Animal husbandry is the science of looking after and breeding animals — specifically those that are used in agriculture, to provide products for research purposes or as domestic pets. Agriculture has been practised for thousands of years, and involved, at an early stage, the keeping of animals for meat, milk and clothing. Humans learned which animal species could be domesticated for maximum productivity. They studied their habits, protected them from predators, assisted with births, and learned how to treat or prevent many ailments.
In South Africa, until the end of the 19th century, cattle were kept mainly for draft purposes and bred for strength and endurance; meat and fat needs were provided by sheep. The cattle gave little milk and yielded poor-quality meat, while the sheep gave only fat mutton and no wool. The introduction of foreign breeds and crossbreeding gradually improved the stock, eventually providing excellent meat, wool of fairly good quality and good milk yields.
Animal breeding is a specialisation in animal science, dealing with the breeding of livestock and other species, with the aim of genetically improving and/or conserving a population (e.g. a breed or herd) of animals. This is done through the selection and mating of those animals that have the desired traits, according to the breeding objectives decided upon for that population.
The animal breeder plays the role of a “genetic engineer” in the development of future generations.
Unfortunately, the results of an animal breeding programme can usually only be seen after some years, because the generation interval of most livestock species is long - for cattle it is about five years.
Animal husbandry covers a wide range of activities, including care and grooming, livestock farming, accommodation and hygiene. The field also overlaps with many other disciplines, such as agriculture, veterinary science and genetics. Not all people involved in husbandry will necessarily take part in all these activities or require knowledge of other disciplines. In many parts of the world, people are essentially practising animal husbandry through being farmers, ranchers, sheepherders, or simply through taking care of large groups of livestock.
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