Livestock Research for Rural Development 29 (2) 2017 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

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Current status and perspectives of sheep sector in the world

B Skapetas and M Kalaitzidou

Department of Agricultutal Technologists, School of Agricultural Technology, Alexander Technological Educational Institute (ATEITHE), 57400 Thessaloniki, Greece


World sheep population during the period 2000-2013 was increased by 10.7% with Africa to keep the first place (32%) having a contribution about 27.7%. Asia has the largest contribution in world sheep population (44.9%). During the period 2000-2012 world sheep milk production was increased by 24.1%. In all continents, with exception of Europe, was observed a significant increase in milk production. The top five countries in the world with the larger sheep milk production are China, Τurkey, Syria, Greece and Romania. World sheep meat production, during the same period was increased by 29.5%. Asia has the larger contribution in the total meat production (48.6%), while Africa has the larger increase (36.6%). The leader country in sheep meat production worldwide is China followed by Australia, New Zealand, Sudan and India. China produces 24.5% of the total world sheep meat production. The mean sheep carcass weight in world level is 15.8 kg with significant variation among the continents and different countries. Greasy wool production, during the same period, was decreased by 10.6%, with the greater decrease in Oceania. Worldwide sheep raw skin production during the above period was increased about 405%, with the greater increase in Oceania.

Key words: greasy wool, meat production, milk production, skin production


Sheep since their domestication have accompanied man in all its long history (Ryder, 2007). Nowadays sheep husbandry is practiced in the majority of the inhabited world and has been fundamental to many civilizations. This specie is widely adapted to different climates and is found in all livestock production systems (Hatziminaoglou 2006).

Sheep industry provides employment to many millions of people all over the world, and especially in the undeveloped and developing countries. Sheep farming has been also significant in the development and economic growth in different developed countries.

On the other hand, secures a strong link with the land and the environment with significant role in biodiversity and landscape conservation, provides to the man significant products (meat, milk) with high biological value in human nutrition and fiber of high quality (Zygoyannis 2014). Also sheep sector requires fewer capital than other agriculture sector.

Sheep are the most suitable of the ruminant species to utilize the poor vegetation in difficult and marginal areas through rangeland management. Furthermore sheep do not damage the trees and are considered as excellent weed destroyer (El Aich and Waterhouse 1999). On the other hand it should be noted that sheep sector is very labor intensive and requires specific skills. This sector is characterized by a lack of technical services and training and the productivity varied a lot (Brunagel et al 2008).

World sheep population during the period 1961-2000 was increased only by 6.22%. Meanwhile, this population during the same period, in Asia was increased by 78.3% and in Africa by 82.3%. As a consequence in Asian and African countries was increased significantly the sheep meat and milk production.

During the same period world goat population was increased by 116% (annual growth rate 2.89%). So the ratio sheep tο goats from 2.85 in 1961 was reduced to 1.4 in 2000. In this period the growth of human population was 97.3%.

The aim of this article was to study the present status and the perspectives of sheep sector in the world, especially during the period 2000-2013.

Materials and methods

The data of sheep population, sheep milk, meat, greasy wool and raw skins in the different continents and different countries of the World were taken from the FAO data base (Faostat  2013). These data were processed statistically and were analyzed further in order to arrive in final conclusions.

Results and discussion

Sheep population

World sheep number and its evolution is presented in Table 1. During the period 2000-2013 sheep population was increased by 10.7% (average per year about 0,83%). The world goat population at the same period was increased by 33.8% (Faostat 2013). On the other hand the ratio sheep to goat in 2013 was 1.17, while in 2000 was 1.4, indicating that goat population was increased more rapidly in comparison with sheep population (Faostat 2013). It should be noted that the increase of sheep population wasn’t uniform in all continents and in all countries. During 2013 in the low income and developing countries existed above of 70% of the total number of sheep worldwide (Faostat 2013).

Table 1. Sheep population in the World in 2000 and 2013 (Faostat 2013).

Sheep population (heads)

Change (%)

Contribution (%)




414 248 800

526 590 642




246 505 821

325 338 760




160 828 340

106 351 147




146 694 240

129 650 518



ΕU (28)

123 202 970

97 553 758




90 805 157

84 902 123




1 059 082 358

1 172 833 190



Among the continents, Asia constantly holds the first place having a contribution to the world sheep population of 44.9% and increase of sheep number during the period 2000-2013 of 27.1%. Africa takes the second place with contribution 27.7% and increase 32%. In all other continents is observed a significant decrease of sheep population with Oceania to have the largest decrease (33.9%) (Table 1). This because in Australia the sheep population was decreased by 36.3% and in New Zealand by 27.2%. In Americas the decrease of sheep was 6.5%, while in Europe and in the E.U.(28) was observed a significant decrease (11.6 and 20.8%, respectively, Table 1).

