Sheep Farming In South Africa, Sheep Breeds

Introduction to Sheep Farming in South Africa: Sheep farming is also known as sheep husbandry, it is the raising and breeding of domestic sheep. It is a branch of animal husbandry. Sheep are raised for meat (lamb and mutton), milk (sheep’s milk), and fiber (wool). Sheep can be raised in a range of temperate climate conditions. In South Africa, the sheep farming business is very profitable. Though, the two main products for sheep farming are sheep meat (lamb & mutton) and wool. The lamb and mutton demand in South Africa is high, and exceeding 1,90,000 tonnes per year. In South Africa, there is a large export market for sheep wool. In this article we also discuss the below topics about sheep farming in South Africa;

  • Is sheep farming a profitable business in South Africa
  • What is the most profitable sheep in South Africa
  • Benefits of sheep farming in South Africa
  • Sheep farming business for beginners

Profitability can be challenging in sheep farming, but with productive sheep and close control of expenses, a profit is possible. Usually, sheep produce income from the sale of meat, wool, and milk. Approximately, there are 8000 commercial sheep farms throughout South Africa and about 5,800 communal farmers. In South Africa, the estimated number of sheep is about 28.8 million. Sheep farmers are represented by organizations with Dorper Sheep Breeders’ Society of South Africa and Merino South Africa being the most prominent.

A step-by-step guide to Sheep Farming In South Africa, and Sheep Breeds

Sheep Flock
Sheep Flock (pic source: pixabay)

Southern Africa is hosting a large sheep-like Merino, indigenous and locally developed genetic resource. Adapted to the agricultural production systems of the continent, it mainly represents a unique resource that has great potential for further development of its productivity. Before you start a mutton and wool sheep farming business in South Africa, there are some important decisions that you have to make. You have to decide on the size of the sheep production business i.e., how many sheep you will have at your sheep farm.  There are many different sheep breeds in South Africa, so you have to select which sheep breed you will use, the location of your business, and your target market. The size of your mutton and wool sheep farming business will depend on the amount of capital you have, and your target market. You must get a good sheep production business plan before you start a commercial sheep farming business in South Africa.

Reasons you can Earn Profit from Sheep Farming Business

Sheep farming business is practiced in all provinces throughout South Africa. While the income derived from the sheep farming business is modest compared to other types of livestock business, e.g. poultry, the sheep industry is important in the rural and arid regions of South Africa.

Sheep breeds in South Africa are a mix of the hairy indigenous breeds, fat-tailed and fat-rumped breeds, and South African developed composite ‘exotic’ breeds like the South Africa mutton Merino. Sheep can be used for fiber, using wool and hair depending on the breed, as well as for meat production, or are sometimes used to produce dairy products.

Meat production is aimed at local consumption, while limited quantities are exported to neighboring countries. The exact number of sheep farming in South Africa is unknown, but according to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

  • Firstly, you can start the business with a small investment and space.
  • The sheep farming business requires less labor for daily maintenance and care.
  • Sheep give birth to kids frequently. Therefore, you can create a large size herd within a short period.
  • Sheep need less space for living.
  • Also, you don’t need to build expensive housing for the sheep and it allows you to maintain your cost early.
  • Sheep eat different kinds of plants. So you don’t want to provide high-quality feeds all the time.
  • Generally, sheep are very hardy animals and they can adapt to almost all types of environments. So, you can raise sheep in a wide range of temperate climate conditions including arid zones.
  • The final products you get from sheep-like meat, wool, and milk have high demand in the market. So, it is a commercially lucrative business for entrepreneurs who want to start a livestock business.

Advantages of Sheep Farming

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Advantages of Sheep Farming
Advantages of Sheep Farming (pic source: pixabay)

The advantages of sheep farming in South Africa are;

  • Sheep do not need expensive buildings to house them and on the other hand, sheep farming businesses require less labor compared to other kinds of livestock.
  • Generally, sheep are economical converters of grass into meat and wool.
  • Sheep will eat varied kinds of plants compared to other kinds of livestock animals. This makes them excellent weed destroyers.
  • The wool, meat, and manure production provide mainly three different sources of income to the shepherd.
  • A multi-faceted utility like meat, wool, skin, manure, and to some extent milk.
  • Since the two major products of sheep (wool and mutton) are different in their production and utilization, the price of one may not necessarily have a bearing on the other. Wool can be stored and held for higher prices or sold at shearing time. And, a crop of lambs can be marketed from 5 to 6 months onwards and preferably before 1 year, bringing rather a quick return.
  • Most suitable of the small ruminants to use the sparse vegetation in dryland areas through rangeland management and developed pasture.
  • Sheep eat more different types of plants than any other kind of livestock animal, they can turn waste into profit and at the same time improve the appearance of several farms (i.e. excellent weed destroyer).
  • Since sheep eat more different types of plants than any other kind of livestock, and they can turn waste into profit and at the same time improve the appearance of many farms (i.e. they are excellent weed destroyers)

Land Requirement for Sheep Farming

The land should have sufficient pastures for the sheep to graze. The land is the basic requirement for the construction of sheds for sheep farming. The extent of land required for sheep farming is approximately 1 hectare per 50 sheep. If you already have a location of your own for sheep farming then it’s good. Otherwise, you will want to identify and select a location for setting up the farm. Usually, the area required depends on the size of the farm and the population of the livestock you want to keep on your farm.

