Last update: November 30, 2010 03:57:45 PM E-mail Print




JH Hoon 


Compiled from statistics supplied by


The National Department of Agriculture

SA Stud Book and Livestock Improvement Association

SA Meat Board

SA Wool Board

Mohair SA

SA Red Meat Producers Organisation

South African Meat Industry Corporation

Southern African Poultry Association

ARC: Animal Improvement Institute

ARC:  Range and Forage Institute



Livestock production remains the single most important agricultural activity in South Africa. The good rains of past seasons in large parts of the country have had a positive effect on extensive livestock production There are, however, provinces that are experiencing abnormally dry periods which negatively affect animal production, especially parts of the Free State, Eastern, Northern and Western Cape. Stockowners have therefore been cautioned to take note of the fact that the El Nino climatic influence could still manifest itself.  There are approximately 26000 commercial livestock producers in South Africa, excluding the huge number of people who owns livestock in the emerging agriculture (small farmers, communal farmers, etc.). Of these 26000, 9800 are mainly cattle farmers, 25000 are mainly sheep and goat farmers and 3100 are mainly pig farmers.



The different biomes of Southern Africa, representing the different vegetation types, are illustrated in Table 1. In total, there are 68 vegetation types and 7 biomes in Southern Africa.

Table 1. The Biomes of Southern Africa (Bredenkamp et al., 1996)




Forest Biome


  0.56 %

Fynbos Biome


  6.07 %

Grassland Biome


26.39 %

Nama Karoo Biome


23.50 %

Savanna Biome


33.66 %

Succulent Karoo Biome


  6.51 %

Thicket Biome


 3 .31 %


Veld and pasture statistics 

Table 2. - Veld and Pasture statistics for South Africa

(Source: ARC_RFI)



Natural veld area (ha)

73 000 000     (1)

Planted pasture area (ha)

2 214 500       (2)

Crop residue area (ha)

10 600 000     (3)

Extent of desertification

60 000 000     (4)

Extent of bush encroachment

15 000 000     (5)

  1. The total area of grazing , namely 73 million ha is down from the total of 76 649 000 in 1985. The decline can largely be attributed to urban encroachment, roads, mining and industrial development. It is difficult to predict a continuation or a rate of reduction. It is also apparent that many marginal cultivated lands are being abandoned. These will, in time, be classified as natural veld.
  2. Of the 2 214 500 ha, 323 000 ha are under irrigation.
  3. Approximately 10 600 000 ha are currently planted to crops. It is again difficult to estimate the exact amount of residues from crops that are used for animal production. Approximately 4 000 000 ha are planted to maize and it can safely be assumed that most of this area is used for animal production after harvesting.
  4. Approximately 60 000 000 ha of land receives less than 500 mm rainfall per year and is susceptible to desertification. These areas include the Karoo, Kalahari and the dryer savannah areas.
  5. Virtually all of the 15 000 000 ha of the savannah areas are subjected varying degrees of bush encroachment.


Condition of the natural veld resources

Bush Encroachment

Virtually all of the 15 000 000 ha of the savannah areas are subjected to bush encroachment of varying degrees. The impact of this encroachment can be illustrated with the following examples:

In the Eastern Cape, research showed that grazing capacity declined from 3 ha/LSU to between 10 and 15 ha/LSU as a result of bush encroachment. Studies in the Northern Province revealed a decline from 6 ha/ LSU to between 25 and 30 ha/LSU as a result of bush encroachment. Again, it is impossible to quantify exactly what the total impact of bush encroachment on grazing capacity of the country is.


Natural erosion has been estimated as occurring at a rate of 0.5 to 1.4 cm per 100 years, while the rate of soil genesis is approximately 0.6 cm. The current rate of erosion calculated for South Africa is 12 cm per 100 years (1mm of erosion per ha per year = 12 tons soil loss) This means that soil loss per capita for South Africa is 20 times the world average. It has been estimated that approximately 3 000 00 ha in South Africa are completely degraded to the point of no return.

