Livestock are domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting
to produce labor and commodities such as meat, eggs, milk, fur,
leather, and wool. The term is sometimes used to refer solely to those
that are bred for consumption, while other times it refers only to
farmed ruminants, such as cattle and goats.
In recent years, some organizations have also raised livestock to
promote the survival of rare breeds. The breeding, maintenance, and
slaughter of these animals, known as animal husbandry, is a component
of modern agriculture that has been practiced in many cultures since
humanity's transition to farming from hunter-gatherer lifestyles.
Animal husbandry practices have varied widely across cultures and time
periods. Originally, livestock were not confined by fences or
enclosures, but these practices have largely shifted to intensive
animal farming, sometimes referred to as "factory farming". Now, over
99% of livestock are raised on factory farms. These practices
increase yield of the various commercial outputs, but have also led to
negative impacts on animal welfare and the environment. Livestock
production continues to play a major economic and cultural role in
numerous rural communities.
1 Etymology and legal definition
7 Transportation and marketing
8 Environmental impact
9 Economic and social benefits
10 See also
12 External links
Etymology and legal definition
This Australian road sign uses the less common term "stock" for
Livestock as a word was first used between 1650 and 1660, as a merger
between the words "live" and "stock". In some periods the words
"cattle" and "livestock" have been used interchangeably. One instance
is Old North French catel, which meant all kinds of movable personal
property, including livestock, which was differentiated from
immovable real estate ("real property"). In later English, sometimes
small livestock such as chickens and pigs were referred to as "small
cattle".. Today, the modern meaning of cattle,
without a modifier, usually refers to domesticated bovines, but
sometimes "livestock" refers only to this subgroup.
United States' federal legislation defines the term in broader or
narrower ways to make specified agricultural commodities either
eligible or ineligible for a program or activity. For example, the
Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act of 1999
Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act of 1999 (P.L. 106-78, Title IX)
defines livestock only as cattle, swine, and sheep. The 1988 disaster
assistance legislation defined the term as "cattle, sheep, goats,
swine, poultry (including egg-producing poultry), equine animals used
for food or in the production of food, fish used for food, and other
animals designated by the Secretary."
Deadstock is defined in contradistinction to livestock as " animals
that have died before slaughter, sometimes from illness". It is
Canada to sell or process meat from dead animals for human
Further information: History of agriculture
Animal-rearing originated during the cultural transition to settled
farming communities from hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Animals are
domesticated when their breeding and living conditions are controlled
by humans. Over time, the collective behaviour, lifecycle and
physiology of livestock have changed radically. Many modern farm
animals are unsuited to life in the wild.
Dogs were domesticated in East
Asia about 15,000 years ago.
sheep were domesticated around 8000 BC in Asia. Swine were
domesticated by 7000 BC in the
Middle East and China. The earliest
evidence of equine domestication dates to around 4000 BC. Cattle
have been domesticated since approximately 10,500 years ago.
Chickens and other poultry may have been domesticated around 7000
BC. Rabbits are said to have been domesticated in the 5th Century
by the monks of the Champagne Region in France.
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The term "livestock" is nebulous and may be defined narrowly or
broadly. Broadly, livestock refers to any breed or population of
animal kept by humans for a useful, commercial purpose. This can mean
domestic animals, semidomestic animals, or captive wild animals.
