I've heard that domesticated animals are bred not only to give meat, milk, and other animal products but also for a more docile temperament--ease of handling if you will.

Tigers can be trained and tamed by professionals, but they have not been bred for domestication. So, they are not docile enough. A pet tiger could kill its owner for the same reasons that a house cat might hiss at its owner. The tiger, not knowing its own strength, might kill the owner without even meaning to.

Now suppose we could use some fictitiously advanced version of gene splicing to speed up the process of breeding humans as domesticated meat animals. What would be the most salient effects on human behavior that the breeding process would engender? How would our meat-humans talk, think, and act?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure you'd need special splicing. If you're doing a serious breeding program, you're getting a new generation of females ever 14 years. That's 35 generations. Plus the combinations of males with them. Then you have 9 months per kid for her viable breeding life. That's a lot of genetic stock to select the desired traits. However without lobotomy, you'll get a revolt long before you get the physical traits. $\endgroup$
    – Stephan
    Jan 6, 2018 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ If interested in these sorts of doing I greatly recommend The Rats In the Walls which is a fine tale by H.P.Lovecraft and available on line. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jan 6, 2018 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that humans are very poor sources of meat compared to other animals, and you can use a time chamber of some kind rather than genetic splicing $\endgroup$ Jan 7, 2018 at 0:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Stephan that is actually a really crappy breeding stock, animals that take decades to reach reproductive age make for really poor livestock, since they take so long to breed. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 7, 2018 at 3:38
  • $\begingroup$ We take a long time to reach maturity, but we breed fairly quickly afterwards. 4 children ever 3 years $\endgroup$
    – Stephan
    Jan 7, 2018 at 3:45

4 Answers 4


I'm going to ignore the gene-splicing-to-speed-this-up part as that's simply a Clarkian Magic way of avoiding the 500 year timeline. I'd be surprised if someone could tell you, "oh, yeah, change that gene to get that effect and this gene to get this effect...." We don't understand our own genome to do that. So, let's focus on what you want in your food stock and you can handwave how to get it quickly.

You have two options: stock bred for corrals that maximize the meat but also maximize the cost or stock bred to hunt. Corrals allow you to better control the breeding program, but they're a hassle. Hunting combines sport with food and allows the humans to breed like rabbits, but you basically loose control of the details.

Assuming you want the best possible food source, your goals after 500 years would include...

  • Supple, somewhat fatty flesh with a high ratio of muscle mass to total mass.

  • Short hair to minimize care and disease.

  • Sunburn-resistant skin (I'm assuming outdoor corralling of a lot of stock and a sense of capitalism in that they won't waste resources to clothe the stock).

  • Docility, stock is expensive and the last thing you want is stock damaging stock. Besides, athletic stock tends to produce tough, stringy meat and we want our long pork to fall off the bone when cooked.

  • To that end, you might also want to breed for shorter arms (minimizing throwing/swinging leverage) and possibly even stunted hands. No tool building on the range, please.

As an aside, it's worth noting that what you're doing is little or no different than what people in Africa have done for thousands of years with Chimpanzees. Those people didn't have the level of control over chimps that you're suggesting your aliens have over humans, but the problems are basically the same. Chimps are intelligent and have the ability to use local materials as basic tools. Humans, like chimps, can do a lot of damage with a stick.

  • After 500 years your humans would lose the art of language, but only if you have some method of forcing them to never talk or write. This is a serious problem for your breeding program. I expect you'll be removing tongues for the first 100-200 years to guarantee no talking. You would also need to do something about scratching words in the dirt. But, if you're breeding those short, stumped arms, that might take care of itself. Language in any form is your enemy. With it, you're holding the proverbial tiger by the ears. Without it, you have dull-eyed cows turning food into fertilizer.

On the other hand, if what you want is volume and a little fun on the side, then you should not only consider the ancient and modern plight of the Chimpanzee, but you should also consider how humans were presented in the original Planet of the Apes film. They couldn't speak or write (too much time had passed). They were docile and afraid of their ape masters once caught. They were hunted for sport (if not eaten). Basically, they're exactly what you want for food stock in the wild, and the greatest benefit is that, unless overhunted, you'll have more of them.

As a final note: you're dealing with a species that is cognitavely capable to a much greater degree than chimpanzees. Humans are not monkeys with the gift of gab. Put into a situation where we have enough time, despite having lost the gift of language, we'll start problem-solving, organizing, and learning. This will always be a point of unbelievability in your story unless accomodated. Any specie capable of language will eventually learn it, one way or the other, unless controlled to so great a degree that it isn't economically worth keeping them as a food source. Breeding humans into "hoof stock" is quite a bit less believable than simply culling people from the popoulation today.

