Southern African native sheep breeds thrive in extreme environments. They are lean and muscular, with thick rump and tail fat. In times of scarce grazing, body fat is stored here for use as fuel.

They are raised primarily for their meat. Although the Damara is the most popular commercial sheep in South Africa, the BaPedi is also used by farmers to raise sheep for commercial meat production. The native sheep breeds do well in veld grazing systems.


Damara ewe and lamb. (Source: GL Damara Sheep / Skaap, Facebook)

Large and native to Namibia, the Damara sheep stands out with its distinctive black face. It has a long, skinny body, short hair, and a thick, woolly undercoat that it only needs to shed during the summer. The colours can be brown, white, black, or a combination of those. The horns on both rams and ewes are spiralled.

The Damara can live well on both shrubland and leaves, which is different from other sheep breeds. It can also fight off both internal and external parasites and sheep sickness. The average age at first lambing is 1 year and 5 months, and the average interval between births is 7,5 months. Lambs are typically born with fewer complications because of their small size. A Damara ewe is an excellent mother weighing around 30 to 55 kg, and adult rams weigh 50 to 85 kg.

In about seven months, the animal will reach the required 18 kg for slaughter. Damara meat has a low fat content, a fine texture, and no fat streaks. The fat on a Damara carcass is only 1 to 2 mm thick. Damara sheep leather was found to be the strongest of nine different sheep breeds studied, thanks to its extremely fine grain and high tensile strength.

Namaqua Afrikaner

Namaqua Afrikaner ram. (Source: Op Vakansie Boerdery, Facebook)

It is believed that Namaqua Afrikaner sheep are descended from the Khoikhoi (Hottentot) people who inhabited South Africa before colonisation. Located in the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture’s Carnarvon Experimental Station, the Namaqua Afrikaner is now being saved from being one of South Africa’s most endangered sheep breeds thanks to a conservation programme.

Farmers buy surplus animals from conservation breeding programmes. The Namaqua Afrikaner is characterised by long legs, a slim body, and a long, plump tail that can hold as much as 38 percent of its weight. The long, fat tail serves as an energy reserve for long dry seasons. It has a silky, whitehaired coat that is used for making gloves and other lightweight leather goods. Animals’ heads can be either red or black. Rams and ewes have horns. A Namaqua Afrikaner first lamb is born at 16,5 months, and then every 8 to 9 months after that. The mature weight of rams can reach 75 kg, and ewes can reach a weight of 56 kg.

Ronderib Afrikaner

Ronderib Afrikaner ram. (Source: Blinkhaar Ronderib Afrikaner Telersgenootskap, Facebook)

This large, plump-tailed sheep breed gets its name from the shape of its ribs, which are oval. The Ronderib Afrikaner sheep is an old breed with possible roots in the Middle East or North Africa. It has adapted to live in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, which is mostly desert. When it needs to travel great distances in search of grazing and water, the animal’s long, thin legs are a great asset, and the fat stored in its huge, round tail can provide it with an extra 2 to 3 kilogrammes of energy.

Mature rams weigh between 60 and 65 kg, and ewes between 50 and 55 kg. It usually takes about 8 months before the first lamb is born. Lambs have a slow growth rate and are typically sold when they are 10 to 12 months old. As an additional breed of sheep, the “Ronderib” is frequently used due to the lean and compact nature of its carcass. Teaser rams, which are typically Ronderib rams, are used to prime ewes of other breeds for mating. The substantial tail fat is often used for preparing boerewors and droëwors (droëwors is a preserved meat product made of finely minced meat and fat mixed with salt, spices, and then dried). The breed is prized for the soft, glossy, light-cream wool used to make blankets. The skin has a high value for the manufacture of luxury leather goods.

Zulu sheep

Zulu sheep ram. (Source: Op Vakansie Boerdery, Facebook)

The Zulu sheep is a subspecies of the Nguni breed. Nguni sheep are well suited to the climate of KwaZulu-Natal thanks to the diversity of their ancestry. Tickborne diseases do not seem to bother them, and they do well even in harsh climates and communal grazing situations. The Zulu sheep, along with the BaPedi, are members of the Nguni subspecies that have elongated fat tails for piling surplus fat. Some sheep in the breed have extremely short ears (called “mouse ears” or “swelamadlebe” for short), but this is a rare occurrence due to a recessive gene. The mature weight of rams is up to 38 kg, and ewes weigh up to 32 kg. The desire to increase carcass weight and mutton production has led to the risky practise of interbreeding with nonnative breeds, which threatens genetic purity. According to 1995 research, there were only about 3 000 remaining pure Nguni sheep in South Africa.

BaPedi sheep

BaPedi sheep ram. (Source: Jan Koekemoer, Facebook)

According to legend, the BaPedi sheep made their way south into the Limpopo province a few centuries ago. In this region, you will find the largest population of BaPedi sheep. The BaPedi is a type of Nguni sheep characterised by a chubby tail, a mixture of white, brown, and red hair, a small body, and long legs. Because this breed is naturally resistant to ticks, there is no chance that it will get diseases like blue tongue, redwater, or heartwater, which are spread by ticks. It is common knowledge that BaPedis reach adulthood quickly.

The first lamb is born at 11 months, and there are two more lambings per year at sixmonth intervals. BaPedi ewes have been known to continue lambing up to the age of eight years. Sheep can be slaughtered at their ideal weight of 30 kg after 12 months of age (12 months for ram lambs) (18 kg of meat). The mature rams weigh between 60 and 75 kg, and ewes between 40 and 50 kg.


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