Opinion / China Daily Bureau Chiefs

Mutton industry brings boom to local economy

By Yuan Hui (chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2015-08-20 11:13

Mutton industry brings boom to local economy

A shepherd pastures a group of Sonid sheep. [Photo/China Daily]

As a key mutton production area in China, Inner Mongolia is home to many breeds of sheep. One of them, the Sonid sheep, is a National Geographical Indication Protection product and included in the National Protection List of Livestock and Poultry Genetic Resources.

Sonid sheep are mainly bred in the Sonid Left Banner and Right Banner in the west of Xilingol Grassland.

Thanks to the climate and vegetation of the Xilingol Grassland, the meat from a natural-grazed Sonid sheep is fresh and tender, with low fat and no smell. This kind of mutton was historically used as tribute to royals. Since they naturally graze on the grassland, Sonid sheep are also called grassland sheep.

A female Sonid can give birth to only one lamb per year. At present, there are about one million ewes, and each sheep can produce only about 10 kilograms of mutton per year. The output of authentic Sonid mutton is no more than 10,000 tons per year.

At present, a tracking system is set up for Sonid sheep. Each sheep is earmarked immediately after birth, and the tracking system will follow it from lamb to mutton.

Inner Mongolia is becoming China's major agricultural and livestock base, producing 22 percent of the overall number of the nation's sheep. That is to say, for every five sheep consumed, one is from Inner Mongolia.

Mutton industry brings boom to local economy

Workers process meat on an assembly line for mutton production. [Photo/China Daily]

The region has its advantages in resources, technology and professionals in the sheep industry, as well as local government's support. In 2014, the country produced 4.09 million tons of mutton;, 930,000 tons came from Inner Mongolia. However, these figures are far from enough compared to the number of Chinese consumers. Therefore, Inner Mongolia's mutton industry has great potential, according to Zhang Zhigang, an expert in the sheep meat industry.

As more and more Inner Mongolian companies go global, such as Yili Group, the region is expected to cultivate more leading meat companies.

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