Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Maltese Goat Breed

This breed is known throughout the Mediterranean and it was common for farmers from other countries such as Sardegna, to come and buy goats from Maltese farmers. The Maltese goat is typically black and is renowned for its high yield of milk. Unfortunately, at the moment, there are no 100% pure-bred goats in Malta. However one can still find them in Sardegna in Italy. The drastic decline of this breed from the Maltese Islands was the discovery of Brucellosis (Brucella melitensis) in the goat’s milk by Sir Temi Zammit. A misconception was initiated in that only goats’ milk contained the disease this urging Maltese farmers to look for other milk producing farm animals.  Infact the government of that time supported this idea by having a programme against goat rearing and proposed a scheme that gave a cow (Holstein Friesian) in exchange for five goats (1).

Maltese Goats - Photo by Salvatore Pipia
The Maltese goat has a white body with long hair, black head and large dropping ears and originated from the Middle East. This breed does not have horns. It is usually raised in small flocks of about 40 - 60 heads. Kidding occurs during the whole year, with a concentration during the months of November and February. Milk production is about 350L with a high fat and protein content, 3.8% and 3.3% respectively. Prolificity is of 180% as is considered as high. (Rubino, R.; 1993) (2).

Due to the lack of pasture land, an open yard system is commonly used for housing goats in Malta (2). Shelter needs to be provided in case of bad weather. However in countries having a higher availability of pastureland, the extensive production of goats is possible. Housing goats in the dark for several hours each day in the spring and summer months will result in an earlier estrus. Conversely, artificial lighting in the goat barn may delay estrus in autumn (6).

In Malta up to the late forties, the herdsman would take his flock round the village streets where he would milk the goat at one’s doorstep. (3) Nowadays the small portable milking machines are preferred. Milking parlors are not commonly used as the number of goats in a flock is usually small (2).

Goat milk has played an important role in human nutrition for a long time because of its nutritional and dietetic characteristics (Morand-Fehr et al., 2000). The Maltese goat as an indigenous breed, supplied households with milk and before the introduction of the Holstein Fresians, goat milk was the only source of milk. 

The importance of goat milk in infant diets is growing probably because goat milk in some cases is less allergenic than cow milk. Maltese Goat milk has often been processed into cheese. Goat cheese is of a hard-texture, made with full-cream raw milk. Curdling is carried out in woody tubs at 35 °C for 45 min by adding lamb’s rennet. The ripening ranges from a few days to some months (Rubino, 1996). Its sensorial profile is particularly appreciated among cheese tasters. An interesting study elaborated the effect of lactation on the flavour of cheese made with raw milk of Maltese goats bred in Sicily (Italy). The goat cheese flavour was analyzed for the first time by Solid Phase Microextraction (SPME) coupled with Gas chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) (5).

In my opinion several actions can be taken towards the improvement of the situation of this breed. The loss of such a valuable breed can mean loss of agricultural biodiversity in the island of origin, that is Malta, but also in the Mediterranean context.

Reintroduction of the breed into Malta

The modern goats breeds are said to be reproducing nicely. Although goats have done considerable damage to the local flora in the past, they are more suitable for Malta then cows which are adapted to graze on pastures, rather than the rocky hills that are more typical of the Maltese islands (1)

So far there are no plants to reintroduce the Maltese goats back to Malta. The use of goats has decreased in these years and the only goat breed one can find in Malts is mainly the Syrian, which are mainly red in colour and which used to be imported from Syria and then exported to North Africa. Although no pure-breed Maltese goats remain in Malta, one cannot exclude that some of the local goats may be closely related to the pure Maltese breed. It is a pity that having a breed with strong cultural roots is totally absent from its place of origin. The Maltese male goat is depicted on stones from the Tarxien prehistoric temple (3).

There are various initiatives which the local government can take so as to reintroduce this breed. Being a member of the European Union, we can benefit from the various funds to achieve this aim. LEADER projects and LIFE projects have aided such purposes in several countries in the past. Nonetheless such initiatives can be taken to Malta’s advantage and conserve local biodiversity (8).

Kindly acknowledge Jeanette Borg when using any part of the text in this article.
(Reference: Borg J. 2008, The Maltese goat breed)


  1. Galea De Giovanni Martin; Agro-Biodiversity Campaign; Paper on Maltese Agro-Biodiversity; Friends of the Earth

  1. Blundel R.; 1994; Reintroduction of the local breeds of sheep and goats in Malta; CIHEAM; Options Mediterraneennes; Department of Agriculture, Government Farm for Research and Development; Ghammieri; Malta
  2. Busuttil Salvino; Agriculture in Malta: A Historical Note; Options Mediterraneennes; United Nations Environment Programme, Co-ordinating Unit for the Mediterranean Action Plan, Athens, Greece

  1. Gigli Isalbel, Sardina Maria T, Budelli Elena, Finocchiao Raffaella; Genetic and Protein Polymorphism at CSN1S1 Locus in Two Goat Breeds; Universita degli Studi di Palermo, Dipartimento S.En.Fi.Mi.Zo., Palermo, Italia.

  1. B. Chiofalo, A. Zumbo, R. Costa, L. Liotta, L. Mondello, P. Dugo and V. Chiofalo; Characterization of Maltese goat milk cheese flavour using SPME-GC/MS; South African Journal of Animal Science 2004, 34 (Supplement 1); South African Society for Animal Science Peer-reviewed paper: 8th International Conference on Goats

  1. Camilleri K; 2001; The economic aspects of breeding sheep and goats in Malta; Dissertation Diploma in Agricultural Sciences; University of Malta

  1. Uysal-Pala C., Y Karagul-Yuceer, Pala A. Savas T.; Sensory Properties of Drinkable yogurt made from milk of different goat breeds; Journal of sensory studies. Malden, USA: Blackwell   Publishing Inc 2006 Oct., v. 21, no. 5, p. 520-533

  1. Horst Korn, Rainer Schliep, Cordula Epple; 2005; Opportunities of EU Agricultural Policy Instruments for Biodiversity Conservation and Integrated Rural Development in Protected Areas of the New Member States; Report of the workshop convened by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation at the International Academy for Nature Conservation;

  1. G.M. Vacca, L. Chianese, A. Ghibellini, V. Carcangiu, R. Mauriello, P.P. Bini; αS1-casein genetic variants in Sarda goat breed; Dipartimento di Biologia Animale; Università di Sassari

  1. Gabina D.; Management of European Sheep and Goat Genetic Resources; Options Mediterraneennes; Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Zaragoza; CIHEAM; Spain

Other useful links;

Heritability Estimates of Lactation Traits in Maltese Goats

Reintroduction of Maltese Sheep and Goats

Brucellosis and Maltese Goats in the Mediterranean

Characterisation of Maltese Goat milk cheese flavour


  1. really enjoyed this reading Jeanette! One of these days we need to met up for a chit chat! How i miss my 'rooths' reading your text's and looking at your pictures, i worked so many years in Swedish agriculture one different levels and several years for the government as EU consultant on the agriculture department. Next event you doing.. i for sure will skup everything and tag along.. just so busy times all the time!

    Keep up your impressive work!

    Anna Colley

  2. thanks Anna! feel free to come and meet us


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