Veld condition

There is currently no National Veld Monitoring Program. No accurate details on veld condition nationally are available although individual provincial departments and research institutes are monitoring veld condition. A National Veld Monitoring Program is being planned and information will become available at a later stage. Preliminary figures show, however, that the general veld condition is a serious problem that will have a negative impact on sustainable pastoral livestock production.

Veld management

The need for basing veld management on periodic rest periods is gaining momentum in South Africa with the benefits being better feed supply throughout the year as well as improved vigour and species composition. A National network of research trials is being implemented in South Africa to monitor and examine the impact of animal types, animal movement on veld in all veld types. This method will improve the basis for veld management recommendations across the country.




Livestock statistics

Table 3 gives details of the numbers of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, equines, poultry and ostriches in South Africa for the past six years.

Table 3. Livestock numbers in South Africa from 1993 to 1998

(Source: National Department of Agriculture - Directorate: Statistical Information)









13. 50 mil

12.58 mil

13.02 mil

13.39 mil

13.7 mil

13.8 mil


28.93 mil

29.13 mil

28.78 mil

28.93 mil

28.55 mil

28.16 mil


6.09 mil

6.40 mil

6.40 mil

6.67 mil

6.60 mil

6.77 mil


1.49 mil

1.51 mil

1.63 mil

1.60 mil

1.60 mil

1.64 mil


255 000

265 000

300 000

870 000

900 000


Commercial as well as development areas

Poultry statistics have not been included, as they are only significant when the number of birds slaughtered is calculated. The statistics were calculated from all available sources. Some of these figures remain estimates until data recording can include accurate statistics on animals in the informal sector. It is estimated that there are about 4.2 million cattle, 3.4 million sheep, 3.7 million goats and 0.32 million pigs in the informal sector. These numbers are included in the totals in Table 1. The number of cattle has increased over the last few years to an all time high of nearly 14 million, while the sheep numbers have decreased due to factors such as stock theft, conversion of stock farms to game farms, etc. Sheep number in South Africa reached a high of 36 million in the late sixties/early seventies. The current number of goats and pigs are also an all time high. The number of ostriches have decreased dramatically over the past two years due to the oversupply of leather on the world market, and is believed to be in the region of 500 000 currently.



Table 4 indicates the total number of animals slaughtered in the formal sector of South Africa.

Table 4. Animals slaughtered in the formal sector of South Africa from 1993 to 1997

(Source: SA Meat Board)








Average price -1998


2.39 mil

1.92 mil

1.77 mil

1.76 mil

1.57 mil

1.75 mil


Sheep & Goats

7.15 mil

5.05 mil

4.58 mil

4.83 mil

4.06 mil

4.48 mil



2.02 mil

1.82 mil

1.92 mil

2.03 mil

1.85 mil

1.87 mil



146 000

158 000

175 000

273 000

300 000



Statistics for the informal sector are not readily available, but efforts are under way from various stakeholders to monitor this sector, as it is a major contributor to the off-take from animal production in the developing sector. In the communal rangeland sector in particular, informal slaughter of cattle, sheep and goats is far higher then often expected. The average price for paid for beef, sheep meat and pork in 1998 were R7.93, R12.16 and R7.25/kg respectively. Taking a long-term review on domestic producer prices, it is clear that producer prices, especially those of beef and pork, have been in a strong decline since the 1980’s.


Imports and exports of meat

The total imports of meat to South Africa are illustrated in Table 5.

Table 5. Imports of meat to South Africa from 1995 to 1998 (SACU countries excluded)

(Source: SAMIC)







Beef (outside SACU*)

41775 t

51883 t

47135 t

59711 t

16448 t



17186 t

16753 t

13424 t

10856 t

20060 t

Live cattle (Namibia)






Sheep meat (outside SACU)

36721 t

24619 t

30317 t

28824 t

33124 t

Sheep meat (SACU)

1998 t

376 t




Live sheep (Namibia)






Live goats (Namibia)






Pork (outside SACU)

6977 t

12888 t

10911 t

5722 t

6977 t

* SACU – Southern African Customs Union (SA, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho)

The red meat industry stays under pressures as the importation of meat from countries where producers are subsidised are giving these competitors an unfair advantage. This situation is already having an impact on production in South Africa as rising input costs are making the producers less competitive.

