Vremščica plateau a Centre for Sustainable Recultivation's education facility
Ljubljana, 25 December - Vremščica, a Karst plateau in south-western Slovenia, has since 2010 been home to the Vremščica Infrastructure Centre for Sustainable Recultivation (ISCR), an education and research facility also known for organic production of sheep milk and cheese. The centre is currently studying ways to improve the health and reproduction of sheep.
The Vremščica ISCR was founded in 2000 by the Ljubljana Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in collaboration with the Biotechnical Faculty. It is located on the Vremščica plateau between the towns of Senožeče and Divača and the Vremska Valley at around 800 metres above sea level. Its head Andrej Škibin has told the STA that since the centre owns a small amount of land, it has to rent 268 hectares, of which 110 hectares of meadows and pastures, from individual landowners and the Farmland and Forest Fund.
Its very name shows that the centre was founded to prevent spontaneous afforestation in Karst areas with the help of domestic animals. "Although we have unfortunately seen from the past experience that spontaneous afforestation cannot be fully prevented, so a saw and a mower still need to be used or else young trees continue overgrowing," said Škibin. Mowing on Vremščica produces hay, which is then used in winter to feed the animals, primarily sheep, from whose milk they make some products for sale.
The centre focuses on Slovenian indigenous breeds when selecting animals for breeding. "These were already present on Vremščica before, but we have so far cleansed the flock of all cross-breeds and we now have only the breed of the Slovenian indigenous Istrian Pramenka sheep and the Cika cattle breed, which we do not use for milk. We would also like to have pure Krškopolje pig breed, while we now have cross-breeds in this group," he explained.
There are currently over 400 ewes and 25 rams at the farm, and this year they had around 90 ewe lambs and several ram lambs, which will be ready for mating next year. Škibina said that the farm produces between 25,000 and 27,000 litres of milk annually, from which they make five to six tonnes of cheese, Albumin curd cheese, and white sheep cheese in brine.
Education facility for students and researchers
The Vremščica ISCR remains true to its original mission: "We train future veterinaries, veterinary technicians and animal farmers, who can also do their mandatory apprenticeship. We are increasingly involved in various research projects and scientific experiments," stressed Škibin.
Janko Mrkun, the head of the Clinic for Reproduction and Large Animals at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, said that more than ten projects had been carried out on Vremščica so far.
"The projects largely focus on sustainable animal husbandry and on the recultivation of the Karst area, where the plateau is located, and on studying the impact of animals on ecosystems in this biotope. Co-existence of wild and domestic animals is also being studied, especially in marginal areas where the forest meets pastures. Studies of ecotoxicology, foremost the impact of veterinary medicines on microsystems in the Karst areas, have also been carried out here."
The centre has conducted studies into the effects of feed additives on animal health and on changes in the environment, into systems for controlled grazing using a temporary electric fence, and the development of silvopasture systems of land use in marginal areas. Studies of safe storage and use of biodegradable organic waste which is generated in animal breeding, and the monitoring of the toxicity of certain organisms that inhabit animal faeces and other waste and soil have also been carried out, according to its website.
Ongoing project of studying improving health status and reproduction of sheep
Mrkun said that one of the main ongoing projects on Vremščica and in Spodnje Jezersko, in the north of the country, is studying an approach to improve the health status and reproduction of sheep.
"The project aims to increase productivity and sustainability of the animal husbandry sector of sheep. Research involves two Slovenian indigenous sheep breeds. On Vremščica, it is the Istrian Pramenka, which is a typical seasonal breeder, which means the animals are ready for breeding in the autumn, while in Jezersko area, we are studying the Jezersko-Solčavska sheep, which is a continuous breeder, meaning it can have lambs throughout the year."
Mrkun also said that an international project was in the making to study the co-existence of large animals entitled Resistant Animals in Sustainable Mixed Systems of Free Breeding, which is known as ROAM-FREE within the European Initiative CORE Organic ERA-Net.
The centre cooperates with several countries on the project, including Norway, Denmark, Romania and Italy while seeking to establish how the co-existence of various animals impacts the environment and anima health. The focus is on free breeding of pigs. On Vremščica, we will try to include the Slovenian indigenous Krškopolje pig in the research project," he said.