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Livestock facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
20150728 xl P1000804 Leck mich Zaertlichkeit der Rinder
Cattle on a pasture in Germany

Livestock are domestic animals that are kept by people for food, milk, leather, or wool. Some types of livestock are: cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens. The group is mostly thought to be cows and bulls. Chickens produce eggs, pigs produce ham, bulls make leather for their pelts, goats and cows create milk, and sheep create wool.

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.


Give Way To Stock (6759026099)
This Australian road sign uses the less common term "stock" for livestock.

Livestock as a word was first used between 1650 and 1660, as a merger between the words "live" and "stock". In some periods, "cattle" and "livestock" have been used interchangeably. Today, the modern meaning of cattle is domesticated bovines, while livestock has a wider sense.

United States federal legislation defines the term to make specified agricultural commodities eligible or ineligible for a program or activity. For example, the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act of 1999 (P.L. 106-78, Title IX) defines livestock only as cattle, swine, and sheep, while 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 illegal in many countries, such as Canada, to sell or process meat from dead animals for human consumption.


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.

The dog was domesticated early; dogs appear in Europe and the Far East from about 15,000 years ago. Goats and sheep were domesticated in multiple events sometime between 11,000 and 5,000 years ago in Southwest Asia. Pigs were domesticated by 8,500 BC in the Near East and 6,000 BC in China. Domestication of the horse 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.


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 domestication.

Animal / Type Domestication status Wild ancestor Time of first captivity, domestication Area of first captivity, domestication Current commercial uses Picture Ref
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Vicuña Between 5000 BC and 4000 BC Andes Alpaca fiber, meat Corazon Full.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Addax 2500 BCE Egypt Meat, hides Addax-1-Zachi-Evenor.jpg
Bali cattle
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Banteng Unknown Southeast Asia, Bali Meat, milk, draught Balinese cow.JPG
Mammal, herbivore
captive (see also Beefalo) N/A Late 19th century North America Meat, leather American bison k5680-1.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Wild dromedary and Bactrian camel Between 4000 BC and 1400 BC Asia Mount, pack animal, meat, milk, camel hair Chameau de bactriane.JPG
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Aurochs 6000 BC Southwest Asia, South Asia, North Africa Meat (beef, veal), milk, leather, draught Cow female black white.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
captive Capybara Unknown South America Meat, skins, pet Capybara Hattiesburg Zoo (70909b-42) 2560x1600.jpg
Collared peccary
Mammal, omnivore
captive Collared peccary Unknown Brazil Meat, tusks, skins, pet Collared peccary02 - melbourne zoo.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
captive N/A First century AD UK Meat (venison), leather, antlers, antler velvet Silz cerf22.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
domestic African wild ass 4000 BC Egypt Mount, pack animal, draught, meat, milk Donkey 1 arp 750px.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Common eland, Giant eland Unknown South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, West Africa Meat, milk, leather, hides, horns Taurotragus oryx.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
captive Elk 1990s North America Meat, antlers, leather, hides Rocky Mountain Bull Elk.jpg
Fallow deer
Mammal, herbivore
semidomestic Fallow deer 9th century BC Mediterranean Basin Meat, antlers, hides, ornamentation Fallow deer, Dyrham - - 1346340.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Gaur Unknown Southeast Asia Meat, draught Mithun.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Wild goat 8000 BC Southwest Asia Milk, meat, wool, leather, light draught Capra, Crete 4.jpg
Guinea pig
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Cavia tschudii 5000 BC South America Meat, pet Caviaklein.jpg
Greater cane rat
Mammal, herbivore
captive Greater cane rat Unknown West Africa Meat Thryonomys swinderianus1.jpeg
Greater kudu
Mammal, herbivore
captive Greater kudu Unknown South Africa Meat, hides, horns, leather, pet Male greater kudu.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Wild horse 4000 BC Eurasian Steppes Mount, draught, milk, meat, pet, pack animal Nokota Horses cropped.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Guanaco 3500 BC Andes Pack animal, draught, meat, fiber Pack llamas posing near Muir Trail.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Sterile Hybrid offspring of Jack donkey x mare (female horse)     Mount, pack animal, draught 09.Moriles Mula.JPG
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Moose 1940s Russia, Sweden, Finland, Alaska Meat, milk, antlers, research, draft Moose-Gustav.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Muskox 1960s Alaska Meat, wool, milk Ovibos moschatus qtl3.jpg
Mammal, omnivore
domestic Wild boar 7000 BC Eastern Anatolia Meat (pork), leather, pet, mount, research Sow with piglet.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Wild rabbit AD 400-900 France Meat, fur, leather, pet, research Miniature Lop - Side View.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
semidomestic Reindeer 3000 BC Northern Russia Meat, leather, antlers, milk, draught Caribou using antlers.jpg
Sika deer
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Sika deer Unknown Japan, China Meat, antlers, hides, leather, pet, tourism Sikahjort.jpg
Scimitar oryx
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Scimitar oryx 2320-2150 BC Egypt Meat, sacrifice, horns, hides, leather Scimitar oryx1.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Asiatic mouflon sheep Between 11000 and 9000 BC Southwest Asia Wool, milk, leather, meat (lamb and mutton) Pair of Icelandic Sheep.jpg
Thorold's deer
Mammal, herbivore
captive Thorold's deer Unknown China Meat, antlers CervusAlbirostris2.jpg
White-tailed deer
Mammal, herbivore
captive White-tailed deer Unknown West Virginia, Florida, Colombia Meat, antlers, hides, pet White-tailed deer.jpg
Water buffalo
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Wild Asian water buffalo (Arni) 4000 BC South Asia Mount, draught, meat, milk BUFFALO159.JPG
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Wild yak 2500 BC Tibet, Nepal Meat, milk, fiber, mount, pack animal, draught Bos grunniens - Syracuse Zoo.jpg
Mammal, herbivore
domestic Aurochs 8000 BC India Meat, milk, draught, hides Gray Zebu Bull.jpg


