With the end of the speculation in wool and the rural depopulation causing the disuse of activities and of the ground, as the small farms based on mixed farming and breeding disappeared from the mountains, the whole alpine ovine production has turned towards slaughter lambs for already a century.
Nowadays, four great categories of products characterize the ovine breeding in the massif:
the spring lambs are majority; they are sold until 180 days and their carcasses weigh between 12 and 20 kg. They are raised with their mothers and receive feed based on maternal milk and forages;
the baby lambs, less common, are aged under 70 days and weigh less than 12 kg;
the lean lambs (10% of the production), mainly offered for sale in the Aveyron or exported to Spain or Italy;
the grass-fed lambs, sold when they are more than six months old and raised in enclosed fields and pastures ; they are called "tardon" or "agneau coureur" and represent about 10% of the production. The Alpes Maritimes is notably specialized in this production, where the very low availability of fodder areas is thus offset by the mildness of the climate, which allows grazing throughout the year.
Moreover the presence of lambs on the high mountain pastures is one of the risk factors specific to this form of breeding when wolves are present, because of the vulnerability of young animals and of their needs for growing up that are hardly compatible with the restrictive management necessary to the security of the flock.
The ovine livestock of the massif are however far from supplying a sufficient volume of production to satisfy the important demand of consumers: the production covers less than 20% of the consumption. In a region that structurally is a sheep importer, the market launch is thus set against a strong foreign competition.
The field invested in the promotion of its production thanks to signs of quality. This is why breeders and their cooperative partners and firms put in place the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) "label rouge Sisteron lamb", as well as the step "Adret lamb". These signs of quality require from the breeders the respect of restraints and a strong organization but they also constitute a proof of quality for the consumers. They use the image of the massif and of the pastoral systems as a tool of promotion and communication.
The market launch is organized around an organization of producers and notably of cooperatives. The latter groups together more than 40% of the breeders and this number increases every year. Besides, other modes of commercialization exist, from the sale to wholesalers to the local distribution network, with an important development of the direct sale to consumers.