Taking Stock of Livestock

Taking stock of livestock

Human domestication and use of livestock has an incredibly long and interesting history. Research has suggested that the domestication of pigs occurred as far back as 11,000 BCE;1 sheep between 11,000 and 9,000 BC;2 and cattle around 8,500 BCE.3 From these beginnings, livestock systems have come to be one of the most important and widespread across the world. According to one recent study, 30 percent of the world’s ice-free surface area is dedicated to livestock farming, employing around 1.3 billion people across its supply chain, and contributing more than $1.4 trillion to the world economy.r Put simply, livestock is one of the single most important areas of global industry, and has a huge impact on employment, trade, and diet. Closer to home, livestock such as pigs, cows, sheep, and chicken are synonymous with farming in the public imagination, and have always represented a major industry for the UK. To dip back in to my old historical studies for a moment, the wool trade was the cornerstone of English trade and exports for much of the middle ages and early modern periods, with many towns and cities basing their prosperity entirely on this industry.5

Today, the AFTP has a strong livestock component across its portfolio, covering both overviews of the complete systems of livestock in the UK, surveys of livestock across the world, and specific courses on individual species. For example, Global Ruminant Production will introduce you to the production systems used across a wide variety of species, addressing both the latest research in ruminant genetics and physiology as well as the various processes used to maximise production in a range of different settings. While this module touches on ethical and social issues emerging from ruminant production systems, Livestock, Livelihoods and Food Security addresses these questions in depth across a whole range of different livestock species. The importance of livestock as a source of employment and sustenance raises major questions about local, national, and international food security, and this module offers the chance to explore these myriad factors in light of current and emerging issues.

Focusing more closely on topics such as animal welfare, health, and product quality, Contemporary Issues in Livestock Production provides access to the latest research in animal science and its ramifications for livestock systems. More narrowly, Livestock Nutrition and Feeding investigates the importance that animal feed, including the resulting effects on animal nutrition, food safety, and the interaction of agricultural and livestock systems. Taken together, these four modules represent a fascinating introduction to different parts of the livestock production chain, and can provide an introduction to all of the issues facing the industry at large. 

Finally, Poultry Health (Residential) offers a specialised course for veterinarians and other poultry experts. This is a two week residential course run in collaboration with the renowned Pirbright Institute, and will lead you through a detailed analysis of the nature, diagnosis, and control of infectious diseases in Poultry, alongside related topics.

Craig Farrell, University of Reading


1)Sarah M.Nelson, Ancestors for the Pigs. Pigs in Prehistory (University of Pennsylvania: Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 1998). 

2)M.E. Ensminger and R.O. Parker, Sheep and Goat Science [5th ed.] (Danville, Ill: Interstate Printers and Publishers, 1986)

3)E.J. McTavish et al ‘New World cattle show ancestry from multiple independent domestication events’. Proceedings. National. Academy. Science. U.S.A. 110 (2013), 1398–406. 

4)Philip K. Thornton, “Livestock production: recent trends, future prospects” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B, Biological Sciences 365(1554) (2010) 2853–2867

5)T. H. Lloyd, The English Wool Trade in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977)


Poultry dominates British livestock production, the Meat Trades Journal reports. 

Food safety dates are being manipulated by UK’s top poultry supplier, claims the Guardian

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