With the congress theme of ‘Golden Innovations for Sustainable Animal Agriculture’, it would be opportune to look not only at innovations with present and future potential, but at those ‘golden innovations’ that have been achieved and established over more than five decades. Many of these innovations still form the basis of many aspects of present-day sustainable animal agriculture in southern Africa. This brief review covers three areas, namely the history of the South African Society for Animal Science (SASAS), achievements of animal scientists, mainly in the earlier years of the Society, and the coming of age of professionalism in the animal science profession. The South African Society of Animal Production (SASAP) was founded on 28 April 1961 in Pretoria. The name was later changed to the South African Society for Animal Science. The theme of the first congress of SASAP was ‘Efficiency in Production’, a theme that is still relevant. In 1971 the South African Journal of Animal Science (SAJAS) was initiated, and by 2017 the 47th volume has been published. A large amount of knowledge that is applicable to local conditions has accumulated and should be drawn upon to avoid ‘reinventing the wheel’. In the 1950s to 1970s, Professor Jan Bonsma developed the concept of functional efficiency of cattle and principles that focused on adaptability and sustainability. Extensive research was conducted on the feeding of urea and phosphorus to grazing livestock, leading to the practice of urea-containing rumen-stimulating winter supplementation of ruminants. South Africa was considered a world leader in the field of supplementary feeding practices. South Africa has a proud history in the discipline of animal genetics and the practical application of breeding principles to enhance livestock productivity, and is in the forefront with studies on the genomics of livestock in southern Africa. SASAS was instrumental in establishing the professional status of animal scientists in South Africa. The vision is that an animal scientist should be identified as the expert in his/her field and the best qualified person to advise on matters such as animal breeding, nutrition and general management of livestock. SASAS council also acts as a mouthpiece for and custodian of animal scientists. The society protects the interests of animal scientists, is pro-active in promoting animal science, and acts as a watchdog over the professional activities of members.