AskDefine | Define livestock

Dictionary Definition

livestock n : not used technically; any animals kept for use or profit [syn: stock, farm animal]

User Contributed Dictionary





farm animals

Extensive Definition

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. The term generally does not include poultry or farmed fish.
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.

Origins of livestock

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. Dogs were domesticated in East Asia about 45 years ago,Goats and sheep were domesticated around 8000 BCE in Asia. Swine or pigs were domesticated by 7000 BCE in the Middle East and China The earliest evidence of horse domestication dates to around 4000 BCE

Types of livestock

The term "livestock" is nebulous and may be defined narrowly or broadly.
On a broader view, livestock refers to any breed or population of animal kept by humans for a useful, commercial purpose. This can mean domestic animals, semi-domestic animals, or captive wild animals. Semi-domesticated refers to animals which are only lightly domesticated or of disputed status. These populations may also be in the process of domestication.
In practical discussions, some people may use the term livestock to refer just to domestic animals or even just to red meat animals.

Purpose of animal rearing

‘Livestock’ are defined, in part, by their end purpose as the production of food or fiber, or labour.
The economic value of livestock includes:; 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.; Fertilizer : 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.; 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 and pigs.

Farming practices

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 any combination thereof.
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, a large fenced pasture or a paddock. 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 inspected or yarded in "round-ups" or a muster (livestock). Working dogs such as sheep dogs and cattle dogs may be used for mustering livestock as are cowboys, stockmen and jackaroos on horses, or with vehicles and also by 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 on site then 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 than branding. Sheep are also frequently marked by means of ear marks and/or 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 stock to be sold to the European Union.
The improvement of health, using modern farming techniques, on the part of animals has come into question. Feeding cattle, which have historically eaten grasses, corn is an example. They don't digest the corn well, being ruminants. Feeding them corn also makes no use of their rumens that can lead to other difficulties.


Livestock farmers had suffered in the hands of wild animals and rustlers. In North America, gray wolf, grizzly bear, cougar, black bear, and coyote are sometimes considered a threat to livestock. In Eurasia and Africa, brown bear, leopard, tiger, lion, dhole, black bear, spotted hyena, and others caused livestock deaths. In Australia, the dingo, foxes, Wedge-tailed Eagles, hunting and domestic dogs (especially) cause problems for grazers because they often kill for fun. In Latin America, feral dogs cause livestock deaths in nightfall. They blame Maned wolves, cougars, jaguars, and spectacled bears for livestock deaths.


Livestock diseases compromise animal welfare, reduce productivity, and in rare cases 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.

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. 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.

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, Block & Bridle, and FFA 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.

Animal welfare and surmised 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 individuals seek 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.

Environmental impact

According to the 390 page 2006 United Nations report "Livestock's Long Shadow", the livestock sector (primarily cattle, chickens, and pigs) emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to our most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The report recommends an immediate halving of the world's livestock numbers, in order to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
Livestock is responsible for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalents. By comparison, the world's entire transportation sector emits 13.5% of the CO2.
In the US, which produces about 23% of global greenhouse gases, agriculture accounts for 7% of total greenhouse gas emissions (in CO2 equivalents), while transportation produces more than 25%. By comparison, the energy sector, which includes transportation, accounted for more than 85% of US greenhouse gas emissions in 2004.
Agriculture produces 65% percent of human-related nitrous oxide (which has 296 times the global warming potential of CO2) and 37% of all human-induced methane (which is 23 times as warming as CO2). It also generates 64% of the ammonia, which contributes to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems
The findings of the United Nations report suggest that addressing the issue of livestock should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.
A research team at Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine in Hokkaidō found that supplementing the animals' diet with cysteine, a type of amino acid, and nitrate can reduce the methane gas produced, without jeopardising the cattle's productivity or the quality of their meat and milk.
Research from the University of Botswana in 2008 has found that farmers' common practice of overstocking cattle to cope with drought lossesmade ecosystems more vulnerable and risked longterm damage to cattle herds in turn by actually depleting scarce biomass. The study of the Kgatleng district of Botswana predicted that by 2050 the cycle of mild drought is likely to become shorter for the region — 18 months instead of two years — due to climate change

See also

livestock in Aragonese: Bestiar
livestock in Min Nan: Cheng-siⁿ
livestock in Bosnian: Stoka
livestock in Breton: Chatal
livestock in Bulgarian: Добитък
livestock in Catalan: Bestiar
livestock in Czech: Dobytek
livestock in German: Vieh
livestock in Estonian: Koduloom
livestock in Spanish: Ganado
livestock in French: Bétail
livestock in Galician: Gando
livestock in Ido: Brutaro
livestock in Indonesian: Ternak
livestock in Italian: Bestiame
livestock in Dutch: Vee
livestock in Japanese: 家畜
livestock in Low German: Veehtüch
livestock in Polish: Zwierzęta gospodarskie
livestock in Portuguese: Gado
livestock in Simple English: Livestock
livestock in Slovak: Dobytok
livestock in Finnish: Karja
livestock in Swedish: Boskap
livestock in Tamil: கால்நடை
livestock in Ukrainian: Домашня худоба
livestock in Võro: Kodoelläi
livestock in Chinese: 家畜

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Animalia, and fish, animal kingdom, animal life, animality, beasts, beasts of field, beasts of prey, big game, birds, brute creation, cattle, domestic animals, fauna, furry creatures, game, small game, stock, wild animals, wildlife
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