South African cattle, sheep and goat farmers were urged by the government on Tuesday to cut the size of their herds as drought conditions scorch grazing land.

The forced sale of cattle will hit farmers big and small but will have its most severe impact on subsistence herders who graze their livestock mostly on communal lands and cannot afford to provide the animals with feed supplements.

This will push down prices for live cattle and other livestock but if farmers also resort to reducing numbers by slaughtering animals it could cap rising meat prices in Africa's most advanced economy.

"Farmers are advised to further reduce livestock to protect the limited pastures, i.e. by selling of animals," the department of agriculture said in a climate advisory.

South African prices for yellow maize, used mostly for animal feed, scaled their highest peaks in 2015 on Monday as drought concerns mounted, fueling food price pressures in Africa's most advanced economy.