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

Throughout much of the tropics and some underdeveloped temperate regions, low or highly seasonal rainfall combined with the absence of organized marketing systems are major constraints to all agriculture. Almost all inhabitants in such regions are subsistence farmers, each producing barely enough for their own extended family group. Yields may exceed immediate needs occasionally with excess production sold or bartered. However, the primary objective is to produce sufficient food for survival rather than surpluses.

Agriculture in semi-arid regions is influenced primarily by the amount and distribution of rainfall that determines when and which crops grow, as well as feed availability for livestock. Under these conditions scavenging pigs or poultry, dual purpose cattle, sheep, goats and camels are found under subsistence husbandry practices emphasizing survival rather than productivity. Nomadic pastoralists or semi-sedentary groups whose livestock are moved regularly over vast areas in search of water and feed are still present in some regions. Each pastoralist family requires a minimum number of animals to meet subsistence requirements and both human and animal populations are increasing dramatically. Thus, the human-associated livestock numbers are exceeding rangelands carrying capacity in many locations, contributing towards a steady increase in desertification.

Approximately one-third of the world's domesticated ruminants live in the Indian subcontinent and southeast Asia. The cattle and buffalo are often dual purpose animals used for draft and milk in India or draft and meat in the other regions. Families may keep one or two animals that feed on crop residues or roadside grazing. Both the inputs and consumable outputs are low for most farms but animal manure for fuel or fertilizer is often a valuable resource. Poultry can be found throughout the whole region and pigs are numerous in areas where religious customs do not prohibit eating pork. Most of the poultry and pigs are scavengers producing limited products for local consumption. A few large confinement units usually operate to supply urban markets.

Beef cattle are the major livestock commodity in South America. The holdings range from many millions of small farmers maintaining a few dual purpose animals to a much smaller, but still substantial number of extensive ranches, with thousands of cattle on vast areas of land. Sheep, goats, pigs and cameloids also represent important sources of food and income, particularly for smaller farmers. Specialized dairy, poultry and pig units that rely heavily on imported technology exist but they are exceptions. Most production is extensive and based largely on locally available resources. Because traditional ranching is so widespread, the horse is still an important domestic animal.

In contrast to the situation in many tropical countries, inexpensive energy, high consumer demand and organized marketing allows specialized producers in industrialized countries to develop intensive systems that operate under substantially modified environments and achieve high biological efficiency. Although these units have an apparently unlimited capacity to produce, operating costs are high and their outputs must be priced beyond reach for much of the world's population. In Australia and New Zealand, cattle and sheep are numerous with heavy emphasis on production for export. Intensive pig and poultry units are also present with sufficient capacity to satisfy local demand plus some export to Asian countries. Almost continuous grazing of ruminants occurs throughout the year under conditions ranging from the semi-arid regions in subtropical Australia to the highly productive, improved pastures of New Zealand. EEC policies restrict access to traditional European markets so both countries are actively seeking new customers throughout the remainder of the world. One fairly recent New Zealand innovation is production of red deer meat, mainly for export.

 Livestock and Human Populations in Various Regions
x 106
 Sheep & goats
x 106
x 106
x 109
x 106
 Africa  200  400  25  1,150  760
 Asia  480  890  580  7,500  3,540
 Oceania  35  170  5  95  30
 Europe  160  180  200  2,000  730
 S. America  300  110  60  1,500  325
 N. America  110  10  70  1,800  300
 FAOSTAT Data, 1998

Eastern European livestock numbers declined greatly during World War II but have gradually recovered. Ruminant production was traditionally pasture based with minimal supplementation but forage conservation, improved rations and intensive production methods are now widespread. Although a large number of local breeds still exist, Holstein Friesian or Simmental cattle are becoming predominant. Sheep and poultry also exist in most countries. Pigs are also very common with rearing conditions varying from back yard pens to herds with several thousand sows and followers in intensive, total confinement units.

Western Europe still has a substantial amount of land used for production of livestock feed or grazing and animal products account for over half the agricultural income. Dairy operations range from large, efficient farms employing the latest technology to small, marginal operations that exist only through high subsidies. The pig and poultry industries have increasingly moved towards reduced numbers of very large, totally confined units using genetically improved hybrids derived from special parent lines. Some of Europe's beef and much of its lamb is produced on marginal lands and, if not heavily supported by government aid, would probably not survive. The EEC is committed to maintaining self-sufficiency in essential food production and generous subsidies are provided to many inefficient producers. Unfortunately, this stimulates overproduction so introduction of quotas and other restrictive policies has been necessary.

The relative affluence enjoyed by most North Americans over many years has created a strong market for livestock products and a corresponding incentive for their producers. Labor is costly in Canada or USA, but capital is usually available. The livestock industry received strong research support allowing development of intensive, highly mechanized, total confinement systems for poultry, pigs, dairy cattle and finishing beef. Markets are somewhat volatile and this led to introduction of supply management for poultry and dairy products in Canada. Beef farmers or ranchers who sell calves before they are ready to market as finished beef use less technology than other livestock producers, following systems that are extensive and similar to those in many other countries. One difference between North America and many other regions is that abundant yields of corn and other cereal grains provide inexpensive animal feed. Thus, many beef yearlings are placed in feedlots and fed high grain diets during some of the growing and all of the finishing stages.

Visit The Animal Production and Health Section of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for information on livestock production in various regions of the world and for statistic on global production.