Table of Contents


See also the “Wool (sheep)” and “Dairy (goats and sheep)” chapters


1. Overview

The domestic sheep (Ovis aries) is produced for its wool, meat and milk. Other sheep byproducts are:

  • Clothes, footwear, rugs, and other products are made from sheepskin.
  • Sheep tallow can be used in candle and soap making
  • Sheep bone and cartilage has been used to furnish carved items such as dice and buttons as well as rendered glue and gelatin
  • Sheep intestine can be formed into sausage casings, and lamb intestine has been formed into surgical sutures, as well as strings for musical instruments and tennis rackets.
  • Sheep droppings, which are high in cellulose, have even been sterilised and mixed with traditional pulp materials to make paper.
  • Of all sheep byproducts, perhaps the most valuable is lanolin: the water-proof, fatty substance found naturally in sheep's wool and used as a base for innumerable cosmetics and other products.


2. International business environment

  • The world has around 1.2 billion head of sheep.
  • China is the largest producer, consumer and importer of sheep meat.
  • Australia and New Zealand dominate the export trade in ovine meat.
Source: ABSA Agricultural Outlook 2017


3. Local business environment

Sheep husbandry is mainly practiced in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga, with the other provinces having smaller numbers. Read about the different breeds of sheep on Also find the “Info pack” publications on all sheep at

The ABSA Agricultural Outlook 2017 makes the following points:

  • The local sheep herd has been showing a steady decline in numbers over the past few years. The drought has contributed to exacerbating this situation, along with other factors such as stock theft, which discourage producers from farming with sheep. Producers need to report stock theft cases in order to address this problem and protect the national herd.
  • Demand for sheep meat into the future is positive owing to the growing middle class. Producers have to adapt to changing consumer behaviour, and produce the right cuts, at the right quality at the right price. As consumer behaviour is also changing, especially regarding the use of new technology and the like, producers need to position themselves to cater for technologically savvy consumers by either delivering the product to their doorsteps or by using cellphone apps to track their demand.
  • Producers are expected to continue rebuilding their herds, after losing animals during the dry conditions. The long-term demand prospects are positive.

For statistical information regarding slaughterings at abattoirs, auction prices on the hook, production and consumption, visit, find the statistical information under “Branches” and “Statistics and Economic analysis. In addition, find information like “Sheep and goat numbers: Breed composition in RSA”.

Find results of the study done by the University of the Free State for the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (RPO) in the 2016 BFAP Baseline (see It shows the “significant decline in flock numbers”, comparing figures of the ewe flock, replacement ewes and finishing lambs over the years 2013 – 2016.

The reader can also find regular updates in the agricultural weekly publications Landbouweekblad and Farmer’s Weekly.