Farming practices

Goat family
Goat family with 1-week-old kid
Paridera Cueva del Río Piedra
Farrowing site in a natural cave in northern Spain

Traditionally, animal husbandry was part of the subsistence farmer's way of life, producing not only the food needed by the family but also the fuel, fertiliser, clothing, transport and draught power. Killing the animal for food was a secondary consideration, and wherever possible its products, such as wool, eggs, milk and blood (by the Maasai) were harvested while the animal was still alive. In the traditional system of transhumance, people and livestock moved seasonally between fixed summer and winter pastures; in montane regions the summer pasture was up in the mountains, the winter pasture in the valleys.

Animals can be kept extensively or intensively. Extensive systems involve animals roaming at will, or under the supervision of a herdsman, often for their protection from predators. Ranching in the Western United States involves large herds of cattle grazing widely over public and private lands.Similar cattle stations are found in South America, Australia and other places with large areas of land and low rainfall. Ranching systems have been used for sheep, deer, ostrich, emu, llama and alpaca. In the uplands of the United Kingdom, sheep are turned out on the fells in spring and graze the abundant mountain grasses untended, being brought to lower altitudes late in the year, with supplementary feeding being provided in winter. In rural locations, pigs and poultry can obtain much of their nutrition from scavenging, and in African communities, hens may live for months without being fed, and still produce one or two eggs a week. At the other extreme, in the more developed parts of the world, animals are often intensively managed; dairy cows may be kept in zero-grazing conditions with all their forage brought to them; beef cattle may be kept in high density feedlots; pigs may be housed in climate-controlled buildings and never go outdoors; poultry may be reared in barns and kept in cages as laying birds under lighting-controlled conditions. In between these two extremes are semi-intensive, often family run farms where livestock graze outside for much of the year, silage or hay is made to cover the times of year when the grass stops growing, and fertiliser, feed and other inputs are bought onto the farm from outside.


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.

Transportation and marketing

Animal transport 6
Pigs being loaded into their transport

Since many livestock are herd animals, they were historically driven to market "on the hoof" to a town or other central location. 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.

In developing countries, providing access to markets has encouraged farmers to invest in livestock, with the result being improved livelihoods.

In stock shows, farmers bring their best livestock to compete with one another.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Ganadería para niños

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