A review of some characteristics, socio-economic aspects and utilization of Zulu sheep: implications for conservation

30 January 2013

Zulu sheep are Nguni sheep of Zululand and are adapted to the harsh conditions of KwaZulu-Natal. They are used by rural farmers for economic purposes. Their numbers are declining, indicating a potential extinction threat. Knowledge of their phenotypic and genotypic characteristics is essential for conservation planning. In this review, there is a focus on the utilization, socio-economic aspects, phenotypic and genotypic characteristics as well as a proposed breeding programme. A survey has shown that rural farmers in the areas of northern KwaZulu-Natal prefer to keep this breed for its adaptability, resistance to diseases and meat quality. Zulu sheep are small-framed multi-coloured animals. Mature males weigh up to 38 kg and females up to 32 kg. Based on four morphological traits and live weight, phenotypic diversity between three populations was estimated at 48%. A genetic diversity between these three populations was estimated at 22%. Live weight of Zulu sheep can be estimated using the heart girth and wither height measurements. Scrotum circumference of young rams (up to 22 months old) is reliable for estimating the live weight. Animals that were characterized in the studies were grazed extensively and no supplements were provided. There is therefore a potential of weight increase if these animals are reared in a semi-extensive environment. An open nucleus breeding scheme is thus recommended for a sustainable use and conservation of this breed. For more conclusive results, larger numbers of phenotypic and genetic characteristics, in larger numbers of Zulu sheep populations, should be investigated.