Pastoral farming

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Beef cattle reared in a pastoral farming manner Murray Grey cows and calves.JPG
Beef cattle reared in a pastoral farming manner

Pastoral farming (also known in some regions as ranching , livestock farming or grazing) is aimed at producing livestock, rather than growing crops. Examples include dairy farming, raising beef cattle, and raising sheep for wool. In contrast, arable farming concentrates on crops rather than livestock. Finally, mixed farming incorporates livestock and crops on a single farm. Some mixed farmers grow crops purely as fodder for their livestock; some crop farmers grow fodder and sell it. In some cases (such as in Australia) pastoral farmers are known as graziers, and in some cases pastoralists (in a use of the term different from traditional nomadic livestock cultures). Pastoral farming is a non-nomadic form of pastoralism in which the livestock farmer has some form of ownership of the land used, giving the farmer more economic incentive to improve the land. Unlike other pastoral systems, pastoral farmers are sedentary and do not change locations in search of fresh resources. Rather, pastoral farmers adjust their pastures to fit the needs of their animals. Improvements include drainage (in wet regions), stock tanks (in dry regions), irrigation and sowing clover.


Pastoral farming is common in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Great Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, and the Western United States and Canada, among other places.


There are many factors that are taken into account to decide what type of farming should take place on a certain area of land including, topography, altitude, exposure, and rainfall. Soil plays a large role in determining how land will be used. Mollisol lands are typically described as semi-arid to semi-humid areas that are grassy and wet. This is where most intensive cattle operations occur which produce beef and dairy. Although a majority of pastoral farming is conducted in Mollisol lands, pastoral farming can also be found in areas with soil made up of Entisol, Aridisol or Alfisol. Aside from soil order, pastoral farming is more likely to be found than arable farming in areas with steep slopes, cold strong winds and a wet climate. [1] All of these conditions are more advantageous to raising livestock than crops. Raising of sheep is often found in cooler regions with steep hills and above-average rainfall. The wetness of the area and incline would make it unsuitable to grow crops. A similar conclusion is drawn by looking at dairy farms which are often found in warm wet climates.


An East Bengali member of the Goala, a Muslim cow herding class, in 1860. Portrait of a Goala or member of the Muslim cowherding class - Eastern Bengal 1860's.jpg
An East Bengali member of the Goala, a Muslim cow herding class, in 1860.


The first settlers of Argentina arrived approximately twelve thousand years ago and survived by hunting and gathering. During the 16th century, the Incan Empire dominated the area. The Incas were highly advanced for their time and were able to domesticate llamas and alpacas. In 1532, the Spaniards arrived and found open grasslands perfect for their cattle and horses to graze. Quickly, these herds grew and changed the environment making it more nutritious and fertile. The large cattle population was then hunted and used for economic prosperity. This marked the beginning of pastoral farming in Argentina as land began to be used for raising cattle. These farms became known as "estancias", Spanish for "a stay". The estancias were spread around 200 square kilometres could support about 20,000 cattle. and at the 19th century, sheep were added to the estancias. The Pampas saw a shocking growth in livestock population. The main animal products of the time became hides, fat, wool and salted meat.

Today, Argentina's livestock production is divided into two sectors- a modernized commercial part and a communal part. Pastoralism is still a prominent figure in the communal sector of Argentina's livestock production. Communal agriculture face disadvantages compared to their commercial counterparts as they have limited access to new technology and external inputs. In 2001, the country's stock included approximately 48 million cattle, 13.5 million sheep and 1.5 million horses. The number of sheep was reduced greatly recently because of a dramatic decrease in the price of wool. As of 2001, the majority of beef, lamb, and milk production in Argentina was domestically consumed. [2]


Pastoral farming arrived in Australia in 1836 with the importation of sheep and cattle from New South Wales. [3] Australia faces a tough climate with approximately 70% of its landmass being classified as arid or semi-arid. [4] This made South Australia a perfect candidate for grazing since its climate was not suitable for arable farming such as wheat production. In the 1840s South Australian farmers began to focus on wool production and prospered. Unfortunately in the 1860s, South Australia faced serious droughts. To prevent future instances from occurring, the agricultural industry underwent serious specialization [ clarification needed ] measures and focused on improving the pastures of pastoral farmers. The system they developed included low-density grazing of sheep and cattle. In addition, water was pumped from underground sources by wind power. These improvements helped to better satisfy the livestock's needs.