The total exports of meat from South Africa are illustrated in Table 6.


Table 6. Exports of meat from South Africa from 1993/94 to 1996/97

(Source: Directorate Statistical Information: NDA)







2916 ton

2222 ton

4250 ton

3250 ton


438 ton

247 ton

250 ton

320 ton


1751 ton

1077 ton

1500 ton

3800 ton




1850 ton

6900 ton




1600 ton

1535 ton



Beef cattle

Grazing land accounts for about 60% of the total land surface of South Africa, making it the cheapest resource to produce beef. After a reduction in the number of cattle in the early nineties, numbers have had a steady increase, as the grip of the El Nino effect was not as severe as thought previously. Areas of the Northern Province, however, have experienced severe droughts over the past few years.

There is also an increasing demand for South African Landrace beef breeds on the international market and Nguni and Bonsmara cattle have been exported to African countries.  Bonsmara embryos have also been exported to South America.


Dairy cattle

The total production of milk in South Africa is illustrated in Table 7.

Table 7. Production of milk in South Africa from 1993/94 to 1996/97

(Source: Directorate Statistical Information – NDA)











Milk production

1 912 million litres

2 010 million litres

2 149 million litres

2 000 million litres

The decrease in milk production is continued for the period up to 1996/97. The gross income from fresh milk increased by 13,8% to an estimated R2 464 million. Dairy production/cow in South Africa increased dramatically over the last 20 years. In 1997 milk recording commemorated 80 years of existence. The achievement of dairy involved in the National Dairy Recording Scheme is astonishing, as the production increased with 58,5% from 4 040 kg to 6 154 kg per lactation. This can be attributed to the introduction of new genetic evaluation techniques such as the BLUP animal model, where the contribution of the environment and genetics can be calculated. Performances tested cows comprise 29% of the national herd, but their performance per lactation is 60% of that of the national herd.  There is an increased demand for South African dairy genetics in Africa and consignments of semen and live animals were exported to a number of African countries. 



The Dorper sheep, a non-wool sheep, is the most popular sheep breed for mutton production in South Africa. Due to its excellent adaptability to harsh conditions, it has replaced large number of wool sheep in some of the traditional wool producing areas of South Africa. This is illustrated by the decrease in the number of Merino sheep from 20 million in 1980 to 13-14 million currently. The number of Merinos as a percentage of the total sheep herd of South Africa has dropped from 65% in 1980 to under 50% currently; other wool sheep breeds represent about 20% of the national herd while non-wool sheep breeds represent about 30%. In the mid-sixties the Merino represented as much as 80% of the total herd.  Breeds like the Dorper; SA Mutton Merino, Damara, etc. are becoming more and more popular on the international animal genetics market. Locally, most of the mutton is produced of natural veld , particularly in the semi-arid areas. The severe droughts of the early nineties and increased stock theft have had a negative impact on this industry. Wool sheep breeders produce the largest portion of the mutton and this sector is very much under the influence of wool prices on the world markets. Karakul production continues to decrease as a result of low international demand. The number of pelts have decreased from 66 271 in 1990 to 16 389 in 1994. In 1997 there was a marginal increase in numbers, but it is unlikely that it will ever produce the 1,99 million pelts of the 1971/72 season. The number of Karakul sheep reached a high of 2.2 million in the years 1970-1980 compared to the current number of about 100 000 sheep. International trends seem to indicate that this industry is starting to revive, but welfare issues with regard to the slaughtering of day old lambs, as well as the fact that it is a fashion item, will remain a problem. The Karakul as a sheep breed remains, however, one of the most suitable small stock breeds for the arid areas of South Africa.


