Last update: April 7, 2011 11:35:54 AM



MA Snyman* & M.J. Herselman

Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute, Middelburg, 5900



Recently there has been an increased awareness of the value of indigenous livestock and organisations such as ACEDA SA and RBI have been established with the main purpose of preserving and conserving these breeds. ACEDA SA, for example, held a networking workshop on indigenous livestock at the Willem Prinsloo Museum, with the aim of creating a network which will "unite" all parties interested in the conservation of the indigenous breeds. At this workshop, much emphasis was placed on indigenous cattle breeds, namely the Nguni. Despite the fact that some awareness of the value of indigenous livestock exists, several indigenous sheep breeds are still facing extinction, mainly due to their limited commercial value.


In this paper, the different indigenous sheep breeds and the role of the following parties will be discussed:

  1. Communal farmers

  2. Government

  3. Museums

  4. Small scale farmers

  5. Breed societies and commercial producers.


According to Dr. Quentin Campbell (1996) there are 12 indigenous fat-tailed and fat-rumped sheep breeds in South Africa. The following breeds are indigenous to Southern Africa, namely the Namaqua Afrikaner (2 000), Blinkhaar and Steekhaar Ronderib Afrikaner (8 000), Pedi sheep (5 000), Nguni sheep (3 000) and the Damara (100 000). The estimated numbers of the sheep in the RSA is given in brackets (Campbell, 1996). Breeds which are indigenous to Africa include the four Persian types, namely Blackhead Persian (300 000), Redhead Persian (2 000), Black speckled Persian (2 000) and Red speckled Persian (100). Then there are also the van Rooy (50 000) and Bezuidenhout sheep (3 000), which are composite breeds developed mainly out of the Ronderib Afrikaner.


At the networking workshop, a lot of emphasis was placed on the role of the communal small scale farmer in the conservation of indigenous livestock. Communal farmers were described as people living in the rural areas on communal ground and keeping livestock for 1) social reasons, 2) as a feed source (milk) and 3) for money. These people do not produce any products for the commercial market. Although many indigenous breeds originated and are still found in the communal grazing areas of the former homelands, the school of thought that these breeds should be conserved by these farmers, was found somewhat alarming.


There are several factors which limit the role of the communal farmer as conservationist. The first are the basic needs of the people. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the primary needs of people are biological needs (food, housing and clothing), security needs (job, danger) and social needs (friendship, acceptance). After these needs are satisfied, the secondary needs such as self fulfilment become important. It is only thereafter that people will start concerning themselves with external issues like nature conservation, etc. Many of the communal farmers are not able to satisfy even their primary needs, and they will definitely not be concerned about the plight of the Namaqua or Ronderib Afrikaner.


Another factor which limits the role of the communal farmer as conservationist is their unique animal breeding system. In the communal setup, animals of all the farmers are run together as one flock and it would be impossible to keep the bloodlines pure.


Indigenous livestock could be of great value to the communal farmers due to their hardiness and tolerance to diseases and parasites. The issue of keeping the bloodlines pure should, however, be somebody else's responsibility. It is therefore necessary to consider all possible role players in the conservation of indigenous sheep.


Firstly, it would be reasonable to accept that the conservation of extremely endangered breeds will only succeed if role players such as museums and the government take the immediate responsibility of preserving them. At the Rio-convention, the government already accepted the responsibility of preserving the indigenous genotypes. It is important that some kind of central secretariat, sponsored by the government, be established to facilitate and co-ordinate information and the preservation of these breeds. The government already plays an important role in the conservation of the Namaqua Afrikaner, Pedi sheep and Nguni cattle. It should be kept in mind that with the current economic situation in the country, the conservation issue would have to compete with housing, health care and education projects for government funds.


Museums and similar institutions already play an important role in the conservation of scarce genetic material. For example, animals of several indigenous breeds are kept at the Willem Prinsloo museum. The role of museums are logistically limited, and they can only play a role in the preservation of these breeds.


Thirdly, small-scale farmers or part-time farmers (not communal or commercial farmers) who feel sentimental towards some of these breeds, may play an important role in conserving indigenous livestock, especially where its products can be sold directly to the consumer with no competition from commercial producers.


At the ACEDA workshop, two concepts, namely conservation through utilization and conservation purely to preserve the genotypes, were put forward. It is noteworthy that all non-endangered indigenous sheep breeds have breed societies (Persian, Van Rooy and Damara) and commercial applications. It can thus be argued that conservation of indigenous breeds should be focused towards commercialisation of these breeds and the concept of conservation through utilization should be applied. Commercialisation of any breed would require an organisation who will be responsible for breed promotion and the development of new and competitive markets for the product(s) of the breed. In this regard, the formation of breed societies for those breeds which presently do not have such societies, may play an important role. Initial funding of breed societies may, however, be a limiting factor for which external funding may be necessary. The formation of breeders groups, such as the Pedi sheep breeders group, could also play an important role in the conservation of such breeds. One of the primary reasons why the fat-tailed sheep breeds are endangered, is their limited commercial value. Up to R 3-00 per kg less are paid for fat-tailed carcasses than for non fat-tailed carcasses of the same fat grade. This is mainly due to consumer resistance, but must be accepted and therefore these breeds could not compete with other non fat-tailed breeds on the mutton market. It is therefore imperative that new and unique markets for the products of these breeds be developed. For example, the skins of these sheep breeds produce excellent garment leather.


Once the future of a breed is secured, this genetic material could be distributed to communal farmers and may be of great value to them. In such a way these people will be in a position to utilise the good characteristics of the indigenous breeds without the burden of trying to keep the breed pure.




The responsibility of conserving the indigenous sheep breeds definitely does not lay on the shoulders of the communal farmers. The government, in co-operation with other role players such as museums, small scale farmers and commercial producers, could ...




Congress DAB-SASAS, Pilansberg, 1-4 October