Baa Baa white sheep, have you any meat?

Its year-round hot and sunny weather makes the south central province of Ninh Thuan an ideal place for sheep farming.

Sandwiched between the country’s two famous resort towns Nha Trang and Mui Ne, Ninh Thuan is known to have the driest weather, with a short monsoon season between September and November.

Brought to Vietnam by the French over 100 years ago, the sheep have thrived in the province. Today the sheep population is estimated at roughly 100,000, primarily in the districts of Ninh Phuoc, Bac Ai and Thuan Bac. Ninh Thuan is nicknamed the ‘holy land’ of sheep.

“Due to the hot weather, Ninh Thuan sheep are raised for meat and breeding only. Their layer of wool is sadly thin and obviously does not receive great care,” said a local farmer, Dao Quang Lo.

“Sheep first appeared in the region in the 19th century when French Catholic missionaries imported them from India, famous for its tropical climate.

“Initially, the sheep were brought to Vietnam to serve as offerings in traditional festivals of the Cham people. Through the years, the animal have adapted themselves to the tropical weather in one of the driest provinces in Vietnam and developed strongly since then,” he said.

Ninh Thuan is home to different ethnic groups and religions, many of whom abstain from pork and beef. They mostly cook sheep for parties, festivals and holidays.

Watching herds of sheep roam freely under the shining sun is a pleasant sight. 

Every day, local shepherds take their flocks at around 8 a.m. to nearby hills where they graze on wild grass. The sheep are taken back to the farm at around 4-5 p.m. when the sun goes down.

Many of Ninh Thuan’s shepherds belong to the Cham ethnic minority who are hired by rich families who own big herds. Their typical work day lasts from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. After a short lunch of rice and dried anchovies, the shepherds move the sheep to another field to feed before they’re ushered back to the farm.

Families with fewer than 200 sheep hired poor children to work as shepherds. It is not unusual to see a group of three to four children sharing the herding job.

Each family marks their sheep with different colors. A sheep weighs 35 to 40 kilograms when it is about nine months old. Each can give birth to three lambs.

The sheep are driven home when the sun sets.

Story by Nguyen Quy

Photos by Tran Binh An