Why are our livestock animals the ones they are?


Is there any reason why almost universally chickens and cows are the go to farm animal? Like why aren’t there cultures where people are allergic to their produce and meat? Or we just got really lucky and domesticated the species that seems to just work for most if not all societies. Just seems weird that we picked cows and not some other big game like some bison or something. Why chickens? Why not ducks or geese?

In: Other

I don’t have a complete answer to tell you, unfortunately, but I’ll give you what I have.

I actually *am* allergic to cows. There is a tick called a longhorn tick that once you are bitten, you have a histamine reaction to beef protein.

It’s also very common for people to be lactose intolerant.

Chickens are particularly useful for farming because they lay eggs constantly, if not killed, giving us a sustained source of protein

Cows also give milk regularly, which also is a sustained source of protein

It’s a mix of the animal’s temperament and usefulness. Cows grow fast, are useful, and are fairly easy to control near human settlements. Bison are similar, but they’re faster and bigger (i think maybe meaner?) and also didn’t work well with the semi-nomadic lifestyle of the plains Native Americans (they’d rather just follow than tame them). Elephants are too slow growing and intelligent/independent to easily raise for slaughter.

Chickens are small-ish and tend to stay in groups. Several species of duck and goose get hella territorial for most of the year and want large areas of water for nests. Also, chickens not being able to fly well helped us catch and keep them. We could keep songbirds for meat, but it’s almost not worth it for so little meat per bird. Chickens also can be left to wander, but they’ll always come back to their homes and aren’t migratory.

Well some people do farm those animals, and really it kinda is just random. Humans pretty much evolved in the past few hundred years to be able to consume dairy, and I guess chickens were just easier to catch than ducks and geese.

For pige and other stuff? I honestly don’t know lmao

We domesticated the animals that were easy for us to domesticate. Chickens have a lot of desirable traits that originate in the wildfowl they descend from.

* They’re a social bird that likes to live in flocks, which makes it easy to keep a bunch of them.
* They like to roost in a central spot, which means they like coming home at the end of the day rather than wandering off.
* They like to lay their eggs in one place, so much even that chickens and their ancestor species would often prefer to lay their own eggs into a nest that already has eggs.
* Chickens are amazing foragers, people don’t really realize it these days but chickens will eat just about anything. From potato peels to hunting down small animals like mice and lizards. You can just set chickens free in the morning and they’ll find their own meals before coming back in the evening.

Those are all traits that the chicken’s wild ancestors already had and made them really suitable for domestication. A lot more suitable than say solitary bird that likes to migrate around large territory while needing a diet that is mostly fish for instance.

And allergies are a thing. The majority of human adults are lactose intolerant for instance. We really don’t digest dairy products all that well. But the human populations that started producing a lot of dairies, evolved dairy tolerance alongside it.

Easy access to food is a huge advantage. So any population that gained large-scale access to dairy, usually also evolved increased tolerance. Remember the cliche about the Dutch-loving cheese? It’s not a cliche really, the Dutch have better lactose tolerance than any people in the world. Meanwhile, Asian populations where dairy production was rare, have exceptionally low lactose tolerance.

The short of if it is that many animals that we did domesticate, were very suitable for domestication one way or another.

There’s also a genetic component. Cortisol is a stress hormone, animals that naturally have a lot of cortisol tend to be very skittish. Skittish animals tend to be flighty or aggressive and that makes them hard to domesticate. You might be able to breed it out of them over time, but it’s just a pain in the ass to get the process started and people simply didn’t bother.

That’s why we managed to domesticate horses but not zebra’s for instance. Zebra are much more nervous and ill-tempered than horses and as a result too bothersome to try and domesticate them.

And finally, sometimes you don’t need to domesticate the animal itself. Chickens, goats, sheep, cows, pigs etc. were all animals that were easy to fit into our lifestyles. Their natural behaviour made it easy for them to live alongside us and for us to benefit from them.

Native Americans never domesticated bison, unlike the European bovines that would eventually become cows, bison migrate. They crossed enormous distances across the American planes. That’s kind of an inconvenient trait for an animal that you want to keep in a pen next to your home.

That didn’t mean that Native Americans didn’t domesticate bison in a different way though. Rather than manipulate the animal, Native Americans manipulated the environment. They did control burns of forests to create enormous grassy plains exactly where they wanted them.

This artificial increasing of plains land also increased the size of bison herds and steered their migration routes. Without domesticating the bison themselves, native Americans did manage their population sizes and routes, thus ensuring good annual hunts.

Once an animal has been domesticated, it’s _much_ easier to adapt it to a new location than to go through the trouble of domesticating an entirely new animal. So domestic animals tend to spread, with people moving existing ones around instead of domesticating new local animals.

>Like why aren’t there cultures where people are allergic to their produce and meat?

Allergens don’t really work like that. There isn’t really big variation in what people are allergic to, human immune systems are all pretty similar. You couldn’t really _find_ an animal that would only be edible to some societies. Now, there is a tick that can induce red meat allergies, but that isn’t super common, and shellfish allergies and the like are more of an individual environmental response, not something a while population could have.

Most of the world is lactose intolerant, but that’s not technically an allergy. Societies where dairy cattle became important adapted to become lactose tolerant as a result, because of the advantage of being able to drink milk into adulthood. But that came long after domestication.

>Just seems weird that we picked cows and not some other big game like some bison or something.

Some of this may be about the different temperament of the species but some of it may just be coincidence. In the old world, cattle came first and who would bother to go after bison if they already in the cattle, which are similar. Also in the old world, people were able to “work up” to big animals like cattle and horses after starting out with smaller, easier to handle goats and sheep. In North America, they didn’t have such starter animals, maybe that’s why they never tried domesticating bison. Or maybe not. Human history doesn’t follow an automatic similar course in every society, so it could just be chance that some things were never domesticated here.

>Why chickens? Why not ducks or geese?

Many ducks and geese _are_ domesticated. But chicken are easer to farm in bulk using modern techniques, so they are what’s for sale in supermarkets.