Among the Asian countries the largest sheep population exist in China, India, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey. Sheep in China (185 000 000 heads) constitute the 15.8% of the total world sheep population and the 35.1% of Asia sheep population. During the period 2000-2013 sheep population in China was increased by 41.1%, in India by 27% and in Pakistan by 19.6%. On the contrary, in Turkey and Iran this population was decreased by 9.35 and 6.83%, respectively (Faostat 2013).

In the African continent the largest sheep population exist in Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Algeria. During the period 2000-2013 sheep population in Ethiopia was increased by 142%, in Nigeria by 50%, in Algeria by 44.8% and in Sudan by 13.9% (Faostat 2013). In Americas the top five countries with the largest sheep population are Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Mexico (Faostat 2013).

In the European continent the largest sheep population exist in United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Spain, Greece, Romania and France. In some of the European countries during the period 2000-2013 was observed a significant increase in sheep number (Russian Federation 75.1%, Romania 8.78% and Greece 6.36%). On the other hand, in other countries with tradition in sheep production sheep population was decreased significantly (Portugal 42.2%, Italy 36.3%, Spain 32.7%, France 24.5% and United Kingdom 22.3%) (Faostat 2013). It should be noted that all these countries are members of EU(28).

Milk production

The role of sheep milk to human nutrition is important in many developing countries and especially in the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, Middle East and South American countries. A wide variety of products are manufacturing from sheep milk such as many cheeses, yogurt, butter, etc. Sheep milk is commonly used to make cultured dairy products. There are relatively a limited number of sheep breeds that are specialized for dairy purposes. The most productive dairy sheep breeds in the world include the Lacaune, the East Friesian, the Sarda, the Assaf, the Chios and the Awassi.

Sheep milk is richer in fat, solids, and minerals in comparison of cow milk and goat milk. These characteristics make it ideal for cheese making.

Table 2.  presents the evolution of sheep milk production during the period 1990-2012 in different parts of the World. At the world level milk production during the period 2000-2012 was increased by 24.5% with an average increase per year 1.85%. In the same period goat milk was increased by 39.2% (Skapetas and Bampidis 2016). The average increase of milk production during the period 1990-2000 was only 1.24% (Faostat 2012). The produced milk per inhabitant and per year worldwide is 1.43 kg, while the larger amounts for this variable are produced in Europe (4.07 kg) and EU(28) (5.59 kg), while the lowest in Americas (0.04 kg).

Among the continents Asia is constantly the larger producer of sheep milk (contribution 46.7%), followed by Europe (contribution 29.8%), and Africa (contribution 23.1%), while Oceania is the continent that not produce sheep milk. During the period 2000-2012 Africa has the larger increase (36.6%) in sheep milk, followed by Asia (33.8%) and Americas (16.9%). In Europe and E.U.(28) the increase was enough lower (Table 2).

Table 2. Evolution of sheep milk production (tonnes) in the World during the period 1990 - 2012 (Faostat 2012).


Change (%)

(%) 2012

Milk per inhabitant
(kg/year), 2012





3 465 782

3 533 965

4 729 861





1 531 888

1 709 969

2 336 549












3 027 324

2 880 886

3 015 062





2 712 273

2 705 480

2 795 315





34 854

35 120

41 050





8 059 848

8 159 940

10 122 522




In Asia the larger producers of sheep milk are China (1 580 000 tonnes), Turkey (1 010 007 tonnes), Syria (703 008 tonnes), Iran (465 000 tonnes) and Afghanistan (211 000 tonnes, Faostat 2012). The African countries with the larger amount of sheep milk are Sudan (532 000 tonnes), and Algeria (336 000 tonnes). In the American continent the sheep milk production is very limited. The countries with significant milk production are Bolivia (34 000 tonnes) and Ecuador (7 050 tonnes).

