Thousands of genetically distinct livestock breeds are the result of animal breeding by our livestock-keeping ancestors combined with natural selection over millennia. Livestock domestication occurred in at least 12 areas of the world, but not all of these centres of domestication overlap with the homelands of crops.
Like plants, livestock species are the result of multiple domestication events that occurred at different times and often in distinct geographic areas. In contrast to crops, very few animal species have been domesticated. Only 15 mammal species have been domesticated for food purposes. Thirteen are from Europe and Asia, and two originate from South America.
Today, only six animal species have become widespread on all continents (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and donkeys). The other nine animal species (dromedaries, Bactrian camels, llamas, alpacas, reindeer, water buffalo, yaks, Bali cattle and mithun) are important in limited areas. Out of 10,000 avian species, only 10 have been domesticated (chickens, domestic ducks, Muscovy ducks, domestic geese, guinea fowl, ostriches, pigeons, quails and turkeys).
According to FAO, there are 7,616 unique farm animal breeds, but 22% are at risk of extinction, primarily due to growth of industrial livestock production. We are losing, on average, one livestock breed per month.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2007). The State Of The World’s Animal Genetic Resources For Food And Agriculture. Retrieved from fao.org
- ETC Group. (2009). Who Will Feed Us? Questions for the Food and Climate Crises. Retrieved from etcgroup.org
- Ratliff, Evan. (2011). Animal Domestication. National Geographic. Retrieved from ngm.nationalgeographic.com