Understanding the production environment under which Zulu sheep are raised is essential in strategizing the breed’s conservation and improvement programme. Ninety-six farmers across 11 rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, were interviewed using structured questionnaires to describe traditional Zulu sheep production system, evaluate its sustainability and identify some constraints limiting production. Sheep were the least owned livestock species amongst interviewed farmers after cattle and goats. Farmers began sheep production with sample stock of fewer than four animals, either bought from other farmers or inherited through patrilineality. Sheep flock sizes were 39.8±7.5 (±SD) on average, with each flock constituting of 3.12±0.31 rams, 21.81±5.61 ewes, 4.98±0.87 yearlings and 9.92±2.05 lambs. About 43.7% of the flocks interacted with 2 or fewer neighbouring flocks during grazing time. Rate of flock size decrease was estimated at 7.4% in the past 5 years. Drought and diseases were identified as leading causes of sheep loss. Methods to controlling external and gastro-intestinal parasites were only practised when sheep showed a need. Zulu sheep were used mainly as a source of meat, income and manure and were preferred over their exotic counterparts because they were regarded tolerant to diseases and drought and for their tasty meat. The information obtained in this study is crucial in planning suitable conservation, improvement and extension programs for the breed.
Key words: Production environment, animal genetic resources, socio-economic, production systems.
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