Bronze Age people first introduced pastoral farming to Ireland. The Burren area was popular for settlers because of its dry and fertile soils. The first pastoral farmers were known for herding cattle, sheep and goats. Pastoral farming could also be found in the uplands such as Turlough Hill. Dating back to mediaeval times, farmers used the hill as a tool during the winter months. Cattle grazed there because the foliage was always available because the rock retained heat. Also, the lime-rich soil would provide animals with calcium and other minerals to help increase their fat levels. [5] In the early 19th century, sheep herding was most popular in the Burren.

By the 20th century, however, there was a shift in importance from sheep to cattle. Trends in livestock units show that goats were just under 4% of cattle livestock units in the 1930s but had decreased to just over 0.5% by 1980. [6] Today in Ireland, farm sizes have increased, the number of full-time farmers have decreased and heavier continental breeds have become more popular in comparison to the past.

New Zealand

New Zealand's pastoral sector is made up of cattle, deer and sheep. In the 1920s, meat, butter, cheese and wool, accounted for over 90% of the country's exports. [7] The trend of high pastoral farming has continued to the present day. The modernization of arable farming and horticulture have been met with equal advances in pastoral farming.

While sheep and beef farming use most of the land in New Zealand, the dairy industry is increasing in importance. The dairy sector began in 1814 when two cows and a bull were imported to New Zealand and the industry has been strong ever since. The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (published Dec 2010) estimates the industry contributes around 2.8% to New Zealand's GDP and 10.4 billion of export earnings. Dairy production has risen 77 per cent over the past 20 years - from three million dairy cattle in 1989 to six million dairy cattle in 2009. [8]


Intensive farming

Intensive farms generally take up a fairly small area of land, but aim to have a very high output, through massive inputs of capital and labour. These farms use machines and new technologies to become as efficient and cost-effective as possible, an example being the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.

Intensive agriculture can be seen in many places around the world, such as the Canterbury Plains of New Zealand, pig farming in Denmark and rice cultivation in the countries of South East Asia. All use technology appropriate to their country to enable them to get the highest yields from their land. It is labour-intensive, capital intensive and machine intensive.

Extensive farming

Maasai people driving their cattle in Kenya lms~.jpg
Maasai people driving their cattle in Kenya

Extensive farming is the direct opposite of intensive farming. The farms are large in comparison to the money injected into them or the labour used. The cattle ranches of central Australia are a good example of extensive agriculture, where often only a few farm workers are responsible for thousands of acres of farmland.

Another example of extensive farming can be seen in the massive cattle ranches of Brazil. These involve clearing vast areas of rainforest (the trees are often burnt rather than chopped down and sold) to make way for the cattle ranch. The cattle quickly eat the remaining vegetation and begin to cause massive problems of soil erosion. Extensive farming is also the production of livestock and crops on large piece of land having small output in return. Less attention is given here as compared to intensive farming.


Livestock farming faces many potential problems and constraints. First, there are often exportation problems. With a high volume of trade there is also a high risk of spreading diseases from country to country. [9] Britain saw the damage communicable animal diseases could cause in the 1980s and 1990s with the outbreak of mad cow disease. In this instance, the disease was able to infect humans as well. In pastoral farming the health of the animals is a high priority. [10]

For low-income developing countries, heavily investing in pastoral farming is risky because expected returns can decrease significantly due to unforeseeable events such as climate change or natural disasters. [11] If the country did experience an unfortunate event, there would be no other major industry to stabilize the economy or other goods to use as alternatives. This is exemplified by the drought that Australia experienced in the 1860s which severely limited livestock forage.

Environmental degradation is another concern for livestock farmers. Environmental degradation often occurs when the resources are over-used. One major aspect of this degradation is the depletion of fresh water. Fresh water is needed by livestock to keep the animals in good health. Also, lack of water can reduce the soil moisture necessary for forage production. [12]

See also

Related Research Articles

Farm Area of land for farming, or, for aquaculture, lake, river or sea, including various structures

A farm is an area of land that is devoted primarily to agricultural processes with the primary objective of producing food and other crops; it is the basic facility in food production. The name is used for specialized units such as arable farms, vegetable farms, fruit farms, dairy, pig and poultry farms, and land used for the production of natural fiber, biofuel and other commodities. It includes ranches, feedlots, orchards, plantations and estates, smallholdings and hobby farms, and includes the farmhouse and agricultural buildings as well as the land. In modern times the term has been extended so as to include such industrial operations as wind farms and fish farms, both of which can operate on land or sea.

Intensive farming Type of agriculture using high inputs to try to get high outputs

Intensive agriculture, also known as intensive farming, conventional, or industrial agriculture, is a type of agriculture, both of crop plants and of animals, with higher levels of input and output per unit of agricultural land area. It is characterized by a low fallow ratio, higher use of inputs such as capital and labour, and higher crop yields per unit land area.

