Livestock Industry: South Africa’s Backbone in Agricultural Sector

A South African Web site tells us that nearly 80 percent of its agricultural land is mainly suitable for extensive livestock farming. It is the largest agricultural sector with 13.8 million cattle and 28.8 million sheep and 6.4 million goats. About 49 percent of the agricultural output actually comes from the livestock sector.

With high production of livestock, South Africa is self-sufficient with regard to meat needs. Consequently, it provides for the 85 percent meat needs of its own people. The remaining 15 percent is imported from neighbouring countries such as Namibia, Botswana, and Swaziland, and some from Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

Ever since, livestock has been the fortitude of South African agriculture. For instance in the seventeenth century, European colonists admired the large sheep herds of the Khoikhoi people in the Cape Peninsula. When the Europeans later brought new breeds of sheep and cattle, it led to emergence of commercial livestock sector.

Today, the livestock sector production of South Africa is estimated at 900,000 tons of red meat annually. Farmers own approximately 1.2 million pigs. The poultry industry has at least 11 million chickens. In addition, a small budding ostrich-raising industry produces important plumes, meat, and skins.

Livestock farming in South Africa include dairy farming, sheep and goat farming, poultry and pig farming, beef farming, game farming, and aquaculture.

Dairy farming

South Africa’s dairy industry is significant to labour production for it employs roughly 60,000 farm workers in about 4,000 milk producers. It also indirectly provides jobs to around 40,000 people. The four leading dairy breeds in South Africa are the Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, and Ayrshire. Most of dairy farms are located in the eastern and northern Free State, the Eastern and Western Cape, Gauteng and the southern parts of Mpumalanga.

Sheep and goat farming

Wool, which is derived from animals, is an important agricultural export. In 1940s, South Africa became the world's fourth largest exporter of wool and has maintained to be one of the world's top ten wool producers. South Africa produces about 100,000 tons in most years.

Around 50 percent of South Africa’s sheep are fine-woolled Merinos. Its sheep farming is concentrated in the Northern and Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga. Ermelo in Mpumalanga is one of the largest wool-producing districts.

Other breeds used in sheep farming are Afrino, South African Mutton Merino, Dohne, and Merino Landrace. .The Afrino is a woolled mutton breed that adapted the arid conditions. A breed called Karakul sheep are farmed in the more arid areas.

Poultry and pig farming

Compared to sheep and cattle production, poultry and pig farms are more concentrated in South Africa. South Africa’s production accounts for the 65 percent of world sales of ostrich products that may come in the form of leather, meat, or feathers.

South Africa’s annual meat production reaches up to 960,000 tons of meat. The Broiler production is about 80 percent of the total poultry production. The leading pig breeds are South African Landrace, the Large White, the Duroc and the Pietrain.


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