Learn more about Livestock

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Image:Flock of sheep.jpg
Sheep are commonly bred as livestock.

Livestock is the term used to refer (singularly or plurally) to a domesticated animal intentionally reared in an agricultural setting to make produce such as food or fibre, or for its labour.

Livestock may be raised for subsistence or for profit. Raising animals (animal husbandry) is an important component of modern agriculture. It has been practiced in many societies, since the transition to farming from hunter-gather lifestyles.


[edit] Origins of livestock

Image:Livestock chicago 1947.jpg
The maze of livestock pens and walkways at Chicago's stockyards, ca. 1947.

Animal-rearing has its origins in the transition of societies to settled farming communities rather than hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Animals are ‘domesticated’ when their breeding and living conditions are controlled by humans. Over time, the collective behaviour, life cycle, and physiology of livestock have changed radically. Many modern farm animals are unsuited to life in the wild. Goats, sheep, and pig were domesticated around 8000 BC in Asia. The earliest evidence of horse domestication dates to around 4000 BC.

[edit] Types of livestock

The term "livestock" is nebulous and may be defined narrowly or broadly.

Domesticated animals typically raised for production of food or fiber include pigs, cows, goats, sheep, horses, donkeys, mules, reindeer, alpacas, yaks and various types of poultry (including chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys). All of these are certainly livestock. In addition, camels, llamas, bison, peafowl, emus, and ostriches may be intentionally reared and be "livestock". This definition includes mammals and birds. The type of livestock reared varies worldwide and depends on factors such as climate, consumer demand, native animals, local traditions, and land type.

On a broader view, "livestock" could incorporate the intentional rearing of butterflies [1], silk worm and honey bees. [2] [3][4] [5][6] [7]. Taking ‘livestock’ to mean ‘domesticated animal’ could include aquaculture, including fish, mollusks, shrimp or other water-borne invertebrates.

By contrast, on a very narrow view, "livestock" refers to red meat animals: cattle and lamb.

This article considers "livestock" based on the middle view. The following table summarises types of livestock.

Animal / Type Wild ancestor Domesticated Area first domesticated Current range Uses
Mammal, herbivore
Vicuña Between 5000 BC and 4000 BC Andes Andes, North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand wool
Mammal, herbivore
American Bison Late 19th Century North America North America, Australia meat, leather, dairy
Mammal, herbivore
Wild Dromedary and Bactrian camels Between 4000 BC and 1400 BC Asia Africa, Asia, Australia Labour, dairy
Mammal, herbivore
Auroch (extinct) 6000 BC Southwest Asia, India, North Africa (?) Worldwide Meat (beef, veal, blood), dairy, leather, labour
Mammal, herbivore
wild Deer 1970 North America North America, Australia, New Zealand Meat (venison), leather, antlers, antler velvet
Mammal, carnivore
Wolf 12000 BC Worldwide Labour, meat
Mammal, herbivore
African Wild Ass 4000 BC Egypt Worldwide Labour, meat, dairy
Mammal, herbivore
Bezoar goat 8000 BC Southwest Asia Worldwide Dairy, meat, wool
Guinea pig
Mammal, herbivore
Cavia tschudii 5000 BC South America Worldwide Meat
Mammal, herbivore
Wild horses of Southern Russia (extinct) 4000 BC Ukraine Worldwide Labour, military, meat, dairy
Mammal, herbivore
Guanaco 3500 BC Andes Andes, North America Labour, meat, wool
Mammal, herbivore
Sterile hybrid of donkey and horse     Worldwide Labour
Mammal, omnivore
Wild boar 8000 BC Southwest Asia, China Worldwide Meat (pork) and bacon, leather
Mammal, herbivore
Wild rabbit between AD 400-900 France Worldwide Meat, wool
Mammal, herbivore
Wild reindeer 3000 BC Russia Arctic Meat, leather, antlers, dairy, labour
Mammal, herbivore
Asiatic mouflon sheep 8000 BC Southwest Asia Worldwide Wool, dairy, meat (mutton and lamb)
Water Buffalo
Mammal, herbivore
Wild water buffalo 4000 BC China (Tibetan Plateau) Asia, South America Labour, meat, dairy
Mammal, herbivore
Wild yak   Tibet Tibetan plateau Meat, dairy, wool, labour

[edit] Purpose of animal rearing

Image:Brown female goat.jpg
Female goat, also called a nanny

‘Livestock’ are defined, in part, by their end purpose as the production of food or fiber, or labour.