An area that is generally on a raised terrain is ideal for sheep farming. Also, there are factors to consider that end up determining your choice of land location. For example, proximity to essential amenities such as veterinary services and the market is vital. Then, that would imply that a strategic well serviced road network close by is a must. Not forgetting that there must be a clean and also reliable water supply.

Housing and Equipment Required For Sheep Farming in South Africa

There are mainly two important things to ensure for the sheep housing is ventilation and adequate space (horizontally and vertically). How you will be doing your sheep farming business determines the housing and equipment aspect. Sheep can be reared mainly indoors or partially outdoors.

For sheep farming, housing needs are changing by climate, seasons of lambing, and management preferences of the shepherd. If lambing will occur during periods of inclement weather conditions, more elaborate housing is usually required. If lambing will occur on pasture during periods of mild weather, simple shelters can be all that is needed.

Usually, the height of the roof level from the floor should on average be 1.8 meters. The space that must be available for one fully grown sheep should range from approximately 1-1.5 square meters. Bricks, cement, roofing sheets, wooden logs, and fencing form the sheep housing. Barns and sheds can also be used as sheep housing. Ideally, it is recommended to fence even if you feel the housing is secure and it augments physical security. Fencing is also essential for the pasture. The equipment required for sheep farming includes drinking and feeding equipment. Your commercial sheep farming business plan in South Africa should include the costs of purchasing equipment and sheep housing.

Feeding Equipment – Several types of feeding equipment are available for feeding sheep. Pails and buckets are normally used for small numbers of sheep. For large numbers, some type of automation can reduce the hand labor required. Self-feeders can be used to make the feed available at all times and thus reduce the amount of feeding space needed.

Sheep don’t need high-end or expensive housing. They are happy, as long as you fulfil their basic sheep housing needs. Even you can raise them with other types of livestock animals, in small-scale production. You have to make a separate and suitable house for commercial sheep production. Their house should have to be suitable enough to keep them safe from adverse weather and harmful predators. Usually, an adult sheep needs about 20 square feet of floor space. You have to make a house 10 feet long and 20 feet wide if you can raise 10 sheep. Keep the roof at least 6 feet high from the floor and make a good ventilation system. Ensure flow of sufficient air and light inside the sheep house and it will be better if you can make a proper drainage system inside the house.

Sheep Breeds for Meat in South Africa

In South Africa, commercial sheep are farmed for either meat or wool, but certain breeds yield good quality and quantity of both. This will mainly focus on sheep breeds used in South Africa for meat production only. Also, there are available some developing breeds in South Africa like the Boesmanlander and the Bezuidenhout.

Merino – The Merino sheep make up numerically the largest sheep breed in South Africa with approximately 18 million countries wide. The South African Merino breed is plainer than the Australian Merino and folds development is moderate to suit South African conditions. It is an important resource for farmers, providing meat and wool.

Dorper Sheep farming in South Africa – The Dorper sheep breed was developed in South Africa and bred through the crossbreeding of the Persian sheep, Dorset, and Van Rooy sheep. Then, this resulted in a hardy, fast-growing meat breed suitable for low-rainfall regions. The Dorper sheep is a large and strongly built meat sheep with a white body and blackhead. This fast-growing fertile breed produces lambs that are slaughter-ready at 4 months. The breed does not need shearing and its skin – with a smooth grain and no creasing can be used for leather.

Black-headed Persian Sheep – The Black-headed Persian sheep breed is an ancient meat breed, and is believed to have originated in Somalia or the Middle East. This has long drooping ears, similar to goats. The color varieties of the Persian sheep breed are the blackhead (90%), redhead (4%), and the speckled Persian (6%). Persians are excellent mothers with an even temperament and the breeding interval is 8 months and a high percentage of twins are produced. It is bred mainly for its meat, although its skin and the blackhead Persian specifically can be used for the production of thin, high-grade leather products. The Persian breed is more resistant to disease compared to other sheep breeds.

Ile de France Sheep – Commercial farming with the Ile de France breed only started in the 1970s. Wool can contribute up to 20% of the Ile de France Sheep breed’s income. Though, most consider the Ile de France a meat breed only, to produce heavy early-maturing slaughter-ready lambs.

