Livestock and the Natural Environment

Environment and climate changeLivestock and beekeeping


Is livestock good or bad for the land and the natural environment?

Are there ways that livestock can benefit trees and soils?

These are the questions I’d like to discuss with you today.

Let’s start by considering the behaviour of goats.

When I say the word “goat”, what comes into your mind?

Of course your vision of a goat will depend on your personal experience.

I’m going to present two very different pictures of a goat.

First, imagine a herd of goats running around loose in the village or the countryside.

These goats bring trouble.

They get into the garden and eat crops.

They graze in the surrounding fields, eating everything in sight.

The land erodes and trees, especially young ones, are destroyed.

And this is why many people say that goats and other types of livestock are bad for the land.

But now let’s think about a milk goat in a pen.

Its owner cuts grass from a nearby field and carries it to the goat pen.

The goat is well-cared for and receives plenty of feed and water.

The goat supplies fresh milk for the family, manure for the garden, and baby goats to sell.

This is a much more positive picture of a goat.

What we see here is that an animal behaves differently, depending on the way that it is managed by its owner.

In the old days animals were left to run free.

This system worked well when there were fewer people and more land and trees.

But these days, if your animal – your cow or your goat – is left to run free, it will probably damage the trees and soil that you depend on.

But if you keep the animal in a pen and bring it food and water, it won’t eat trees and get into the garden.

In fact, you might even plant some more trees so that you can use the tree leaves as animal feed.

This benefits the land. And there are more ways that livestock can actually be good for the natural environment! Keep listening to hear more.


Sometimes, keeping livestock is the best way to protect soil and prevent erosion. Of course this will depend on the climate, the amount of slope, and the type of soils you have.

For example, what do you think is the best way to make use of rocky, sloping land?

If you decide to plow the land and plant rows of crops the land will probably erode.

In other words, you will lose soil.

But goats are well-suited to graze on rocky slopes. They like to eat the grasses and shrubs that grow there and they know how to climb around the rocks.

Some farmers plant grasses and trees to hold the soil on slopes _ and goats can eat and survive on some of these same grasses. Goats change the grasses into manure which enriches the soil.

So in this landscape – the rocky hillside where it is important to keep a cover of grass and trees – goats have a positive role to play.

Someone who wants to protect the soil will probably choose goats instead of row crops.

And here is more food for thought.

Consider all the leaves and stems that are left after you harvest a crop. There are too many to put into a compost pile.

If you live in a dry area, it can take a long time for these leftovers to break down. But animals can eat these crop leftovers and change them into valuable manure.

The manure improves your soil and fertilizes your crops.


If you keep livestock a key word to remember is “balance”.

If there are too many animals on a piece of land that is too small, you will certainly have problems. You need to be able to balance the needs of your land, your livestock and your family.

And now back to the questions we asked at the beginning of the program. Is livestock good or bad for the environment? And, are there ways that livestock can benefit trees and soil?

We have seen that, no, livestock doesn’t have to be bad for the environment, if you manage it well.

In some situations animals are a good way to use land.

In fact the animals that provide you with meat and milk can be an important part of a healthy, long-term farming system with fertile soils and abundant crops and trees.


Written by Jennifer Pittet, Managing Editor, Farm Radio Network.

Reviewed by Dan Gudahl, Director, Africa Program, Heifer Project International.

Information sources

Livestock and the environment workshop,” Conference on World Hunger, sponsored by Heifer Project International, October 1998, Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S.A.

Livestock and the environment,” Jennifer Shumaker, 1998, 21 pages. Heifer Project International. (HPI), P.O. Box 808, Little Rock, Arkansas, 72203, U.S.A.