Until the end of the 19th century, cattle were kept mainly for draft purposes and bred for strength and endurance; meat and fat needs were provided by sheep. The cattle gave little milk and yielded poor-quality meat, while the sheep gave only fat mutton and no wool. The introduction of foreign breeds and crossbreeding gradually improved the stock, providing excellent meat, wool of fairly good quality, and good milk yields. The country's sheep breeds consist mainly of Merino for wool and Dorpes for mutton. Cattle breeds include the introduced Hereford and Aberdeen Angus as well as the indigenous Afrikaner. Diary cows are mostly Fresian, forming a well-developed dairy industry.
The livestock in 2001 included 28.8 million sheep; 13.7 million head of cattle; 6.6 million goats; 1.5 million hogs; and 119 million chickens. Output of fresh cow's milk in 2001 was 2.5 million tons; eggs, 339,000 tons; cheese, 36,000 tons; and wool (greasy), 57,000 tons. Meat production in 2001 included (in tons): beef, 577,000; pork, 118,000; mutton and lamb, 104,000; and poultry, 705,000. South Africa does not produce enough meat to satisfy domestic demand and typically imports live animals from Namibia and meat from Botswana.
Exports of meat in 2001 amounted to $66.6 million. Exports of raw hides, skins, and leather in 2001 were valued at $65.4 million; wool, $48 million.