Goats - Meat

Of the total of about 6,7 million goats in South Africa, about 2 million are Angora goats, about 1 million are Boer goats and approximately 3,7 million are goats in the emerging/communal sector (mainly indigenous goats). Angoras account for the largest proportion (60%) of commercially slaughtered goats. These animals are normally slaughtered in greater numbers when the market price of mohair is very low. Improved Boer Goats were exported to a number of overseas countries. In fact, the export of South African Boer goat embryos to Australia, the USA and Canada my have a negative effects on South Africa’s future international marketing possibilities. The export of poor quality genetics could also have a detrimental effect on international markets. Attention will also be given to the establishment of an International Boer Goat Society. The traditional/communal sectors are also major producers of goat meat - mainly from indigenous goats. This is a sector that has the potential to become a major producer of red meat. Adding value to goats is also receiving attention - particularly quality skin. The indigenous goats’ resistance to ticks is reflected in far less damage to the skin. More quality skin is therefore available for use in the fashion industry and other industries. The Leather Research Institute at Rhodes University (Grahamstown) is currently investigating this aspect in close co-operation with the Animal Improvement Institute of the A.R.C.  A project to commercialise indigenous goats in South Africa has been launched with the support of the NDA, Aus-Aid and  US-AID. This project is being run by the Animal Nutrition and Animal Products Institute (ANAP) of the ARC at Irene (Pretoria)


Goats - Milk

The most important breed remains the Saanen, followed by small numbers of Toggenburg and British Alpine. The gene pools are extremely limited and importation from most Countries that could supply material is not possible for health reasons. Saanen semen may soon be imported from New Zealand to broaden the local gene pool. The development of a synthetic breed from the Saanen and the local goats shows promise, as it is possible to select for heartwater resistance. This project was initiated by MEDUNSA under the guidance of Professor Ned Donkin. It deserves far more support than it has at present as it could lead to the establishment of a very viable goat milk industry in the emerging and smallholder-farming sector. The potential for development in this sector is well illustrated by the efforts of estates in the Western Cape where Saanen milk and milk products (cheese, etc.) are in high demand.



Most of the pork is produced in intensive production systems that utilises grains as their basic energy source in rations. The price of pork is also closely correlated with the beef price. Some of the farmers in the Western Cape are investigating the possibility of outdoor pig breeding. The pig industry is also moving in the same direction of the poultry industry where meat is produced by hybrids. The recent development of the local Robuster pig is a typical example.



The South African black ostrich is the most sought after breed on the international ostrich market. While the export and marketing of genetic material locally as well as internationally may be lucrative at present, the long-term market will mainly be in meat and skins. An oversupply of skins has led to the saturation of the world leather market with a massive drop in the number, as well as value, of ostriches in South Africa. The lifting of the ban on the export of fertile ostriches and hatching eggs has seen the development of markets in the Emirates, China and Malaysia. More attention needs to be given to the development of a regional processing and marketing network as well as an information network.



The total production of poultry meat and eggs in South Africa are illustrated in Table 8.

Table 8. – Production of poultry meat and eggs from 1994 to 1996

 (Source: Directorate Statistical Information – NDA)


Meat ( x 1000tons)

Eggs ( x 1000 tons )













The poultry industry remains the most important supplier of animal protein in South Africa as indicated by the per capita consumption of poultry that increased from 5.18 kg in 1970/71 to 20.19 kg in 1996/97. This extrapolates to 552 million bird's slaughter for 1997. The per capita consumption of eggs also increased from 3.91kg to 6.28kg over the same period. The per capita consumption of red meat (beef, mutton and pork) has decreased from 35.74 kg to 19.21 kg for the period 1970/71 to 1996/97. It is estimated that the broiler industry will continue to grow at a rate of 5% per year as the demand for animal protein increases.

The contribution of the different species to the supply of meat in South Africa is illustrated in Table 9.