BTW, a lot of stories have been written over the years suggesting how you could turn humans into a food source. I wish I could remember its title, but I remember one where the aliens had been convinced by a collaborator to stop slaughtering the humans and instead cut off pieces of meat for consumption, letting the humans continue to live and breed. The humans eventually overcame the aliens and the monarchy they had set up and cut the collaborator down (litereally) to where all he had left was ears to hear the screams of children. I wonder what came first, that short story or "The Princess Bride"?

  • $\begingroup$ There is a short story "Kingsmeat" in Card's Cruel Miracles that fits that description. $\endgroup$
    – user25818
    Jan 7, 2018 at 0:53
  • $\begingroup$ @notstoreboughtdirt, "Kingsmeat" by Orson Scott Card! That's it! Cheers, mate! $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 7, 2018 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ It is nearly impossible to keep humans from forming language, There is a famous sign language that developed in less than a year among a group of languageless deaf children. If humans have senses they will develop a language. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 7, 2018 at 3:36
  • $\begingroup$ But i think that there is an age limit for learning complex language - Not that the ability to speak goes away, but after a certain age its harder for an individual to learn and understand more abstract meanings. $\endgroup$
    – Hannah
    Jan 9, 2018 at 20:05

short answer they wouldn't talk or think, domesticating an organism in the way you describe involves making it stupider so will follow orders and not make its own decisions. An organism smart enough to talk and think as humans do will never be domesticated, eventually it will get angry and frustrated at being unable to do what it wants and attack the one responsible. Most animals are unsuitable for domestication because they value their own desires and ideas more than your company, an intelligent creature by definition has to put high value on its own decisions.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah you'd have to lobotomize them $\endgroup$
    – Stephan
    Jan 6, 2018 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ Slave revolts are surprisingly uncommon, despite the appalling conditions normal with slavery. Normal is relative. No one is saying they'll be happy, but I've learned over the years that people will tolerate the most extreme of conditions if they are the norm. So maybe no lobotomies required. $\endgroup$ Jan 6, 2018 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG: On the other hand we didn't eat slaves. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Jan 7, 2018 at 3:24
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG being unwilling to get yourself killed fighting is very different than being fine with the conditions. Slave revolts are opportunistic in nature, Its not that slave do not want to revolt. Cows don't want to murder ranchers as soon as their back is turned. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 7, 2018 at 3:32
  • $\begingroup$ @John How do we know that cows don't want to kill us ? :-) Here's an intriguing (and indeed tragic) story. $\endgroup$ Jan 7, 2018 at 3:34

I think @JBH's answer is pretty complete but I would add a few things:

  • A faster reproductive rate, if you are breeding humans one of the first things you want is to speed up the reproduction process, a female human can't, for now, reproduce before being 12 years old (and that's a low minimum, for a complication-free pregnancy 14 would be better), that could be improved (in my opinion) to 8 years in 500 years of intense selection, supposing you simultaneously improve the :
  • Growth rate, for now, adult size and weight are reached after 16-20 years but that should be brought down to (IMO) 12 years. As a comparison, in modern farms, cows, who have the same gestation period than humans, give birth to their first calf after only 2 years. At that age, they weigh 300-600 kg and the calf is 30-50 kg.
  • You also want at least two different breeds for milk and meat, as for cows, you can get a faster selection if you reduce your objectives, this is why cows are separated in milk or meat breeds.

I would suggest not to keep them outside but rather in cages at the beginning as we do for people in jail, letting them exercise outside under surveillance to keep track of their performance and secure the breeder's environment for the first 2-3 generations, I strongly doubt that there would still be resistance after that.

After 500 years, over 30 generations of humans have been selected and they should look radically different, as @JBH described in his answer, but considering fast growth, early sexual maturity and probable isolation from the mother after weaning, they wouldn't have any possibility to transmit any form of language/knowledge from a generation to another.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree. Basically, humans make bad cattle, as the growth rate is very low and the food sensitivity is still quite high. $\endgroup$ Jan 6, 2018 at 23:34

According to what I remember of a TV documentary about this Russian experiment with foxes, the animals which were bred to be docile had juvenile (physical and social) characteristics for longer.

So if you're breeding humans to be dependent and docile, they might tend towards remaining like juvenile humans for longer, even when they age, rather than maturing.


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