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Animal husbandry revolutionized the way humans cultivated crops, migrated, traded, ate, traveled, and worked. It reduced human labor, increased production, made travel and trade more efficient, and provided companionship and protection.

Animal Husbandry Make Your Own

Development of Husbandry

Husbandry, or the domestication of, care for, and breeding of animals by humans, did not happen all at once. There is evidence that it first began about 10,000-13,000 years ago during the Neolithic Revolution. Domesticated animal bones have been discovered in excavations of fire pits and kitchens left over from human social gatherings. By about 8000 BCE, sheep and goats were domesticated throughout Asia; goats were domesticated in Mesopotamia first, then followed by sheep and later pigs by 6500 BCE. By the time of the settlement of the first Mesopotamian city Eridu, it seems that animal husbandry was widespread, and domesticated animals were used for work, food, and kept as pets.

Cattle were also among the first animals to be domesticated in ancient Middle Eastern and Asian civilizations. Although it is uncertain, research shows that horses were first domesticated by the Botai of Kazakhstan around 6000-6500 BCE. Generally, horses were tamed by 4000 BCE and although originally used as a source of meat, were used for riding and pulling loads by 3000-3500 BCE. They also became important in warfare. Later, elephants, tigers, and lions would also be used in war. Over time, domestic horses bred with wild horses and eventually spread across Europe and Asia. The domestication of horses changed agriculture, transportation, warfare, and communication.

In Mesopotamia, excavations outside cities and towns revealed a decline in the number of wild gazelle bones after 7000 BCE, while the number of bones of domestic sheep and goats increased from the same year. The bones were determined to be those of domesticated animals based on the condition as well as the writings and artwork of the cultures. This pattern was also found in India, Egypt, and China.

Scholars believe that wild sheep and goats tended to graze near human settlements as a means of protection from predators that naturally avoided contact with humans. Since the animals were regularly in close proximity to humans, they gradually became unafraid of humans and increasingly tame. This same process is thought to have been how cats and dogs were tamed. Chickens were known and are believed to have been domesticated in China and Southeast Asia more than 3,400 years ago. Turkeys were domesticated in middle North America.

Throughout mankind's existence, certain animals have proved especially useful to humans; through domestication of these animals, human history and evolution have been significantly affected. It began when ancient humans recognized that certain animals are easily accessible sources of food. Humans quickly realized many other purposes for domesticated animals, i.e. sheep for wool, horses and camels for packing, riding, and warfare, and cattle for milk, meat, and labor, etc. Humans bred and kept these animals for these purposes. Little was known about genetics and breeding, but the Arabs discovered artificial insemination by the 14th century.

Yet, even before artificial insemination, animal husbandry changed almost everything about the way humans lived; with a stable and controllable food source, humans could settle in one spot and cease their lives as nomads; with the ability to ride strong, swift horses, people could migrate more easily and quickly; with pack animals, people could travel farther distances and reduce human labor; with tame cats and dogs, humans could have more protection and companionship. The effects of animal husbandry on society are too numerous to list, but it is certain that the evolution of humans and society would have been entirely different without it. Would we be where we are without the domestication of animals?

Examples of the Effects of Animal Husbandry

  • Pack animals, such as cattle, horses, and camels allowed humans to move and migrate around the world more quickly and easily. The use of these animals made trade and transport easier and more widespread.

  • Domesticated animals reduced human labor and made farming and agriculture more efficient.

  • Domestic animals provided a controllable and constant supply of food, which meant humans could inhabit regions where natural food sources are limited.

  • Horses provided advantages in war and contributed to the outcome. For example, Alexander the Great had a large cavalry, which served as an advantage and helped secure many victories.

  • Dogs and cats, as well as other domestic animals, are now kept as pets and treated like family members, which supports a multi-billion-dollar industry. The same animals are used in therapy and as service animals, improving the quality of the lives of humans with disabilities and mental health issues.

Learn more about inventions and discoveries that have changed the world in our Picture Encyclopedia of Innovations!
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