Pastoral farming

Beef cattle reared in a pastoral farming manner

Pastoral farming (also known in some regions as livestock farming or grazing) is a form of agriculture 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 to pastoral farmers.

Pastoral farmers are also known as graziers and in some cases pastoralists. 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 for 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. 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 live stock than crops. Raising of sheep is often found in cooler regions with steep hills and above average rain fall. 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.



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" meaning, "stay."The estancias were spread around 200 square kilometers could support about 20,000 cattle. and In 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. Pastoral farming still represents a large portion of the communal sector. 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 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 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 under ground sources by wind power. These improvements helped to better satisfy the livestock’s needs.


Bronze Age people first introduced pastoral farming to Ireland. The area of Burren 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 medieval times, farmers used the hill as a tool during winter months. Cattle would graze there because 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 .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 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 percent 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

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 is a high chance of 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. It is very important that when dealing with pastoral farming that the health of the animals is a high priority. [10]

For low-income developing countries, heavily investing in pastoral farming is very dangerous 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 events, 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 food sources.

Environmental degradation is another concern for livestock farmers. Environmental degradation occurs when the world’s major resources are exhausted which causes undesirable effects on the environment. One major aspect of this degradation is the depletion of fresh water. Fresh water is needed to feed the livestock and to keep the animals in good health. Also, if fresh water were no longer available the moisture levels of soil would be greatly affected.[12] This in turn would cause pastoral farmers to suffer considerably since the quality and existence of their pastures is based on having moist soil.


  1. "Distribution of Farming", British Broadcasting Corporation,
  2. , Garbulsky & Deregibus "Country Pasture/ Forage Resource Profiles- Argentina", Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
  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", Ministry for Primary Industries, October 2013
  9. "Protecting animal health and preventing disease, including trade", Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, March 2014
  10. "Controlling animal disease", Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, March 2014
  11. Mahmud & Randy, "Risk aversion in low income countries", International Food Policy Research Institute, 2007
  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 (2002): p 3-34.This in turn would cause pastoral farmers to suffer considerably since the quality and existence of their pastures is based on having moist soil.

See also

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