Factors Influencing Livestock Production

Gordon King, Department of Animal & Poultry Science, University of Guelph

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Numerous physical, biological and socio-economic factors interact to influence the nature and extent of animal agriculture practiced in any region. Climate, which includes both temperature and precipitation, can affect any animals' ability to survive and to be productive in many ways. Some regions, because of temperature extremes, topography or excessive lack of moisture, are totally unsuited for habitation either continuously or during particular seasons. Others may support livestock during some seasons but not others.

Abundant vegetation grows during the rainy season even in sub-humid or semi-arid tropical zones. Conditions, unfortunately, are usually too wet to conserve any excess plant material as hay during the active growing period and capital is not usually available for purchase of facilities or inputs to make and store silage. Thus, feed supply may exceed demand for part of the year but livestock are nutritionally deficient at other times. Pastoralists solve this seasonality problem by migrating regularly from regions of feed and water deficiency to areas where they are available but national boundaries are now interfering with traditional routes. In contrast, producers in temperate climates conserve feed during the summer when plant growth exceeds animal requirements and use this stored forage throughout the winter when natural grazing is not available.

Land quality and tenure policies may be restrictive or conducive towards keeping domesticated animals. Any land suitable for production of quality vegetables, fruits, horticulture or other specialty plant crops will be used for these purposes as long as this is more profitable than livestock production. However, grazing domesticated animals are the only practical method of harvesting biomass and converting this into human food from range or savanna lands that are not suited to crop production. Private ownership allows exclusive use of land, providing opportunity for forage conservation plus incentive for pasture improvement and rotation. Alternately, overgrazing occurs frequently on communal land with resulting poor animal performance and, if the abuse persist, eventual desertification.

Socio-economic conditions may have profound influence the amount, type and quality of animal products produced. The main reason for production of livestock products is that they are in demand because consumers want and can pay for them. Unless there is a great deal of added handling or processing between producers and consumers, basic plant foods should be less expensive than animal products. Since people in many countries must spend most of their disposable income for food, their first priority must be purchase of cereals, roots, tubers and vegetables to satisfy nutrient requirements. Little or no extra money may remain for other nonessential items. When people with limited income do purchase animal products, they are mainly interested in the quantity that can be obtained for a particular amount of currency rather than the quality.

In affluent, developed countries, all food supplies should be adequate for at least the immediate future. Thus, the competitive position of individual commodities will be determined by market demands. Besides the actual product cost, consumer preference is influenced by obvious considerations such as appearance, color and flavor, plus hidden attributes like yield, nutritive value and safety. Livestock farmers in the developed countries must pay close attention to consumer perception of product quality.

Tsetse areaSpecific diseases may depress or even preclude animal production from certain regions and this can be a major factor affecting livestock presence. Tropical climates are suited to persistence of endoparasites and ectoparasites that survive in or on particular animal species for at least part of their life-cycle. These parasites compete directly with their hosts for nutrients, thereby reducing growth or productivity. In addition, ectoparasites may be vectors for transmission of other parasitic, bacterial or viral diseases. One insect, the tsetse fly, transmits trypanosomes, producing a debilitating disease that can infect both livestock and people, (African sleeping sickness in humans). The presence of this arthropod renders large portions of Africa unsuitable for habitation by domesticated mammals, although some strains are developing resistance.

Meat-eating and milk-drinking traditions exist in many societies but are not universal. Several religions (Jewish, Muslim) do not allow pork consumption. This taboo certainly makes pork production uneconomical in such areas. Many Hindus are strict vegetarians while others consume some meats but no beef. Almost all infants can drink milk but some individuals become lactose intolerant as they grow, limiting the potential to market dairy products throughout regions where this condition is prevalent. Any local dietary restrictions against a particular commodity would certainly make production impractical unless a substantial export market existed.

Much of the motive power in many lesser developed countries is provided by animals and, in some cultures, livestock numbers may be regarded as status symbols. Such practices or attitudes remove the incentive for slaughtering animals at relatively young ages, precluding the possibility of producing what most North Americans or Euopeans would consider quality meat.

Government policies may be a help or hindrance to animal production. Legislation can aid in developing a viable livestock industry by instigating land tenure policies that allow individual ownership and promote improvement, through subsidies that encourage production, with tariffs that discourage competition from imports, and through financial programs that make credit available to farmers. Other methods of support might be through assistance in development of marketing systems, promoting exports, providing regulatory programs to insure product quality, farmer training, extension services, disease control and free or subsidized veterinary practices. Research and development to support animal agriculture could also be financed if countries are seriously attempting to increase productivity. Negative effects on animal agriculture result when official policies encourage overgrazing, heavy reliance on plantation crops, exploit farmers to maintain low consumer prices and allow exportation of by-products that could be used in livestock rations.

"Global and Local Animal Industries"