Van Rooy Sheep – The white Van Rooy sheep breed is a meat breed developed in South Africa and has white hair, prominent dewlap, and a fat tail and rump. A South African ‘developed’ meat sheep and the fertile Van Rooy sheep were bred to thrive in the drier climates of Southern Africa, typical of fat-tail breeds. It is a medium to large hornless sheep covered with white hair, with a thin wool undercoat on the front part of the body. Fat distribution is localized in the rump and tail. The fertile Van Rooy produces and raises lambs in extremely harsh conditions. It is used in crossbreeding, due to its unique gene pool. The age of the first lambing is 16 months. The Van Rooy sheep exhibits a fast growth rate, and rams are often used to crossbreed with other sheep breeds, to produce lambs with a good growth rate and early fat accumulation.

Meat master Sheep – The Meat master sheep breed is another South African-developed meat breed, bred from the Damara, Dorper, Van Rooy, and Ile de France breed. The Meat master 100-day weaning weight is about 27 kg. Meat master lambs can be slaughtered at 5 months of age, at around 38 kg, and may yield a carcass of 17.5 kg.

Dual-Purpose Sheep Breeds in South Africa

A dual-purpose sheep breed in South Africa refers to an animal that can be farmed for the production of wool and meat. South African studies have found that farming with a suitable dual-purpose breed for a specific climate can make a higher income than farming with a meat-only breed. Though, many parameters play a role, not least how each breed reacts to climate conditions such as drought. So, it is important to select the right breed to adapt to current farming conditions and weather patterns.

South African Mutton Merino – The dual-purpose Merino breed is also called the German Merino and was used to develop other sheep breeds such as the Dormer and Dohne Merino. Through breeding and selection, this sheep breed is now considered uniquely South African. This large sheep produces both meat and good quality medium to strong wool of 21 to 23 microns. Although initially developed to utilize winter grazing in the Western Cape and rear their lambs before grazing deteriorates in the summer season, the mutton Merino adapts well to a range of climates and is found countrywide.

Merino Land sheep – The Merino Land sheep breed originally from Germany is an exceptionally large sheep with a deep body. The first Merino Land sheep breed was imported from Germany in 1956 and quickly adapted to South Africa’s grazing conditions and climate. The Land sheep has a long and deep body, producing heavy lamb carcasses of 20 to 25 kg at 100 to 120 days with an above-average slaughter percentage of around 54%. The breed is fertile and can produce three lambs every two years with the first lambing at 12 to 15 months. Lambs are small at birth with few birthing problems. The Merino Land sheep produces a good crop of medium to strong wool.

Dormer Sheep – The Dormer meat sheep breed was ‘developed’ in South Africa through crossbreeding Dorset Horn rams with German Merino ewes. The name ‘Dormer’ mainly refers to the parent breeds Dorset and Merino. It was specifically bred for the cold and wet conditions of the winter rainfall regions of the Western Cape but is farmed successfully in temperate conditions on the natural veld and cultivated pastures. The well-muscled sheep shows early maturity age – first lambing is 18 months and is very fertile; and producing small, multiple lambs. The fast-growing breed exhibits a good feed conversion rate to produce slaughter-size lambs at an early age – lambs can be market-ready at three months, weighing 16 to 22 kg.

Afrino Sheep – It has a locally-developed dual-purpose sheep breed. The Afrino sheep is a large breed with wool of 18 – 22 microns which can contribute 20% of income; the rest is from meat production.

Suffolk Sheep – The Suffolk sheep breed is a polled (hornless) English sheep breed that was brought to South Africa in the late 1890s. Some people considered the Suffolk a meat breed but are also used for wool production. Suffolk sheep experience easy births, but rarely produce twins.

Feeding Management for Sheep Framing in South Africa

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Sheep Feeding Management
Sheep Feeding Management (pic source: pixabay)

Shelter, enough feed, and clean water – The sheep primarily consume pasture roughage, they are sometimes given supplemental feed, such as corn and hay. Sheep need water, energy (carbohydrates and fats) for optimal growth and production. Ensure that sheep always have access to proper shelter, sufficient fresh drinking water, and fodder in clean feeding troughs.

If the animals are kraaled at night, the kraal (an enclosure for cattle or sheep) must be big enough to ensure ample space for the animals as well as their water and fodder. Disinfect the kraal frequently to prevent the spread of diseases and internal and external parasites. Manure from the kraal can be used for vegetables and to reduce fertilizer costs.

