A South African national livestock survey was conducted in 2003 as part of an FAO initiative. The design of the survey sample framework was based on the input variables of the different biomes and urban/rural and deep rural enumerator areas. This article presents the results of the survey in respect of the communal and emerging dairy sector. The keeping of cattle for milk accounted for only 10.2% of the total use of cattle in the communal sector. The most common grazing system was free grazing in both the communal and emerging sector. The head of the household was mainly male (77%) and more than 60% were older than 50 years. The most common dairy and dual-purpose breed types that were used for milking in the communal sector included the Nguni (23%) and Brahman (22%), with an average herd size of 6 dairy cattle or 11 dual purpose cattle. In the emerging sector milk cows consisted mainly of Drakensbergers (19%) with the most common dairy breeds lacking behind with 6% Friesians and 3% Jerseys. The average herd size for dairy cattle was 39, and for dual-purpose cattle, 42. The distance to water for dairy cattle varied from 1 to 5 km in 49% of the communal sector whereas the emerging farmers indicated that in most cases (43%) drinking water was available at the household.