Turkish hunting dogs are analogous with those of much of Europe the “shepherd” dogs of Turkey are guard dogs bred for and trained to protect the flocks and not to control the sheep.  The Turkish Kennel Club considers, in view of the size of the country up to 20 breeds of dog may eventually be identified but a recent review has identified only 11 (Yilmaz et al 2012f).  Of these five are molossers, one is a sighthound, two are scenthounds and two are small Spitz type.  Two molosser breeds (Kangal and Akbash) have local breed societies or associations and are well known and have breed societies internationally.  The Turkish Kennel Club is a private sector organization formed to promote the keeping of dogs and to assist owners to join together in clubs and establish standards for the breeds.  Three of the breeds are registered with the Animal Breeds Registration Committee (GDARP 2011). 

Two breeds of cat – the Angora and the Van are recognized in Turkey and both have been granted registration by the Animal Breeds Registration Committee (GDARP 2011). 

Conservation of domestic livestock genetic resources

The import and crossing on or replacement of native breeds by foreign genetics has increased individual performance in dairy cattle and poultry, to a lesser extent in beef cattle and hardly at all in sheep and goats.  Dairy success has been achieved partly via government programmes that provide cheap input and high output prices.  The genetic composition of the dairy herd at the turn of the 21st century was 41.2 per cent Brown Swiss, 28.2 per cent crossbred, 18.3 per cent Simmental, 12.0 per cent indigenous breeds and 0.3 per cent  Holstein (Erdogan et al 2004).  The proportion of Brown Swiss and Simmental appears to be much higher than in a study 10 years earlier which identified crossbreds and indigenous cattle as the main dairy types although in eastern Turkey as a whole 37 per cent of all cattle were crossbreds (Thompson and Hart 1994).  Farmers and Government alike confuse "efficiency" with scale. 

Legislative aspects 

The Turkish Government has taken steps to conserve some native genetic resources and uses all of the three main methods (in situ and ex situ conservation of live animals and cryo­preservation of genetic material) habitually employed to this end. 

The Grand National Assembly approved “The Law of Animal Breeding, Number 4631” on 28 February 2001.  Article 14 of this Law states “MARA [Ministry of Agricultura and Rural Affairs] must provide necessary precautions and apply projects to preserve all species and breeds” and authorized the setting up of a Farm Animal Genetic Resources National Committee (FAnGRNC) and an Animal Breed Registration Committee (ABRC).  Breed registration and conservation activities are managed by these committees which also identifies Areas of Research Opportunity and assigns priorities to research programmes (Table 3) (GDARP 2011). 

Table 3.  Priority levels of Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock projects

Area of Research Opportunity

Research activity

Type of production/activity




Large ruminant production


Dairy cattle breeding


Large ruminant diseases


Cattle farming


Animal nutrition


Socio-economic studies


Water buffalo/other large ruminant breeding


Organic production


Small ruminant production


Sheep breeding


Goat breeding


Small ruminant diseases




Socio-economic studies


Organic production


Poultry and small farm animals


Poultry/small domestic animal diseases








Pets and experimental animals


Socio-economic studies


Organic production


Veterinary medicines and vaccines


Animal vaccines/biological substances


Use of biotechnology


Veterinary medicines


Animal Protection Law Number 5199 came into force in Turkey in 2004.  The law and its regulations cover many issues relating to animal welfare and covers wild animals, farm animals, companion animals (including street animals), laboratory animals, slaughterhouses, pet shops and animals involved in traffic accidents. 

Legislation for “Supporting Animal Production” was promulgated by the Cabinet in 2005.  Under this statute limited support – essentially financial subsidies – is provided to private producers for maintenance of native livestock breeds 

in situ and ex situ conservation of live animals 

The Preservation of Farm Animal Genetic Resources Project was established in 1995 and initiated conservation of some cattle breeds considered to be endangered.  In 1996 and 1997 breeds of sheep, goats, domestic (water) buffalo, domestic fowl and silkworm were added to the project followed by the bee in 2002.  In 2011 a total of 12 livestock breeds, one bee type and three silkworm lines were being conserved either in situ or ex situ on national or provincial Government farms or stations (Table 4).  Some horses, not included in the foregoing list, are being conserved in vivo but ex situ at the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnical Institute at Marmara Research Centre (GEBI/MRC) and Lalahan Livestock Central Research Institute (LLCRI) (GDARP, 2011).  Under the “Supporting Animal Production” legislation some 236 producers with a combined total of 3131 head of cattle, buffalo, sheep and goat and 5822 bee colonies situated in 18 provinces have received direct support since 2005.  Producers have received support for in situ conservation of six cattle breeds (Turkish Native Black, South Anatolian Red, Native Southern Red, East Anatolian Red, Turkish Grey and Zavot), the Anatolian water buffalo, nine sheep breeds (Sakiz, Cine Capari, Imroz, Kivircik, Herik, Karagul, Norduz, Daglic and Hemsin) and three goat breeds (Angora, Kilis and Honamli) and for the Caucasian bee. 

