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Mutton and lamb (sheep)


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.

International business environment

  • The world has just under 1.2 billion head of sheep (Entegra, 2022).
  • The highest proportion of the global sheep population, 187 million (around 15%), live in China. It is followed by India, Australia, Sudan and Iran (Entegra, 2022).
  • New Zealand and Australia dominate the export trade in mutton and lamb (Tridge, 2021).


South Africa: import and export

South Africa is 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. Exports have gone to the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong (Coleman, 2022).

Local business environment

Sheep husbandry is mainly practiced in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Free State and Western Cape, with the other provinces having smaller numbers. South Africa has just under 22 million sheep (DALRRD, 2023).

One would expect that, with the high prices obtained for mutton and lamb, there would be a higher volume of producers swinging this way. The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) attributes the reluctance to “the continued challenges associated with livestock theft and predation in especially extensive production systems” (BFAP, 2021).  (see the “Animal husbandry” and “Wildlife on farms” pages respectively for more). BFAP expects domestic demand to remain weak over the next decade as the country recovers economically, lamb being relatively expensive when priced against other meat types (BFAP, 2023). BFAP encourages a shift of focus to export markets for premium lamb and mutton cuts, while the rest of the carcass enables more affordable cuts locally. The export of live sheep to Middle East countries also hold potential (BFAP, 2021, 2023).


  • For statistical information regarding slaughterings at abattoirs, auction prices on the hook, production and consumption, visit In addition, find information like “Sheep and goat numbers: Breed composition in RSA”.
  • Read about the different breeds of sheep on
  • The annual Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baseline covers mutton in the Meat, Wool and Eggs section. See
  • Find the “Info pack” publications on all sheep at
  • The reader can also find regular updates in the agricultural weekly publications Landbouweekblad and Farmer’s Weekly.


Controlling predators

Refer to the “Wildlife on Farms” page.

New farmer information

If you’re really serious about starting with sheep you’ll look for information everywhere!

  • Ask the right questions and talk to the right people – not websites. Ask about the district’s: (1) stock theft (2) predation (3) labour (4) diseases (5) markets.
  • Experience is the best teacher, and commercial farmers have learnt most through direct contact with other farmers (which includes fathers and grandfathers), a kind of osmosis.
  • Talk to a few reasonably successful sheep farmers in the area, preferably neighbours. This sounds like stupid advice but people don’t follow it. They buy farms in districts without doing any research; they start farming enterprises without talking to the locals. Either they’re shy or they think they know more than the people who’ve lived there for generations.
  • Attend farmers’ days and shows and ask questions instead of drinking Free State Cabernet (klippies & coke). Many breed societies have a programme for the year.
Source: Roelof Bezuidenhout, a farmer from the Eastern Cape. He has also been a writer and contributing editor for Farmer’s Weekly.

Hints for Dipping Sheep


All sheep on the farm should be dipped. When lambs dry off after birth, they can become infested by lice and they should therefore also be dipped.


Dipping fluid

  • Make sure that the dipping-fluid is suited for the purpose intended, such as getting rid of scab, lice or both
  • Read the label before mixing the dipping fluid
  • Do not add anything to the dipping-fluid, unless it is recommended on the label.
  • Make sure that the dipping-tank is clean before mixing the dipping fluid.
  • Strictly follow the instructions concerning the replenishment and storing of the dipping fluid.


Dipping do’s

  • Try to postpone dipping until after lambing, or dip the sheep before the start of the lambing season
  • Lice can only survive on sheep. Make sure that ALL sheep are dipped.
  • Animals should be submerged in the dipping-fluid for at least 1 minute
  • The head should be submerged at least 3 times


Dipping don’t’s

  • Do not place ewes and lambs in the tank simultaneously
  • Sheep should not be driven over long distances before and after dipping
  • Never dip thirsty sheep
  • Start dipping early in the morning and do not continue until late in the afternoon. Sheep should get the opportunity to dry off sufficiently before the evening
  • Do not dip recently shorn sheep. Allow a period of about 14 days for shearing wounds to heal
Source: taken from one of the Info Paks (see "Websites & publications" heading)

National strategy and government contact

  • Find the “Wette/Legislation” option on
  • Find contact details and information on the different directorates of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) at  Directorate: Animal Production Tel: 012 319 7493.

Animal welfare


The following standards apply when moving animals:


  • SANS 1469:2014 Humane handling and facilities for the protection of livestock at shows, auction sales, vending sites and livestock pounds
  • SANS 1488:2014 Humane transportation of livestock by road, read together with the Animals Protection Act, 71 of 1962

Role players


Note: Click to expand the headings below. To get a free listing on our website like the ones below, visit here for more information or place your order hereDisclaimer: The role player listings are not vetted by this website.

