Climate change and risks 3 min

Major European studies for sustainable small ruminant farming

In 2023, the European Horizon 2020 project SMARTER, for SMAll RuminanTs breeding for Efficiency and Resilience, coordinated by Genetics, Physiology and Breeding Systems (GENPhySE - INRAE/INP ENSAT/ENVT) laboratory at the INRAE Occitanie-Toulouse centre, came to end. With 7 million euros of funding over 5 years, the project has produced essential results for meeting the strategic needs of small ruminant farms in terms of resilience and efficiency.

Published on 14 March 2024

illustration Major European studies for sustainable small ruminant farming

Genetic selection of small ruminants for more sustainable livestock farming

The main objective of this large-scale programme, involving 26 partners from 13 countries, was to develop new, collaborative strategies to improve the resilience and efficiency of small ruminant livestock farms, namely sheep and goats. By efficiency, we mean making better use of feed resources (feed efficiency, mobilisation of reserves, limiting gas emissions, etc.) available to the animals.


These new strategies respond to a growing demand from today's society: to enable the livestock sector to become more sustainable... A more sustainable livestock sector, but also more resilient, capable of continuing to function in extreme environmental conditions and acute stresses (nutritional, infectious). Resilience involves improving the health and longevity of animals, and adapting their social behaviour and movements. It also involves providing short-term responses to biotic stress (nutritional, infectious) and abiotic stress (emotional stress).


As part of an agroecological approach, the scientists worked on new selection strategies for 46 European sheep and goat breeds, covering almost 5,000 farms. They have developed a number of projects aimed at limiting the use of concentrated feed and plant protection products, among other things, in order to reduce the environmental footprint of small ruminant farming. Particular attention was paid to animal welfare, health and efficient use of local feed resources.


This large-scale project ended in 2023 with a final meeting attended by 59 researchers and 12 stakeholders, demonstrating that the project had been a success.

Innovative methods and tools for the international community

The work carried out by the partners involved in SMARTER has looked at various approaches aimed at improving resilience and efficiency of sheep and goat sectors, both at the level of individual animal, population or breed, and at the more comprehensive level of the farming system.


These studies have led to major advances in the breeding and selection of small ruminants through the development of new efficiency and resilience criteria that can be used in selection, and improvements in the identification, understanding and modelling of possible trade-offs between efficiency and resilience. This mainly concerns 3 models. The first focuses on resource allocation and the study of trade-offs between resilience and efficiency, while the second looks at genetic selection based on statistical indicators of resilience. Finally, the last model, centred on the herd, simulates the economic interactions between the animal, management, prices and local conditions.

New methods have been put in place to produce animal selection tools, with the aim of international collaboration for genetic evaluations shared between countries. Collaboration, logistics and international evaluation agreements have been signed for a number of key breeds, such as the Saanen goat and Manech, Texel and Suffolk sheep.

In addition, the project has produced a unique international genomic database containing around 12,000 sheep and 6,000 goats, as well as new methods for characterising breed diversity in relation to their adaptive traits.

This work has led to the publication of 55 scientific articles, and the knowledge generated has advanced the small ruminant breeding sector.  It has opened up new avenues of research and new projects such as "Grass to Gas" and "Phenopasto", which are particularly interested in greenhouse gas emissions.

SMARTER H2020 has a great future ahead of it.

Communication centre Occitanie-Toulouse

Scientific contact

Rachel Rupp Project coordinatorGENPHYSE


Learn more


H2020 GEroNIMO: thinking about the breeding of tomorrow

Within the framework of the European Horizon 2020 program, the “Genome and Epigenome eNabled breedIng in MOnogastrics” (GEroNIMO) project, involving teams from the Genetics, Physiology and Breeding Systems (GenPhySE) laboratory at the INRAE Occitanie-Toulouse center and the Animal Genetics and Integrative Biology (GABI) laboratory in Jouy-en-Josas, has been awarded 7 million euros over 5 years. This Europe-wide multi-actor project studies ways to improve genetic selection in animal breeding and to conserve genetic and epigenetic diversity, in order to provide new knowledge and perspectives to stakeholders, while taking into account current issues associated with sustainable development.

21 June 2021


When genetic selection preserves traditions

ARTICLE BY EXPLORER - What would be the Pyrenean cultures and in particular those of the Basque Country and Bearn without sheep? An integral part of traditional agricultural life, they have shaped the landscape for generations on both sides of the border. In 2021, the entire livestock sector, along with researchers, is taking action to preserve these indigenous breeds: the Latxa on the Spanish side and the Manech and Basco-Béarnaise on the French side. In this way, the ARDI project was born, which works for extensive agriculture and optimizes ancestral practices through genetic selection. Meeting with the "Basque, Navarrese and Spanish" agronomist Andrés Legarra, research director at INRAE Occitanie-Toulouse, from the GenPhySE laboratory.

14 June 2021


Towards more robust piglets at birth!

In order to improve piglet survival at birth, a team from INRAE Occitanie-Toulouse's Genetics and Physiology of Breeding Systems (Genphyse) and Mathematics and Applied Informatics Toulouse (MIAT) has prioritized and modelled the importance of the genes involved in the key biological processes of muscle development in this species. This interdisciplinary work was published in Scientific Reports.

22 March 2022