Table of Contents

See also other relevant chapters e.g. “Abattoirs”, "Animal feeds" and “Animal Improvement & breeders” 


1. Overview

Our progress as nations and as the human race is marked by the meat, milk, hides, draught power that cattle have provided. They also are an investment, and have served as an indicator of wealth and as articles for barter. It is not for nothing that the idiom Dikgomo ke banka ya Mosotho (cattle are the bank of a Mosotho) exists in Lesotho and South Africa.

Where cattle are kept for production, beef farming can be a primary or a secondary enterprise. In the latter instance, the farmer has more than one enterprise and the beef enterprise is the subordinate undertaking. Because beef farming can be a low input system in terms of costs, labour and time, it is a very useful enterprise to run as a secondary enterprise. Thus cattle often are retained to keep grass down on marginal areas or to utilize excess roughage such as crop residues, and may also be kept for aesthetic and/or cultural reasons where people merely like to have animals or believe that cattle must be present for ceremonial reasons.

For whatever reason livestock are kept, buying cattle is an investment, albeit a risky one because of disease and mortality. Characteristically, beef production is a long-term undertaking and profits are rarely made on the short term.

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2. International business environment

There are currently just over 1-billion head of cattle in the world, mostly in India, Brazil, China, USA and EU. The USA and Turkey are the largest importers of cattle, and Mexico, EU, Australia and Canada are the largest exporters (USDA, 2017).

The largest producers of beef and veal are the USA (with nearly 20% of the world’s production), Brazil, the EU and China. The four are also the largest consumers – USA, China, Brazil and the EU (USDA, 2017).

Major exporters of beef and veal are India, Brazil, Australia, USA and New Zealand (USDA, 2017). Major importers are the USA, China, Japan and South Korea (USDA, 2017).


Useful sources for international information on cattle:

South Africa imports and exports

In the past five years South Africa has become a net exporter of beef. The country is expected to remain a net exporter over the next 10 years (BFAP, 2017). Because the country can supply most of its beef, developments internationally do not have a radical effect on this industry.

South Africa currently exports about 39 thousand tons of beef and nearly 56 percent was exported to the African continent mainly in SADC market. Other markets include Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam and Hong Kong (Agbiz, 2018).

Major import sources are Namibia and Botswana, both of whom account for 76% of SA’s beef imports over the period 2010-2016. Australia accounts for 12%, Uruguay (6%), New Zealand (3%) and EU (2%) (Agbiz, 2017).