THE Agriculture Ministry has indicated that sheep production is on a steady rise with the herd growing from 600 000 last year to 700 000 in 2022.
According to the Ministry, given the increase in the herd, sheep producers are on the right track in meeting the 800 000 target set to be achieved by 2025.
Agriculture expert Clive Masarakufa said the increase in the sheep herd is a positive development.
“It is noteworthy that Zimbabwe is not a significant player when it comes to sheep farming,” he said.
“I believe this in itself presents exciting prospects for aspiring sheep farmers.
“As is the case in Zimbabwe, livestock production is a lucrative venture. Given how some domains, such as poultry, have many players, sheep farming can be strategic given how less crowded it is.”
Sheep are primarily reared for their meat, wool and milk.
The most popular type of sheep meat is called lamb meat which is obtained from sheep less than 12 months old.
Mutton is meat obtained from a matured sheep. The most popular approach is rearing sheep for meat; however, others do it for wool production.
Milk production is also another focus but it is not very popular.
The other approach entails rearing sheep for breeding purposes.
Locally, Masarakufa said, sheep were mainly raised for meat (lamb or mutton) and wool.
“Milk is not such a major focus; I am not sure why but people just might be sitting on a huge business prospect,” he said.
“Sheep is somehow considered premium meat; in fact, it is so special that in some circles, it is offered as a special delicacy to royal people or important dignitaries.
“The meat itself is quite tasty, particularly lamb which is tender.”
Masarakufa said the market is there and, in some circles, has to be unearthed.
“Producers can target hotels, restaurants and individuals to supply.”
He said land is a major requirement for sheep farming because sheep have to roam in the open.
“You do not really need extremely big land spaces,” he said.
“In principle, there is no one-size-fits all regarding space needed for sheep. Generally, six sheep can thrive well on one acre. The richness of the land and vegetation determines whether or not the population density can be high or low.
“You obviously need reliable pasture land where the sheep can adequately find food as they roam around during the day.”
Masarakufa said sheep are mainly grazers.
“Feeds can be based on two sources, namely foraging and hay or any other related variations,” he said.
“Comprehensively, feed options stem from pastures to hay, silage, grain, urea, minerals, vitamins and feed additives.”
Sheep production, he said, is not labour-intensive.
“Money is needed but you can always start small,” he said.
“The cost of buying sheep varies, depending on age and purpose – prices can range from US$75 for lambs to US$250 or so for ewes around two to four years of age.”
Masarakufa said there are several types of sheep breeds.
“Some of the most common sheep breeds are Hampshire, Tsigai, Turcana, Dorset, Dorper, Leicester, Lincoln and Merino, among others,” he said.
“Choice of breed depends on what you are interested in regarding the quality of meat, wool and milk.
“For instance, the Dorper breed is common in Zimbabwe for meat and milk purposes and it also wields other favourable characteristics such as a high fertility rate.”
Sheep do quite well when it comes to disease resistance, Masarakufa said.
“Some of the common diseases that can attack sheep are heartwater, pulpy kidney (or lamb dysentery), blue tongue, botulism, tetanus, gas gangrene, anthrax and lumpy wool (senkobo or dematophilosis),” he said.
“Some of the vectors of these diseases are dietary changes, puncture or enter wounds, bont ticks, spores and fungi.
However, sheep are highly vulnerable to parasitic and predatory attacks.
“ This is why, for the latter, security in the form of physical barriers and guard dogs are paramount.”
As sheep production rises, it is hoped more players will venture into the sector.