The economic value of livestock includes:

the production of a useful form of dietary protein and energy.
Dairy products 
Mammalian livestock can be used as a source of milk, which can in turn easily be processed into other dairy products such as yogurt, cheese, butter, ice cream, kefir, and kumis. Using livestock for this purpose can often yield several times the food energy of slaughtering the animal outright.
Livestock produce a range of fiber/textiles. For example, sheep and goats produce wool; cows, deer, and sheep can make leather; and bones, hooves and horns of livestock can be used.
Manure can be spread on fields to increase crop yields. This is an important reason why historically, plant and animal domestication have been intimately linked. Manure is also used to make plaster for walls and floors and can be used as a fuel for fires. The blood and bone of animals are also used as fertilizer.
Animals such as horses, donkey, and yaks can be used for mechanical energy. Prior to steam power livestock were the only available source of non-human labour. They are still used for this purpose in many places of the world, including ploughing fields, transporting goods, and military functions.
Land management 
The grazing of livestock is sometimes used as a way to control weeds and undergrowth. For example, in areas prone to wild fires, goats and sheep are set to graze on dry scrub which removes combustible material and reduces the risk of fires.

During the history of animal husbandry many secondary products have arisen in an attempt to increase carcass utilization and reduce waste. For example, animal offal and non-edible parts may be transformed into products such as pet food and fertilizer. In the past such waste products were sometimes also fed to livestock as well. However, intra-species recycling poses a disease risk, threatening animal and even human health (see bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), scrapie and prion). Due primarily to BSE (mad cow disease), feeding animal scraps to animals has been banned in many countries, at least in regards to ruminants.

[edit] Farming practices

Main article: animal husbandry

Farming practices vary dramatically world-wide and between types of animals.

Livestock are generally kept in an enclosure, are fed by human-provided food and are intentionally bred, but some livestock are not enclosed, or are fed by access to natural foods, or are allowed to breed freely, or all three.

Livestock raising historically was part of a nomadic or pastoral form of material culture. The herding of camels and reindeer in some parts of the world remain unassociated with sedentary agriculture. The transhumance form of herding in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California still continues as cattle, sheep or goats are moved from winter pasture in lower lying valleys to spring pasture and summer pasture in the foothills and alpine regions as the seasons progress. Cattle were raised on the open range in the Western United States and Canada, as well as on the Pampas of Argentina and other prairie and steppe regions of the world.

The enclosure of livestock in pastures and barns is a relatively new development in the history of agriculture. When cattle are enclosed, the type of ‘enclosure’ may vary from a small crate or to a large fenced pasture. The type of feed may vary from natural growing grass, to highly sophisticated processed feed. Animals are usually intentionally bred through artificial insemination or through supervised mating.

Indoor production systems are generally used only for pigs and poultry, as well as for veal cattle. Indoor animals are generally farmed intensively, as large space requirements would make indoor farming unprofitable and impossible. However, indoor farming systems are controversial due to: the waste they produce, odour problems, the potential for groundwater contamination and animal welfare concerns. (For further discussion on intensively farmed livestock, see factory farming, and intensive pig farming).

Other livestock are farmed outside, although the size of enclosure and level of supervision may vary. In large open ranges animals may be only occasionally collected in "round-ups" or "musters". Herding dogs such as sheep dogs and cattle dogs may be used for mustering as are cowboys, musterers and jackaroos on horseback or in helicopters. Since the advent of barbed wire (in the 1870s) and electric fence technology, fencing pastures has become much more feasible and pasture management simplified. Rotation of pasturage is a modern technique for improving nutrition and health while avoiding environmental damage to the land. In some cases very large numbers of animals may be kept in indoor or outdoor feeding operations (on feedlots), where the animals' feed is processed, offsite or onsite, and stored onsite then fed to the animals.

Livestock - especially cattle - may be branded to indicate ownership, but in modern farming identification is more likely to be indicated by means of ear tags than burning. This is not only more humane, but also has other advantages such as reducing the likelihood of infection and damage to the livestock. Sheep are also frequently marked by means of ear tags. As fears of mad cow disease and other epidemic illnesses mount, the use of microchip identification to monitor and trace animals in the food production system is increasingly common, and sometimes required by governmental regulations.

Modern farming techniques seek to minimize human involvement, increase yield, and improve animal health. Economics, quality and consumer safety all play a role in how animals are raised. Drug use and feed supplements (or even feed type) may be regulated, or prohibited, to ensure yield is not increased at the expense of consumer health, safety or animal welfare. Practices vary around the world, for example growth hormone use is permitted in the United States but not in the European Union or in countries selling meat/produce in the EU such as Australia and New Zealand. Livestock may be branded, marked, or tagged to denote ownership or for inventory, breeding, health management, product identification and tracing, or other purposes.

[edit] Disease

Livestock diseases compromise animal welfare, reduce productivity, and in extreme cases have animal diseases that can infect humans.

Animal diseases may be tolerated; reduced through animal husbandry; or reduced through antibiotics and vaccines. In developing countries animal diseases are tolerated in animal husbandry, resulting in considerably reduced productivity, especially given the low health-status of many developing country herds. Gains in productivity through disease management is often a first step taken in implementing an agriculture policy.

Disease management can be achieved through changes in animal husbandry. These measures may aim to control spread by: controlling animal mixing, controlling entry to farm lots and the use of protective clothing, and quarantining sick animals. Disease management may be controlled by the use of vaccines and antibiotics. Antibiotics may also be used as a growth-promoter. The issue of antibiotic resistance has limited the practices of preventative dosing such as antibiotic-laced feed.

