The aims of this study were to explore the variability of milk composition, coagulation properties, and cheese-making traits of the Sarda goat breed, and to investigate the effects of animal and farm factors, and the geographic area (Central-East vs. South-West) of an insular region of Italy, Sardinia. A total of 570 Sarda goats reared in 21 farms were milk-sampled during morning milking. Individual milk samples were analyzed for composition, traditional milk coagulation properties (MCP), modeled curd-firming over time parameters (CFt), and cheese-making traits (cheese yield, %CY; recovery of nutrients, %REC; daily cheese yield, dCY). Farms were classified into 2 categories based on milk energy level (MEL; high or low), defined according to the average net energy of milk daily produced by the lactating goats. Milk yield and composition were analyzed using a mixed model including the fixed effects of MEL, geographic area, days in milk, and parity, and the random effect of farm within MEL and geographic area. Data about MCP, CFt, and the cheese-making process were analyzed using the same model, with the inclusion of the effects of animal and pendulum of the lactodynamograph instrument, allowing the measure of repeatability of these traits. Results showed that animal had greater influence on coagulation and cheese-making traits compared with farm effect. Days in milk influenced milk composition, whose changes partly reflected the modifications of %CY traits. Moreover, large differences were observed between primiparous and multiparous goats: primiparous goats produced less milk of better quality (higher fat, lower somatic cell and bacterial counts) and less cheese, but with higher recovery of fat and protein in the curd, compared with multiparous goats. The repeatability was very high, for both coagulation (84.0 to 98.8%) and cheese-making traits (89.7 to 99.9%). The effect of MEL was significant for daily productions of milk and cheese, coagulation time, and recovery of protein in the curd, which were better in high-MEL farms. As regards geographic area, milk composition and percentage cheese yield were superior in the Central-East area, whereas daily milk and cheese production and MCP were better in the South-West. This result was explainable by the phenomenon of crossbreeding Sarda goats with Maltese bucks, which occurred with greater intensity in the South-West than in the Central-East area of the island. The results provided by this study could be of great interest for the goat dairy sector. Indeed, the methods described in the present study could be applicable for other farming methods, goat breeds, and geographic areas. The collection of a wide range of phenotypes at individual animal level is fundamental for the characterization of local populations and can be used to guarantee breed conservation and the persistence of traditional farming systems, and to increase farmers' profit.
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