Table 9. The contribution of the different species to the supply of meat in South Africa (formal sector)

(Source: Meat Board; Directorate: Statistical Information - NDA)








687 000 t

606 000 t

509 000 t

509 100 t

493 000 t


167 300 t

135 600 t

94 700 t

107 100 t

101 800 t


129 600 t

119 600 t

119 000 t

126 500 t

127 800 t









641 000 t

642 000 t

692 000 t

826 000 t

* Most meat is exported. Accurate local statistics are not available.

The gross value of animal production in relation to field crops and horticulture is illustrated in Table 9.


Table 10. Gross value of agricultural production from 1993 to 1997

(Source: NDA Annual Report 1997/98)


Field crops

R million


R million

Animal Production

R million


R million


9 325

























The contribution of animal production to gross value of agricultural production has varied between 41% and 47% and remains the main contributor to the agricultural production in South Africa.




The total shorn wool production in South Africa is illustrated in Table 11.

Table 11.  South African shorn wool production according to type from 1993/94 to 1995/96

(Source: SA Wool Board Annual report 1995/96)



 (million        kg)


(million kg)


 (million kg)


(million kg)


(million kg)


(million kg)








Other white wool breeds







Traditional/Communal sector







Coarse /coloured wool







Dead wool







Unalloted *














Market indicator (c/kg clean)







* Wool sold outside auctions, stocks and regain increases

The decrease in wool production are largely as a result of a reduction in sheep numbers during the drought, crossbreeding for mutton and problems with stock theft. The total amount of wool shorn in South Africa reached a high of 143.6 million kg in the period 1966-1970. The contribution of Merino wool tot the total wool sales has, however, remained at a level of about 70 to 75% for the past two decades. The average wool production/sheep/year has remained relatively constant at a level of 3.6 to 4.0 kg during the same period; the fibre diameter has, however, decreased considerably over the past two decades. The organised industry, the National Wool Growers Association (NWGA) is also in the process of rationalisation and reorganisation. This will hopefully benefit the producer and encourage wool producers to maintain the high standards that have made South Africa a world leader in wool production and marketing. The first multi-trait BLUP analysis in the world was done on a national sheep database in South Africa. The Wool Test Bureau in Port Elizabeth took over the testing of individual samples. This step was taken as a result of improved testing methods in the field of optical fibre diameter analyses. The coloured wool industry needs to be revisited. There is a global trend towards the use of naturally coloured wool for weaving and the smallholder sector in particular could benefit by maintaining coloured wool breeds and developing cottage industries. Adding value to coloured wool would also encourage producers to keep this wool out of the normal wool clip and to market it separately.




The total production of mohair in South Africa is illustrated in Table 12.

Table 12. Production of mohair in South Africa for the period 1990 to 1996










8.5 mil kg

7.0 mil kg

6.3 mil kg

5.8 mil kg

5.4 mil kg

5.4 mil kg

5.6 mil kg


The after effects of the drought and low mohair prices during the early nineties are still influencing the mohair industry. Production has shown a steady decrease from the all time high of 12.1 million kg in 1988 to a low 5.4 million kg in 1994 en 1995. In addition, low mohair prices have led to a great deal of diversification including ostrich production. Very good mohair prices, especially for kids, young goats and fine adult hair, have rejuvenated the industry with a consequent rise in production. The market indicators for mohair during the last season were as follows: Kids – R97/kg, Young goats – R62/kg and Adult goats – R22/kg. At one stage, there was a growing mohair industry in the traditional and communal sector, but this has also been influenced by the factors already mentioned. The South African Angora remains the most sought-after fibre-producing goat in the world.



Livestock production is the mainstay of the South African agricultural sector, as illustrated by its contribution to the gross value of agricultural production. High quality research and development, advisory services, product and market development, etc., with regard to livestock production, should therefore be the number one priority in the South African agriculture in order to ensure sustainable food production for the region and all its people.