Pro Sheep Solutions – Advice on modern breeding systems
Livetrack SA – Livestrack SA supplies electronic weighing and all types of I.D. devices from electronic ear tags/intraruminal boluses/sub-dermal chips, ankle/neck bands and visual tags and leg-/neck bands.
 Representative Bodies
 Training, Consulting & Research Service Providers
 Community, NGO and NPO Service Providers

Further reference:

  • Find contact details for the sheep breeder societies on the “Animal improvement and breeders” page.
  • Details of the National Wool Growers Association (NWGA) can be found on the “Wool (sheep)” page. Visit “Abattoirs” for contact details of associations like the Association of Meat Importers and Exporters of SA (AMIE)National Federation of Meat Traders (NFMT)Red Meat Abattoir Association (RMAA)South African Federation of Livestock Agents (SAFLA)South African Meat Processors Association (SAMPA) and South African National Consumers Union.
  • Agricultural degrees / diplomas at Universities and Agricultural Colleges cover small stock production. Short courses are also offered (Glen College does short courses in mutton technology, for example). Find contact details on the “Agricultural education and training” page. Research is done by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), the universities, and the Agricultural Colleges among others.
  • See the list of role players on the “Abattoirs and the meat industry” page.


Websites and publications

Visit role player websites e.g

  • Call 012 672 9111 for these publications, available at ARC-AP: (1). Karakul (complete set of Bulletins, available in Afrikaans or English); (2) Mutton (complete set of Bulletins, available in Afrikaans or English) (3) Indigenous Sheep and Goat Breeds of South Africa.
  • Call 012 842 4017 or email iaeinfo [at] for The manual on sheep facilities (also available in Afrikaans), available from the ARC in Silverton.
  • The latest annual Mutton Market Value Chain publication can be accessed on, website of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD). Find it on the Directorate Marketing web pages. Also available from DALRRD are several “Info Paks” under “Resource centre” on the website. These include: “Hints for dipping sheep”, “The importance of selection”, “Breeding in sheep and goats”, “Common and important diseases in sheep and goats”, “Feeding reproductive sheep and goats”, “Feeding of sheep and goats”, “How to estimate the age of sheep and goats”, and “Reproduction management of a sheep and goat enterprise”.
  • Find Red Meat Marketing, one of the series of Agricultural Extension Training Papers under “Resource centre” and “General publications” at
  • “Info packs” on all the different sheep types can be found at, the GADI website.
  • Watch LandbouTV‘s “Sukses met intensiewe skaapboerdery” [Success with intensive sheep farming] on YouTube. The operation includes feeding sheep hydroponically grown grass.
  • Included in the many offerings from Kejafa Knowledge Works are several publications dealing with sheep. Visit to find out about the following: (1) Barn Guide for Sheep. (2) Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep by Carol Ekarius and Paula Simmons. 400 pages, photographs and illustrations throughout. (3) Natural Sheep Care by Pat Coleby. This is a comprehensive guide, whether for wool, meat or milk. (4) Skaap Produksie is an A5, 250 publication (5) Boer met kleinvee: Die skaapherder (6) Raising sheep (7) Small stock management by J Oberholster.
  • The Guidelines for Livestock Farming (a download) covers all the practical issues faced by sheep farmers and was released as a joint venture between the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation and the National Wool Growers’ Association. Find it at at and on
  • Diseases and Parasites of Sheep and Goats in South Africa by Dr Pamela Oberem, Dr Peter Oberem and Dr Johan van Rensburg. Contact Afrivet for a copy at 012 817 9060.
  • Visit to use Afrivet’s “new innovative toolkit for sheep farming”.
  • Small-scale Livestock Farming – a grass-based approach for health sustainability and profit. Carol Ekarius. Storey Publishing. ISBN 1580171621. “Natural, organic approach to livestock management that produces healthier animals, reduces feed and health-care costs, and increases profits”.
  • The Shepherd Manual by Dr JJ Olivier is part of a computer recording programme for sheep and goats. Read more at
  • The Red Meat/Rooi Vleis magazine is produced by Agri Connect. Find the latest copy of the publication at
  • Find the Nation in Conversation overview of the sheep industry (Jan 2017) on YouTube
  • Watch the April 8, 2017 news clip “Elandsfontein farm’s organically produced sheep meat internationally certified” on TouTube. It features Smartt Karoo Organic and its sheep.
  • Find the “Sheep” option at
  • Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA)


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