Semidomesticated refers to animals which are only lightly domesticated
or of disputed status. These populations may also be in the process of
Animal / Type
Time of first captivity, domestication
Area of first captivity, domestication
Current commercial uses
Between 5000 BC and 4000 BC
Alpaca fiber, meat
Southeast Asia, Bali
Meat, milk, draught
captive (see also Beefalo)
Late 19th century
Wild dromedary and Bactrian camel
Between 4000 BC and 1400 BC
Mount, pack animal, meat, milk, camel hair
Southwest Asia, South Asia, North Africa
Meat (beef, veal), milk, leather, draught
Meat, skins, pet
Meat, tusks, skins, pet
First century AD
Meat (venison), leather, antlers, antler velvet
African wild ass
Mount, pack animal, draught, meat, milk
Common eland, Giant eland
South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, West Africa
Meat, milk, leather, hides, horns
Meat, antlers, leather, hides
9th century BC
Meat, antlers, hides, ornamentation
Milk, meat, wool, leather, light draught
Greater cane rat
Greater cane rat
Meat, hides, horns, leather, pet
Mount, draught, milk, meat, pet, pack animal
Pack animal, draught, meat, fiber
Sterile Hybrid offspring of Jack donkey x mare (female horse)
Mount, pack animal, draught
Russia, Sweden, Finland, Alaska
Meat, milk, antlers, research, draft
Meat, wool, milk
Meat (pork), leather, pet, mount, research
Meat, fur, leather, pet, research
Meat, leather, antlers, milk, draught
Meat, antlers, hides, leather, pet, tourism
Meat, sacrifice, horns, hides, leather
Asiatic mouflon sheep
Between 11000 and 9000 BC
Wool, milk, leather, meat (lamb and mutton)
West Virginia, Florida, Colombia
Meat, antlers, hides, pet
Wild Asian water buffalo
Wild Asian water buffalo (Arni)
Mount, draught, meat, milk
Meat, milk, fiber, mount, pack animal, draught
Meat, milk, draught, hides
Goat family with 1-week-old kid
Farrowing site in a natural cave in northern Spain
Farming practices vary dramatically worldwide and among types of
Livestock are generally kept in an enclosure, fed by humans,
and intentionally bred. However, some livestock are not enclosed, are
fed by access to natural foods, and are allowed to breed freely.
Historically, raising livestock was part of a nomadic or pastoral form
of material culture. The herding of camels and reindeer in some parts
of the world remains dissociated from sedentary agriculture. The
transhumance form of herding in the California Sierra Nevada still
continues, as cattle, sheep, or goats are moved from winter pasture in
lower-elevation valleys to spring 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, on the
Argentina, and on 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 confinement may vary from a small crate, a large-area
fenced-in pasture, or a paddock. The type of feed may vary from
naturally growing grass to animal feed. Animals are usually
intentionally bred through artificial insemination or supervised
mating. Indoor production systems are typically used for pigs, dairy
cattle, poultry, veal cattle, dairy goats, and other animals depending
on the region and season. Animals kept indoors are generally farmed
intensively, as large space requirements could make indoor farming
unprofitable if not impossible. However, indoor farming systems are
controversial due to problems associated with handling animal waste,
odours, the potential for groundwater contamination, and animal
welfare concerns. (For a further discussion on intensively farmed
livestock, see factory farming, and intensive pig farming). Livestock
source verification is used to track livestock.
Other livestock are farmed outdoors, where the size of enclosures and
the level of supervision may vary. In large, open ranges, animals may
be only occasionally inspected or yarded in "round-ups" or a muster.
Herding dogs may be used for mustering livestock, as are cowboys,
stockmen, and jackaroos on horses, in vehicles, and 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 either offsite or onsite, and stored on site before
being fed to the animals.
Livestock—-especially cattle—-may be branded to indicate ownership
and age, but in modern farming, identification is more likely to be
indicated by means of ear tags and electronic identification, instead.
Sheep are also frequently marked by means of ear marks and/or ear
tags. As fears of BSE and other epidemic illnesses mount, the use of
implants to monitor and trace animals in the food production system is
increasingly common, and sometimes required by government regulations.