There are two broad feeding approaches in the sheep farming business in South Africa. Then, the first one entails sheep feeding from pasture land since sheep are grazers. Pasture is the main source of feed for sheep, and it’s also the one that is economically viable business-wise. Though, when doing commercial sheep farming in South Africa, you will also need to give supplementary feed to the sheep. This mainly ensures that the sheep get all the required nutrients for growth. The supplementary feed to give to the sheep are grains, hay, commercial sheep feed, salts, and minerals. The feeding costs must be included in your mutton and wool sheep farming business plan.

Feeding is an important component of sheep farming, as sheep obtain their nutritional requirements from the pastures they graze on or through feed when they are based in intensive farming systems. A balanced diet must include protein, energy (such as fats and carbohydrates), vitamins, minerals, and fresh water.  

Types of Sheep Feed

Sheep feed can be divided mainly into three categories such as roughage, feed concentrates, and supplements.

  • Roughage like dry and green roughage, silages, and pastures.
  • Feed concentrates are carbohydrate-rich low-protein concentrates and protein supplements.
  • Supplements will include minerals, vitamins, and non-protein nitrogen like urea.

Quality of Sheep Feed

A sheep’s feed can be adapted based on the type of breed to ensure optimum growth for meat production or to improve wool quality. Certain breeds like indigenous sheep exhibit a good feed-to-weight conversion even on limited grazing, while other breeds need a finely tuned feed ration to ensure optimal growth. Some farmers can choose to supplement the diet of the fiber-producing sheep with good quality protein which enhances fiber (wool or hair) growth. These supplementary feeding will include sulfur which is a building block of fiber.

Sheep Breeding Stock in South Africa

Select your breeding stock is majorly premised on the end products of your sheep farming business. Sheep breeding stock that is best for meat production might not necessarily be best also for wool production. There are mainly 3 broad classes of breeding stock in general and these are exotic, indigenous, and crossbreed. The over-arching consideration to make is whether or not a particular breed can thrive in the local climate.

Usually, sheep breeding stock is composed of ewes (female sheep) and rams (male sheep). It is highly advised that you get breeding stock from reputable suppliers. When choosing breeding stock you should also carefully examine them before buying. That is meant to ensure they are in good health and buying from suppliers that have detailed health records would be the best. Most sheep farmers in South Africa prefer dual-purpose sheep breeds and these are sheep breeds that are mainly used for both meat and wool production. Some examples of sheep breeds used in South Africa for meat and wool production include the Merino, Dohne Merino, South African Mutton Merino, Afrino Sheep, and the Dormer. The popular sheep breed in South Africa is the Merino breed. The mutton and wool sheep farming business plan should include the costs of purchasing the breeding stock.

Some Problems of Sheep Farming in South Africa

You can’t run a sheep farming business without any problem. Sheep farming is not an exception. In the case of the sheep farming business, you might face some common problems like protecting your sheep from predators, shelter arrangement, protection from the cold weather, and diseases, etc. So make a suitable fence for protecting sheep from predators.

Also, diseases are the main problems in sheep farming. So vaccinate them timely to stay free from several types of diseases. Sheep farming is a traditional livestock farming business. Maximum profits depend on selecting high-quality and healthy sheep breeds. So they stay free from various types of diseases which are the most dangerous threat.

Care and Management of Sheep Farming Business in South Africa

You will need to provide good care and management to get the maximum profitability of your sheep farm. Additionally, maintain the cleanliness of your farm. Also, provide the right vaccination to your sheep. If you notice any sick sheep, separate the animal promptly, and then provide proper treatment. To obtain the optimum profit, always tap the local market of the products and it helps to keep the transportation cost minimum. Also, always think about the other marketing avenues to get the maximum profits from your sheep farming business.

Good care and management can ensure maximum profit from your sheep farming business in South Africa. So always try to take good care of your farm animals. Vaccinate them timely to prevent them from several types of sheep diseases and always keep good relations with the vet, so that you can ask for help anytime.

To ensure maximum profit from the sheep farming business, you must take good care and properly manage your sheep. Purchasing quality and productive sheep breeds, feeding them nutritious foods, and making a suitable house for them are advised. Vaccinate your sheep timely and this will prevent them from various types of diseases.

The Market for Sheep Meat and Wool Production in South Africa

The main products from a sheep farming business are sheep meat and wool. Sheep meat has 2 categories like lamb and mutton. Lamb is sheep meat from a sheep less than 1-year-old, while mutton is from a sheep greater than 1-year-old. There is a high demand for lamb and mutton in South Africa, exceeding 190000 tonnes per year. You can supply sheep to abattoirs, hotels, restaurants, retailers, butcheries, meat processors, and individuals. South African sheep Wool is exported to China, the Czech Republic, Italy, India, Bulgaria, Germany, and the United States.


  1. Why we can’t find Marino sheep in Limpopo?
    I need more information about beginner.
    My wish is to start sheep farming.

    Please advise


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