Animal husbandry Management, selective breeding, and care of farm animals by humans

Animal husbandry is the branch of agriculture concerned with animals that are raised for meat, fibre, milk, or other products. It includes day-to-day care, selective breeding and the raising of livestock. Husbandry has a long history, starting with the Neolithic revolution when animals were first domesticated, from around 13,000 BC onwards, predating farming of the first crops. By the time of early civilisations such as ancient Egypt, cattle, sheep, goats and pigs were being raised on farms.

Pasture Land used for grazing

Pasture is land used for grazing. Pasture lands in the narrow sense are enclosed tracts of farmland, grazed by domesticated livestock, such as horses, cattle, sheep, or swine. The vegetation of tended pasture, forage, consists mainly of grasses, with an interspersion of legumes and other forbs. Pasture is typically grazed throughout the summer, in contrast to meadow which is ungrazed or used for grazing only after being mown to make hay for animal fodder. Pasture in a wider sense additionally includes rangelands, other unenclosed pastoral systems, and land types used by wild animals for grazing or browsing.

Transhumance Type of pastoralism

Transhumance is a type of pastoralism or nomadism, a seasonal movement of livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures. In montane regions, it implies movement between higher pastures in summer and lower valleys in winter. Herders have a permanent home, typically in valleys. Generally only the herds travel, with a certain number of people necessary to tend them, while the main population stays at the base. In contrast, horizontal transhumance is more susceptible to being disrupted by climatic, economic, or political change.

Extensive farming Agriculture system that involve low inputs and outputs relative to land area

Extensive farming or extensive agriculture is an agricultural production system that uses small inputs of labour, fertilizers, and capital, relative to the land area being farmed.

Grazing Feeding livestock on forage

In agriculture, grazing is a method of animal husbandry whereby domestic livestock are allowed outdoors to roam around and consume wild vegetations in order to convert the otherwise indigestible cellulose within grass and other forages into meat, milk, wool and other animal products, often on land unsuitable for arable farming.

Sheep farming Animal husbandry

Sheep farming or sheep husbandry is the raising and breeding of domestic sheep. It is a branch of animal husbandry. Sheep are raised principally for their meat, milk, and fiber (wool). They also yield sheepskin and parchment.

Pastoralism Branch of agriculture concerned with raising livestock

Pastoralism is a form of animal husbandry where domesticated animals known as livestock are released onto large vegetated outdoor lands (pastures) for grazing, historically by nomadic people who moved around with their herds. The species involved include cattle, camels, goats, yaks, llamas, reindeer, horse and sheep.

Agriculture in Australia Overview of agriculture in Australia

Although Australia is mostly arid, the nation is a major agricultural producer and exporter, with over 325,300 employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing as of February 2015. Agriculture and its closely related sectors earn $155 billion-a-year for a 12% share of GDP. Farmers and grazers own 135,997 farms, covering 61% of Australia's landmass. Across the country there is a mix of irrigation and dry-land farming. Australia leads the world with 35 million hectares certified organic, which is 8.8% of Australia's agricultural land and Australia now accounts for more than half (51%) of the world's certified organic agriculture hectares. The success of Australia to become a major agricultural power despite the odds is facilitated by its policies of long-term visions and promotion of agricultural reforms that greatly increased the country's agricultural industry.

Field (agriculture) Area of land used for agricultural purposes

In agriculture, a field is an area of land, enclosed or otherwise, used for agricultural purposes such as cultivating crops or as a paddock or other enclosure for livestock. A field may also be an area left to lie fallow or as arable land.

Agriculture in Saskatchewan Agriculture of the Province Saskatchewan in Canada

Agriculture in Saskatchewan is the production of various food, feed, or fiber commodities to fulfill domestic and international human and animal sustenance needs. The newest agricultural economy to be developed in renewable biofuel production or agricultural biomass which is marketed as ethanol or biodiesel. Plant cultivation and livestock production have abandoned subsistence agricultural practices in favor of intensive technological farming resulting in cash crops which contribute to the economy of Saskatchewan. The particular commodity produced is dependent upon its particular biogeography or ecozone of Geography of Saskatchewan. Agricultural techniques and activities have evolved over the years. The first nation nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle and the early immigrant ox and plow farmer proving up on his quarter section of land in no way resemble the present farmer operating huge amounts of land or livestock with their attendant technological mechanization. Challenges to the future of Saskatchewan agriculture include developing sustainable water management strategies for a cyclical drought prone climate in south western Saskatchewan, updating dryland farming techniques, stabilizing organic definitions or protocols and the decision to grow, or not to grow genetically modified foods. Domestically and internationally, some commodities have faced increased scrutiny from disease and the ensuing marketing issues.

