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

South Africa: import and export

South Africa is historically a net importer of sheep meat. As such, prices tend to be well integrated in the global market, reacting to changes in supply and demand conditions in major exporting countries such as Australia and New Zealand (BFAP, 2018).


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.

The local sheep herd has been declining steadily over the past few years. This has been caused by the drought, along with other factors such as stock theft, which discourage producers from farming with sheep, and predation (see “Animal husbandry” and “Wildlife on farms” chapters respectively for more).

According to Alex Cilliers of GWK, there are various opportunities that can be exploited over the next three years (2019-2021) if the associated measures are put into place. These include the following:

  • Niche premiums will increase if improved production and traceability are applied throughout the value chain.
  • The trend of decreasing slaughter capacity in South Africa has a destructive impact on the available capital in the sheep industry.
  • Producers must be informed of the value of sheep skins and how to exploit this maximally.
  • The regulatory environment, including aspects like border control and consumer confidence, must be improved.
  • Regulations to establish food safety throughout the sheep chain must be in place and must constantly be applied.
  • Value-adding can be achieved by consolidation, central packaging and quality.
  • Consumer needs must be addressed, especially as far as the origin of the product
Source: Alex Cilliers of GWK, speaking at the Red Meat Producers, September 2018.

In light of the extensive, pasture-based production system, lamb and mutton production are also sensitive to weather impacts and, as was the case in the beef market, significant flock reductions occurred through the 2016 drought. Rebuilding takes time, even when conditions have improved. In the case of sheep, the rebuilding process has also been constrained by the fact that approximately 20% of national production comes from the Western Cape, where continued drought conditions have not allowed significant flock rebuilding due to poor pasture conditions. Consequently, despite its shorter production cycle than beef, sheep meat production is expected to trade largely sideways through 2018 and 2019, reflecting the first significant
increase in 2020.

Source: Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baseline 2018-2027


Further reference:

  • 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”.
  • Read about the different breeds of sheep on
    Also find the “Info pack” publications on all sheep at
  • 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.