Countries will often require the use of veterinary certificates are often required before transporting, selling or showing animals. Disease-free areas are often rigorously enforced, and may be notified to the OIE.

[edit] Livestock transportation and marketing

Since many livestock are herd animals, they were historically driven to market "on the hoof" to a town or other central location. During the period after the American Civil War, the abundance of Longhorn cattle in Texas and the demand for beef in Northern markets led to the popularity of the Old West cattle drive. The method is still used in some parts of the world. Trail driving bulls is not common due to their strength and aggressive nature, although the Geier Hitch technique will permit some control of a bull via lead rope. Truck transport is now common in developed countries. Local and regional livestock auctions and commodity markets facilitate trade in livestock. In other areas livestock may be bought and sold in a bazaar, such as may be found in many parts of Central Asia, or a flea market type setting such as the First Monday Trade Days in Canton, Texas.

[edit] Stock shows and fairs

Stock shows and fairs are events where people bring their best livestock to compete with one another. Organizations like 4-H and Future Farmers of America encourage young people to raise livestock for show purposes. Special feeds are purchased and hours may be spent prior to the show grooming the animal to look its best. In cattle, sheep, and swine shows, the winning animals are frequently auctioned off to the highest bidder and the funds placed into a scholarship fund for its owner. The movie Grand Champion, released in 2004, is the story of a young Texas boy's experience raising a prize steer.

Poultry Building, Western Fair 1923.

[edit] Animal welfare and rights

The issue of rearing livestock for human benefit raises the issue of the relationship between humans and animals, in terms of the status of animals and obligations of people.

Animal welfare is the viewpoint that animals under human care should be treated in such a way that they do not suffer unnecessarily. What is ‘unnecessary’ suffering may vary. Generally though, the animal welfare perspective is based on an interpretation of scientific research on farming practices.

By contrast, Animal rights is the viewpoint that using animals for human benefit is, by its nature, generally exploitation regardless of the farming practice used. It is a position based on anthropomorphism, in which an individual seeks to place themselves in the position of an animal. Animal rights activists would generally be vegan or vegetarian, whereas it is consistent with the animal welfare perspective to eat meat depending on production processes.

Animal welfare groups generally seek to generate public discussion on livestock rearing practices and secure greater regulation and scrutiny of livestock industry practices. Animal rights groups usually seek the abolition of livestock farming, although some groups may recognise the necessity of achieving more stringent regulation first. Animal welfare groups, such as the RSPCA, are often – in first world countries - given a voice at governmental level in the development of policy. Animal rights groups find it harder to find methods of input, and may go further and advocate civil disobedience or violence.

Animal husbandry practices that have led to legislation in some countries and that may be the subject of current campaigns

  • Confinement of livestock in small and unnatural spaces: For economic or health reasons animals may be kept in the minimum size of cage or pen with little or no space to exercise or engage in normal actions or grooming. Close confinement is most common with chickens, pigs, and calves raised for veal.
  • Unnatural living environments: Even when allowed to move, animals may be denied a natural environment. For example ducks may be kept in free-range barns but have no access to water in which to swim. Cattle may be kept in barns with no chance to graze. Dogs or cats may be kept indoors with no chance to hunt.
  • Overuse of pharmaceuticals and hormones: Intensive raising of livestock may lead to a health problems and the necessity to use antibiotics to prevent disease. In some cases antibiotics and hormones are also fed to livestock to produce rapid weight gain.
  • Overwork and exhaustion of animals: Where livestock are used as a source of power they may be pushed beyond their limits to the point of exhaustion. The public visibility of this abuse meant it was one of the first areas to receive legislation in the nineteenth century in European countries but it still goes on in parts of Asia.
  • Modification to the bodies of living animals: Broiler hens may be de-beaked, pigs have deciduous teeth pulled, cattle de-horned and branded, dairy cows and sheep have tails cropped, merino sheep mulesed, many types of male animals castrated.
  • Long distance transportation of livestock: Animals may be transported long distances to market and slaughter. Overcrowded conditions, heat from tropical-area shipping and lack of food, water and rest breaks have been subject to legislation and protest. (See Live Export)
  • Slaughter of livestock: Slaughter was an early target for legislation. Campaigns continue to target Halal and Kosher religious ritual slaughter.

[edit] Environmental impact

Livestock can have an enormous impact on its local environment. Since livestock is often kept in huge numbers, or unnaturally concentrated numbers, their most basic needs can place huge burdens on ecosystems. The most obvious problem is with their waste matter. If improperly handled it can seep into groundwater with devastating results. Browsing species, such as goats, sheep and deer can completely defoliate certain areas, destroying rare plants and the animals that depend on them and sometimes leading to erosion.

Most environmental impacts can be eliminated or lessened by regulating the numbers of animals in a given area and by other animal husbandry techniques.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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