Agriculture in New Zealand Overview of agriculture in New Zealand

In New Zealand, agriculture is the largest sector of the tradable economy. The country exported NZ$46.4 billion worth of agricultural products in the 12 months to June 2019, 79.6% of the country's total exported goods. The agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector directly contributed $12.653 billion of the national GDP in the 12 months to September 2020, and employed 143,000 people, 5.9% of New Zealand's workforce, as of the 2018 census.

Agriculture in the United Kingdom Economic sector in the United Kingdom

Agriculture in the United Kingdom uses 69% of the country's land area, employs 1.5% of its workforce and contributes 0.6% of its gross value added. The UK produces less than 60% of the food it consumes.

For centuries Iceland's main industries were fishing, fish processing and agriculture. In the 19th century, 70–80% of Icelanders lived by farming, but there has been a steady decline over the years and now that figure is less than 5% of the total population. It is expected that the number will continue to fall in the future. Only 1% of the total land area is under arable cultivation, confined almost exclusively to the peripheral lowland areas of the country.

Livestock Animals kept for production of meat, eggs, milk, wool, etc.

Livestock are the domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to provide labor and produce commodities such as meat, eggs, milk, fur, leather, and wool. The term is sometimes used to refer solely to animals who are raised for consumption, and sometimes used to refer solely to farmed ruminants, such as cattle, sheep and goats. Horses are considered livestock in the United States. The USDA classifies pork, veal, beef, and lamb (mutton) as livestock, and all livestock as red meat. Poultry and fish are not included in the category.

Ranch Area of land used for raising grazing livestock

A ranch is an area of land, including various structures, given primarily to ranching, the practice of raising grazing livestock such as cattle and sheep. It is a subtype of a farm. These terms are most often applied to livestock-raising operations in Mexico, the Western United States and Western Canada, though there are ranches in other areas. People who own or operate a ranch are called ranchers, cattlemen, or stockgrowers. Ranching is also a method used to raise less common livestock such as horses, elk, American bison, ostrich, emu, and alpaca.

The business of livestock farming is prominent in the Basque Country (Spain). The climate of this region is ideal for raising cattle and other livestock and is classified as Atlantic, or warm and rainy. The most common breeds of livestock raised in this region include beef cattle, dairy cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. These animals are most often raised in mixed farms, or farms that contain a combination of these types of animals and not just one type exclusively. Although the number of livestock farms notably decreased between the years of 1999 and 2009, the number of animals raised on each remaining farm increased dramatically, as discussed in further detail below. In 2006, there were estimated to be about 19,000 Basque farms that involved the raising of livestock.

Agriculture in Wales Cultivation of plants and animals in Wales

Agriculture in Wales has in the past been a major part of the economy of Wales, a largely rural country that forms part of the United Kingdom. Wales is mountainous and has a mild, wet climate. This results in only a small proportion of the land area being suitable for arable cropping, but grass for the grazing of livestock is present in abundance. As a proportion of the national economy, the importance of agriculture has become much reduced; a high proportion of the population now live in the towns and cities in the south of the country and tourism has become an important form of income in the countryside and on the coast. Arable cropping is limited to the flatter parts and elsewhere dairying and livestock farming predominate.

This glossary of agriculture is a list of definitions of terms and concepts used in agriculture, its sub-disciplines, and related fields. For other glossaries relevant to agricultural science, see Glossary of biology, Glossary of ecology, Glossary of environmental science, and Glossary of botany.


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  2. Garbulsky & Deregibus "Country Pasture/ Forage Resource Profiles- Argentina", Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
  3. "Pastoral Industry of the Flinders Ranges, an Overview".
  4. Jayasuriya "Farming Systems in Australia", Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
  5. " Recognising European pastoral farming systems and understanding their ecology ", European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism, June 2000
  6. Bohnsack U. & Carrucan P. 1999. An assessment of farming prescriptions under the Rural Environment Protection Scheme in the uplands of the Burren karstic region, Co. Clare. The Heritage Council, Kilkenny.
  7. Ross Galbreath (1998). DSIR: Making Science Work for New Zealand: Themes from the History of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, 1926-1992. Victoria University Press. p. 58.
  8. "Agriculture- Pastoral" Archived 2014-04-02 at the Wayback Machine , Ministry for Primary Industries, October 2013
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  10. "Controlling animal disease", Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, March 2014
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  12. Ragab, Ragab, and Christel Prudhomme. “Soil and Water: Climate Change and Water Resources Management in Arid and Semi-Arid Regions: Prospective Challenges for the 21st Century.” Biosystems Engineering 81.1 (2062): p 3-34..

Further reading