Modern farming techniques seek to minimize human involvement, increase
yield, and improve animal health. Economics, quality, and consumer
safety all play roles in how animals are raised. The use of hard and
soft drugs and feed supplements (or even feed type) may be regulated,
or prohibited, to ensure that 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 stock to be sold in the European Union. The
improvement of animal health using modern farming techniques has come
into question. Feeding corn to cattle, which have historically eaten
grasses, is an example; where the cattle are less adapted to this
change, the rumen pH becomes more acidic, leading to liver damage and
other health problems. The US Food and Drug
Administration allows nonruminant animal proteins to be fed to cattle
enclosed in feedlots. For example, it is acceptable to feed chicken
manure and poultry meal to cattle, and beef or pork meat and bone meal
Livestock farmers have suffered from wild animal predation and theft
by rustlers. In North America, animals such as the gray wolf, grizzly
bear, cougar, and coyote are sometimes considered a threat to
livestock. In Eurasia and Africa, predators include the wolf, leopard,
tiger, lion, dhole, Asiatic black bear, crocodile, spotted hyena, and
other carnivores. In South America, feral dogs, jaguar, anacondas, and
spectacled bears are threats to livestock. In Australia, the dingo,
fox, and wedge-tailed eagle are common predators, with an additional
threat from domestic dogs that may kill in response to a hunting
instinct, leaving the carcass uneaten.
Livestock diseases compromise animal welfare, reduce productivity, and
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. Disease
management to improve productivity is often the first step taken in
implementing an agriculture policy.
Disease management can be achieved by modifying animal husbandry
practices. These measures aim to prevent infection with biosecurity
measures such as controlling animal mixing and entry to farm lots,
wearing protective clothing, and quarantining sick animals. Diseases
also may be controlled by the use of vaccines and antibiotics.
Antibiotics in subtherapeutic doses may also be used as a growth
promoter, sometimes increasing growth by 10-15%. Concerns about
antibiotic resistance have led in some cases to discouraging the
practice of preventive dosing such as the use of antibiotic-laced
feed. Countries often require veterinary certificates as a condition
for transporting, selling, or exhibiting animals. Disease-free areas
often rigorously enforce rules for preventing the entry of potentially
diseased animals, including quarantine.
Transportation and marketing
Grass-fed cattle, saleyards, Walcha, New South Wales
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
Texas and the demand for beef in Northern markets led to the
implementation of the Old West cattle drive. The method is still used
in some parts of the world. 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 in an informal flea market-type setting.
In developing countries, providing access to markets has encouraged
farmers to invest in livestock, with the result being improved
livelihoods. The International Crops
Research Institute for the
Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has worked in
Zimbabwe to help farmers
make their most of their livestock herds.
ICRISAT works to improve
local farming systems through 'innovation platforms' at which farmers,
traders, rural development agencies, and extension officers can
discuss the challenges they faced. One finding was that if farmers
devoted half of three hectares to maize and half to mucuna (velvet
bean) in a rotation system, they could obtain 80% of the biomass
needed to see their livestock through the dry season. If they only
grew maize, they could only meet 20% of their biomass needs. In the
town of Gwanda, the platform helped create a strong local market for
goats, raising the value of a single animal from US$10 to $60. This
gave the farmers a great incentive to invest in their own goats by
growing their own feed stock, buying commercial feed only as a
supplement, and improving their rangeland management techniques.
Because the platform has helped regulate prices, farmers now plan
ahead and sell animals at auction, rather than just selling one or two
animals at their farm gate as opportunities arise.
Stock shows and fairs are events where people bring their best
livestock to compete with one another. Organizations such as 4-H,
Block & Bridle, and FFA encourage young people to raise livestock
for show purposes.
Special feeds are purchased and prior to the show,
hours may be spent 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 are placed into a scholarship
fund for its owner. The movie Grand Champion, released in 2004, tells
the story of a young
Texas boy's experience raising a prize steer.
Main article: Environmental effects of meat production
Livestock production requires large areas of land.
