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Ethiopia has one of the largest sheep population in Africa and globally. All year round the country provides healthy and good quality exotic Ethiopia sheep to the local and international market.

Overview and history

The overall sheep population in Ethiopia is estimated to be 24.2 million with that of goats lying at 22.6 million. However, cattle population of 52.13 million is rated as the largest at the moment.

Indigenous sheep are still the most extensively reared breeds across the country. The export value for live sheep in 2017 stood at $9.006 million. Regarding numbers, Ethiopia was estimated to have exported a total of over 232,228 live animals which amounted to 58.89 million USD. When broken down that number represented over 71,105 cattle, 149,595 goats and sheep as well as 11,527 camels.

The origin of sheep dates back 12000 years ago in Egypt, ancient Mesopotamia. On the other hand, the woolen sheep were domesticated 8,000 years ago in Iran, and the Persians primarily herded it for its wool which they used to generate income by exporting it to Europe and Africa.

The government has made the export of live animals a priority as they believe there is still more that can be done to increase revenue collected from the sector. It continues to put in place measures and strategies that will drive up exports not only of live animals but also their value-added products. This includes encouraging the relevant private bodies to divulge more in the sector and by granting necessary funds, installing improved laboratory facilities and promoting the industry to the international market among others.

Sources and benefits

Smallholder farmers and pastoralist communities are the primary sources of Ethiopia live sheep. Sheep are extensively herded in the agro-pastoralist area of Degehabur located in Eastern Ethiopia and Tigray which consists of numerous smallholder farmers.

Sheep serve multiple purposes to the owners. Primarily Ethiopians keep sheep as a source of income. Some of them milk their sheep and sell the milk or use it for household consumption. The sheep also provide food security to areas that are not climatically or ecologically suitable for farming. Other by-products obtained from sheep include hides, meat, wool, and processed products which are availed to the local and international markets.

Herders graze their flock by the roadside and riversides. Other mechanisms applied range from browser grazing, private grazing, communal grazing to private grazing. Herders rely on pond water, deep wells, and harvested water to water their animals.

Export forms

Although there is a wide range of products that are extracted from sheep such as mutton, wool and milk the main export form is that of live animals.


Ethiopian herders domesticate a wide range of sheep breeds. The indigenous breeds are predominant. Nonetheless, newly improved breeds have been introduced over the years with the aim of increasing sheep production and improving the quality of flocks availed to both local and export markets.

They include:

Menz also was known as Legegora or Shoa is domesticated mainly in the North Shoa zone of Amhara State. Menz is suited to climatic conditions that are either dry or sub-moist conditions with sub-alpine highlands lying between 2 500-3 200 m. They are short, small-sized, short-legged and have a fat tail. Their wool which tends to be coarse is black and has white and brown patches.

Abergelle- Adapt well to dry, cool and sub-moist highlands of at least 2 000 m. This breed is found in the river valley Wag Himra zone which consists of the Amhara and Tigray State. They are medium-sized, have a fat tail and have rudimentary ears. They are herded by the Tigray, Amhara and Agew communities.

Wollo- This breed which is extensively domesticated by the Amhara communities are small in size and have long hair plus woolly undercoat which is mostly black. They have fat but short tail. They do well in altitudes between 2 000-3 200 m.

Farta- This breed is primarily herded in South Gondar region which comprises of Belesa, Zuria, Dembia which have elevations ranging from 2 000-2 500 m. A fat short tail also categorizes them, are medium-sized, and they are wooly undercoat color varies from white, black, brown belly to brown.

Washera- This breed which is also known as Agew or dangilla is suited to mid-highlands of 1 600-2000 m covering West and East Gojam and Agew Awi zones of Amhara state featuring Madura, Dangur and Alefa Takusa districts. The sheep have a large body size, a short fat tail and are short haired. The Amhara mostly rears them.

Other varieties include the Arsi-Bale, Adilo, Horro, and Bonga.

Housing and post-harvesting

Herders ensure facilities, where the sheep are housed, are always clean, dry and have good drainage systems. They are also well roofed to shield the sheep from adverse weather conditions such as rain and strong winds as well as predators. Manure is collected on a frequent basis. Herders practicing mixed farming using it on their farms.

Veterinarians are called upon once in a while to administer vaccinations to prevent the sheep from succumbing to deadly diseases such as anthrax as well as foot and mouth.

Ethiopia sheep are purchased directly from the herders and transported to the Bola Airport in Addis Ababa whereby special trucks are used. Quarantine and Inspection Services are administered before loading the sheep on the vehicles. This ensures that not a single sick or injured animal is put in the truck. The trucks are adequately ventilated, and temperatures are regularly checked during transportation to the airport to ensure they remain at a level that is comfortable for the sheep. They are fitted with air conditioning systems. Drivers are closely monitored to ensure they do not exceed the speed limit which could lead to the injuring of sheep on transit.


Ethiopia sheep are of the highest quality. The mandatory vaccination and certification of Ethiopia sheep by the regional animal quarantine department for CBPP, FMD, Black leg, Anthrax LSD & PASTEURELLOSIS ensures they meet all stipulated guidelines upon delivery.

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