Have you ever wondered why it’s called animal husbandry? As it turns out, the word carries more than one meaning; to ‘husband’ is to use one’s resources economically which makes sense if one considers that the definition of animal husbandry, or animal science as it’s also commonly known today, is the science of breeding and caring for farm animals. A major sector of agriculture, and therefore an integral part of any country’s economy, animal husbandry has been practised for centuries – in essence since animals were first domesticated.
The first well documented practice was by British agriculturist, Robert Bakewell, who in the 18th century established selective breeding practices to enhance certain animal characteristics. Under his tutelage, breeds of sheep were improved upon for better quality wool delivery; and cattle began to be bred for consumption rather than labour purposes – before Bakewell’s intervention, cattle had been used primarily to pull ploughs. Wikipedia goes on to say that ‘over the following decades, farm animals increased dramatically in size and quality. In 1700, the average weight of a bull sold for slaughter was 168 kg. By 1786, that weight had more than doubled to 381 kg.’
A fundamental part of our history too, animal husbandry in South Africa today is represented by the South African Society for Animal Science or SASAS for short. The aim of the Society is ‘to advance animal science and promote viable animal production systems, while sustaining natural resources and the environment.’ According to SASAS the study and practice of animal science can be split into three main areas: breeding, physiology and nutrition.
Animal Breeding – much like genetic engineering, animal breeding seeks to isolate and strengthen preferred traits that can improve upon or help to conserve a breed of animals. Considered the first building block of the animal production chain, it plays a pivotal role in the long-term success of the chain.
Animal Physiology – this discipline focuses on the internal physiological processes experienced by the animal – temperature regulation, hormones, blood flow, to name but a few – and how external environmental factors can help to maintain homeostasis while also enhancing production and reproduction.
Animal Nutrition – dedicated to combining the correct balance of various nutrients – from protein, carbohydrates, fats and fibre, to minerals, vitamins and water – a sound nutrition programme results in both productive and economic success for the production chain.
South African meat wholesalers rely upon the sound practices of animal husbandry, as implemented by the likes of SASAS, to provide high-quality meat products that are not only beneficial to the consumer, but that also promote animal welfare while conserving natural resources and the environment. By constantly applying and improving upon what is learnt in all facets of animal science, the industry as a whole will continue to go from strength to strength.