In the European continent the larger producers of sheep milk are Greece (699 500 tonnes), Romania (650 912 tonnes), Spain (552 517 tonnes), Italy (406 177 tonnes), and France (274 686 tonnes). The sheep milk production in Europe is a significant sector chiefly for the Southern countries (Rancourt and Carrère 2011). Greece is the leader country of sheep milk production in the Europe since it produces the 23.2% of Europe and 25.0% of EU(28). On the other hand Greece takes the first place in Europe and one of the first places in the World, for the sheep milk production per inhabitant and per year (63.1 kg).

Concerning the annually milk production per ewe the first place takes Austria (425 kg), followed by Switzerland (407 kg), Malta (213 kg) and France (213 kg). In world level milk yield of dairy ewes is 46.6 kg.

In many countries the largest amount of sheep milk is used for the production of different cheese types. The most popular sheep cheeses worldwide are the Roquefort of France, the Feta of Greece, the Manchego of Spain, the Pecorino Romano, Pecorino Sardo and Ricotta of Italy, the Serra da Estrela of Portugal etc (Rubino et al 1999). The sheep cheese market seems to be dominated by the Europe, since this continent produces the 57.4% of the total cheese world production (Faostat 2012). The leader country in Europe and in the world for this production is Greece (33.8% of European and 19.4% of world production, respectively), followed by Spain (3rd place in the world), Italy and France. A significant amount of this production is exported in USA, but the largest amount of sheep cheese is exchanged within European countries. China occupies the second place in the world after Greece. Other countries with significant sheep cheese production in the world are Syria, Turkey, Niger and Iran (Faostat 2012).

The greater exporters of sheep cheeses in the world are Italy and France, while the greater importers are USA, Germany, Luxembourg and Austria (Faostat 2012).

Meat production

Sheep meat is one of the world four major meat categories along with beef, pig meat and poultry meat. Sheep that are farmed for meat production constitute the major part of the sheep world population.

Table 3 shows the evolution of sheep meat production during the period 1990-2012. In world level sheep meat production during the period 2000-2012 was increased by 29.5% (about 2.27% per year). During the same period goat meat production was increased by 41.7%. Among the continents Africa has the largest increase in meat production (36.6%), followed by Asia (20%). In all other continents sheep meat production was decreased significantly. The larger decrease was observed in Oceania (20.3%), Europe (16%) and EU(28) (23.8). Sheep meat production in the EU(28) was decreased partly due to the reform of Common Market Organization in 1992 (Ashworth 2000). It should be noted that the importance of sheep meat production varies significantly from country to country in Europe.

The largest contribution in meat production has Asia (48.6%), followed by Africa (20.2%) and Europe (13.9%) (Table 3).

Table 3. Evolution of sheep meat production (tonnes) in the World during the period 1990 - 2012 (Faostat 2012).


Change (%)

(%), 2012

Meat per inhabitant
(kg/year), 2012





1 987 080

3 433 472

4 121 663





924 509

1 254 602

1 713 578





1 253 062

1 323 852

1 054 838





2 435 883

1 397 874

1 174 890




ΕU (28)

1 351 406

1 187 835

904 960





511 803

419 335

415 895





7 112 337

7 829 134

8 480 864




The leader country in sheep meat production in the world is China with 2 080 000 tonnes in 2012. This production constitutes the 50.8% of Asia and 35.9% of the global world meat production. On the other hand, China is also and the larger importer and consumer of sheep meat in the world. EU(28) is the second largest producer and importer of sheep meat (Faostat 2013).

The export trade of sheep meat traditionally was dominated by New Zealand and Australia, which are also the second and the third world largest producers, respectively. In these two countries sheep meat production is dominated by pastoral production systems (Bray and Gonzalez-Mauri 2010). Ιn recent years Australia has increased lamb exports by using meat breeds (Kimbal 2009), while New Zealand, because of competition from dairying and forestry, hasn’t achieved any growth.

Sudan and India are the fourth and fifth countries with the largest sheep meat production in the world. In Asia, except China and India significant meat production has Turkey, Syria and Pakistan. In Africa significant meat production after Sudan have Algeria, Nigeria, Morocco and South Africa. In Europe the larger producers of sheep meat are United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Spain, France and Greece (Faostat 2012). It should be noted that in Europe and especially in EU(28) because of economic problems since September 2008 sheep meat production and its imports are decreased significantly. In Americas the top five countries with the larger meat production are Brazil, USA, Mexico, Argentina and Peru.