Animal husbandry has a significant impact on the world environment. It
is responsible for somewhere between 20 and 33% of the fresh water
usage in the world, and livestock, and the production of feed for
them, occupy about a third of the earth's ice-free land. Livestock
production is a contributing factor in species extinction,
desertification, and habitat destruction.
contributes to species extinction in various ways. Habitat is
destroyed by clearing forests and converting land to grow feed crops
and for animal grazing, while predators and herbivores are frequently
targeted and hunted because of a perceived threat to livestock
profits; for example, animal husbandry is responsible for up to 91% of
the deforestation in the Amazon region. In addition, livestock
produce greenhouse gases. Cows produce some 570 million cubic metres
of methane per day, that accounts for from 35 to 40% of the
overall methane emissions of the planet.
Livestock is responsible
for 65% of all human-related emissions of the powerful and long-lived
greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. As a result, ways of mitigating
animal husbandry's environmental impact are being studied. Strategies
include using biogas from manure.
Economic and social benefits
The value of global livestock production in 2013 has been estimated at
about 883 billion dollars, (constant 2005-2006 dollars). However,
economic implications of livestock production extend further: to
downstream industry (saleyards, abattoirs, butchers, milk processors,
refrigerated transport, wholesalers, retailers, food services,
tanneries, etc.), upstream industry (feed producers, feed transport,
farm and ranch supply companies, equipment manufacturers, seed
companies, vaccine manufacturers, etc.) and associated services
(veterinarians, nutrition consultants, shearers, etc.).
Livestock provide a variety of food and nonfood products; the latter
include leather, wool, pharmaceuticals, bone products, industrial
protein, and fats. For many abattoirs, very little animal biomass may
be wasted at slaughter. Even intestinal contents removed at slaughter
may be recovered for use as fertilizer.
Livestock manure helps
maintain the fertility of grazing lands. Manure is commonly collected
from barns and feeding areas to fertilize cropland. In some places,
animal manure is used as fuel, either directly (as in some developing
countries), or indirectly (as a source of methane for heating or for
generating electricity). In regions where machine power is limited,
some classes of livestock are used as draft stock, not only for
tillage and other on-farm use, but also for transport of people and
goods. In 1997, livestock provided energy for between an estimated 25
and 64% of cultivation energy in the world's irrigated systems, and
that 300 million draft animals were used globally in small-scale
Although livestock production serves as a source of income, it can
provide additional economic values for rural families, often serving
as a major contributor to food security and economic security.
Livestock can serve as insurance against risk and is an economic
buffer (of income and/or food supply) in some regions and some
economies (e.g., during some African droughts). However, its use as a
buffer may sometimes be limited where alternatives are present,
which may reflect strategic maintenance of insurance in addition to a
desire to retain productive assets. Even for some livestock owners in
developed nations, livestock can serve as a kind of insurance.
Some crop growers may produce livestock as a strategy for
diversification of their income sources, to reduce risks related to
weather, markets and other factors.
Many studies have found evidence of the social, as well as economic,
importance of livestock in developing countries and in regions of
rural poverty, and such evidence is not confined to pastoral and
Social values in developed countries can also be considerable. For
example, in a study of livestock ranching permitted on national forest
land in New Mexico, USA, it was concluded that "ranching maintains
traditional values and connects families to ancestral lands and
cultural heritage", and that a "sense of place, attachment to land,
and the value of preserving open space were common themes". "The
importance of land and animals as means of maintaining culture and way
of life figured repeatedly in permittee responses, as did the subjects
of responsibility and respect for land, animals, family, and
In the US, profit tends to rank low among motivations for involvement
in livestock ranching. Instead, family, tradition and a desired
way of life tend to be major motivators for ranch purchase, and
ranchers "historically have been willing to accept low returns from
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy
California Proposition 2 (2008)
Cryoconservation of animal genetic resources
Cuniculture (rabbit farming)
Environmental effects of meat production
Leave the gate as you found it
Livestock's Long Shadow
Livestock's Long Shadow - Environmental Issues and Options (UN report)
Sericulture (silkworm farming)
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