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.

Source:  and


2. International business environment

There are currently just over 1-billion head of cattle in the world, with herd sizes of 305 million head in India, 232 million in Brazil, 96.8 million in China, 94.4 million in the US, 88.4 million in the European Union and 53.8 million in Argentina (USDA, 2018).

The largest producers of beef and veal are the USA, Brazil, the EU, China and India. The largest consumers – USA, China, Brazil, EU and Argentina.(USDA, 2018).

Major exporters of beef and veal are Brazil, India, Australia, USA and New Zealand (USDA, 2018). Major importers are the USA, China, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea(USDA, 2018).


Useful sources for international information on cattle:

South Africa imports and exports

In the past six years South Africa has become a net exporter of beef, and the rapid growth in exports in recent years has resulted in South African markets trading closer to global trends than has been the case historically. South African producers will therefore also be exposed to the expected decline in global beef prices over the next three years through greater competition in the export market (BFAP, 2018).

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

Major import sources are Namibia and Botswana, who 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).