The produced sheep meat per inhabitant and per year is higher in Oceania (28.50 kg) and in the lowest level in Americas (0.44 kg). The leader countries in the world in this variable are New Zealand (101 kg) and Australia (26.7 kg).

The number of slaughtered sheep and the carcass mean weight of animals are given in Table 4. From the data of this table is observed that in world scale were slaughtered 535 756 859 animals in 2012. The greater contribution in this number has Asia (50%), followed by Africa (22.3%). The mean carcass weight of slaughtered animals worldwide is 15.8 kg. The higher carcass weight is observed in Oceania (21 kg), while the lower in Africa (14 kg).

World demand for sheep meat will continue to increase and for that reason the sheep meat market should remain firm with further price increases. In the long terms world sheep market can be influenced by different factors such as international trade agreements, the competition by other meats, the exchange rates etc. On the other hand political and climate changes, food safety problems, and animal health will also influence the long term perspectives for sheep meat.

In the future sheep sector should be adapted to be more efficient with less resources, particularly those associated with environmental and labor force constraints (Montossi et al 2013).

Table 4. Slaughtered sheep (heads) and carcass mean weight (kg) in 2012 (Faostat 2012).


Μean carcass
( kg)


267 681 604



119 322 415



47 875 444



75 217 957



59 674 532



25 659 439



535 756 859


Greasy wool production

Wool has been of prime importance throughout man’s history (Ryder 2007) and was the first product to warrant international trade. In addition to clothing wool is used for carpeting, blankets, horse rugs, felt etc. While this product represents only 3% of world fiber production it is important to the economy and way of life in many countries of the world. Meanwhile, with the gradual increased use of synthetic fibers the demand for wool production was decreased rapidly.

Table 5. shows the sheep greasy wool production for the years 2000 and 2012. In world level is observed a decrease of 10.6%. The largest decrease in greasy wool production has Oceania (43.2%), followed by Americas (21.8%). Europe and EU(28) have a relative increase (3.88% and 2.36%, respectively). Meanwhile, Asia and Africa have an increase 22 and 15.7%, respectively (Table 6). The largest contribution for this product worldwide holds Asia (42.5%), followed by Oceania (25.5%).

Table 5. Sheep greasy wool production (tonnes) in the World in 2000 and 2012
(Faostat 2012).


Change (%)

(%), 2012




719 209

877 273




205 360

237 639




928 200

527 100




257 146

267 131



ΕU (29)

197 143

192 483




201 501

157 552




2 311 416

2 066 695



China is the leader producer of greasy wool in the world (400 000 tonnes, 19.4% of total world production), followed by Australia (362 100 tonnes), New Zealand (165 000 tonnes), United Kingdom (68 000 tonnes) and Iran (61 500 tonnes). Though the China is the largest producer of sheep wool, Australia dominates the world wool market. The largest exporters of greasy wool in the world are Australia, South Africa, Germany and New Zealand, while the largest importers are China, India, Czech Republic, Germany and Italy (Faostat 2012). It should be noted that in Australia the combined effect of the declining sheep population and the changing structure away from wool-producing Merinos has significantly reduced wool production.

Raw skin production

In Table 6. is presented the sheep raw skin production for the years 2000 and 2012. In the world level an increase of 405% is observed during the period 2000-2012. Oceania had a spectacular increase in raw skin production of 2776%, followed by Africa (41.1%) and Asia (23.2%). On the contrary, in Europe and EU(28) was observed a significant decrease. Among the continents Oceania holds the larger contribution (80.7%) in sheep skin production followed by Asia with contribution 11.7% (Faostat 2012).

Table 6. Sheep raw skin production (tonnes) in the World in 2000 and 2012
(Faostat 2012).


Change (%)

(%), 2012




851 791

1 049 474




200 064

282 323




251 136

7 223 508




376 886

299 085



ΕU (28)

236 966

206 245




92 311

93 160




1 772 189

8 947 550



Among different countries New Zealand holds the first place (7 110 916 tonnes, 79.5% of the total world production), followed by Jordan (293 540 tonnes) and Australia (112 194 tonnes).

Sheep skin leather has smooth texture it can substitute the buckskin and from it can be produced gloves, clothing, shoes etc. Lambskin and sheepskin are wooled products. The fleece of sheepskin has excellent insulating properties and it is resistant to flame and static electricity. From them can be produced soft wool-lined clothing or coverings (gloves, hats, slippers etc.).



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Received 31 October 2016; Accepted 5 December 2016; Published 1 February 2017

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