Cryopreservation and molecular characterization (TURKHAYGEN-I project) 

In 2005 GEBI/MRC and the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (STRCT) prepared a project entitled “In Vitro Conservation and Preliminary Molecular Identification of some Turkish Domestic Animal Genetic Resources (TURKHAYGEN-I)” (Arat 2011).  Consequent on several iterations the project was approved by STRCT in March 2007 with a budget of 9.1 million Turkish Lira (about US$ 5.0 million).  The implementation period was 4-5 years with expected completion by the end of 2011 (Arat 2011). 

As indicated in the project document its expected outcomes were:

•        establishment of DNA and viable cell banks (gametes, embryos, somatic cells and tissue samples) of animal genetic resources through cryopreservation at GEBI/MRC and at LLCRI;

•        genetic characterization and registration of valuable species and breeds; and

•        enhancement of the competitiveness of national human resources in the area of animal husbandry and the building of a critical mass of researcher capacity.

Collection of genetic material for cattle began in 2006 with other species being included in the programme in 2007.  There has been an intensive programme of cryopreservation of genetic material for six breeds of cattle (Yilmaz et al 2012b), 13 breeds of sheep (Yilmaz et al 2012d), five breeds of goat (Yilmaz et al 2012c) and five breeds of horse (Yilmaz et al 2012e).  It is expected that this resource will be expanded for preservation, conservation and use of Turkey’s native genetic resources in the future. 

Conclusions and policies related to domestic livestock resources

Modern Turkey's experience in livestock development mirrors the general international trend with an early phase of large scale import of "superior" stock, a second phase of promoting large scale dairy farm and feed (fattening) lots, a third phase of (putative) support for small holders and for native breeds and a fourth phase of focussing on the broader issues of the value of livestock to the community.  Past policy has not, however, been well articulated and has often been inconsistent.  The state services have provided insufficient guidance and leadership for reaching international efficiency standards or for creating competitive production systems.  Poor implementation has not reduced rural poverty (increased wealth) nor prevented or reduced rural-urban migration.  The success in recent large scale poultry production but not in red meat production, in spite of considerable notional support, begs the question of the overall effectiveness of past policies and activities. 

Legislation and support in the past were ostensibly designed to increase the output of livestock products.  Internally, the country is considered to be self-sufficient in most livestock products (and export of some items is officially encouraged) but most people do not consume the amounts of animal protein recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organization.  The mass of small livestock farmers remain poor and prone to food insecurity largely due to low output, the high cost of inputs (subsidies are directed at certain subsectors only) and inefficiencies in the market chain.  Livestock’s vast potential to add value and contribute to national GDP and household income and to food security has yet, therefore, to be fully exploited.  Reforms of the livestock sector have been initiated at various times with the intention of overcoming these deficiencies but have not generally been very successful and may, indeed, have had a negative impact on the productivity and competitiveness of the livestock sector and especially so for small producers. 

A great deal of research has been done on livestock breeds and some aspects of production but much of this has been of the “ivory tower” variety.  Poor and inadequate links between research and extension have not led to major increases in production and productivity.  Budgetary allocations to agriculture in general and to the livestock sector in particular have been extremely low in relation to even its constrained contribution to national wealth.  There remains, however, a great deal of underlying potential for the livestock sector not only to fulfil national needs and aspirations but also to supply an international market with general, speciality and niche products. 

Government livestock policy should embrace a coherent and holistic framework covering breeding, nutrition and feeding, disease control, added value, and marketing and research and extension.  Such a policy should be designed to:

•        achieve appropriate management systems for sustainable development of the livestock industry;

•        focus research efforts on the resolution of real current and emerging problems;

•        effectively improve and conserve available animal genetic resources not only through public sector and academic institutions but also through producers themselves and civil society and farmer organizations;

•        achieve effective control of animal diseases and pests to conform to relevant international codes and standards;

•        ensure quality control and the safety of foods of animal origin through, for example, rigorous meat inspection and enforcement of strict milk and other dairy products hygiene;

•        ensure quality standards and quality assurance at all levels of production and throughout the marketing chain in order to increase the competitiveness of the livestock industry; and

•        address cross-cutting issues that have or may have an impact on the livestock sector including land, water, environment, infrastructure, insecurity, livestock-wildlife interactions, gender and capacity building.


The authors gratefully thank Professor Doctor Sadik Metin Yener and Professor Doctor Mehmet Ertugrul (both of Ankara University), Professor Doctor Firat Cengiz (Yuzuncu Yil Unoversity) and Doctor Oya Akin (General Directorate of Agricultural Research and Policy, Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock) for their constructive comments on earlier drafts of this paper. 


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Received 29 June 2012; Accepted 31 July 2012; Published 3 September 2012

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