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Imagine a world where all the magical and fantastical creatures that exist in mythology or folklore actually exist. Everything from dragons, griffins, goblins, harpies, trolls, etc. - they can taken from any history or culture, and assume that the ecosystem has evolved to accept them all.

In that world, which fantastical creature would be the most likely candidate to be domesticated and used by humans as livestock? What would be a fantasy world's equivalent of cows and sheep?

Mythical creatures rooted in folklore are preferred, but modern fantasy variations are also acceptable. Bonus for any lesser known mythical creatures suggested.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by JBH, Gryphon, Cyn, rek, bilbo_pingouin Mar 14 at 6:48

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ "What is the best X?" questions are frequently closed if you do not avoid being primarily opinion-based, which you haven't. Every fantasy creature has be described, used, redefined, reused, over and over. (a) You must specifically define the physiological characteristics of the creatures you want us to evaluate. (b) You must define the specific aspects of "livestock" in consideration (food source? transport? etc.). (c) You must explain how you will judge the (or what makes a) best answer. $\endgroup$ – JBH Mar 13 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ Would you accept the Shmoo (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shmoo) as a mythical creature? $\endgroup$ – Logan R. Kearsley Mar 13 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH When it comes to animal domestication, there are very specific attributes that make a species viable or not, so I would argue that there is a best answer to this question which could be given by someone who specialises in that field. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Mar 13 at 22:57
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    $\begingroup$ @ArkensteinXII, you have a point. (*sigh*) I wish the OP was online. Without his/her clarifications, we're guessing as to intent. After all, who but the OP can assume any such trait belongs to a dragon, a pixie, or a leprechaun? All these creatures have been defined by so many authors in so many ways that we're forced to make assumptions. Blech. $\endgroup$ – JBH Mar 14 at 0:25
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    $\begingroup$ @ArkensteinXII I wouldn't say I "specialise" in mythical creatures but I dabble. And from my perspective, this question is unanswerable. Each creature can have so many representations, that each should be considered separate. At the same time some are actually the same creature with different descriptions. So, you can pick and choose traits you want. At this point you are essentially making up a new creature and slapping a mythological name on it. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Mar 14 at 4:32
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Perfectly Normal Beast

Source: Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy (mostly harmless).

Location: Lamuella, Anhondo Plain

Food benefit: Arthur Dent makes their meat into a rather nice sandwich, and for it he become's "Sandwich Maker" to the people of Lamuella. Some actually call him "Bob's only Begotten Sandwich Maker" which should be a testament to the quality of the sandwich which is made from the meat of the Perfectly Normal Beast. Arthur claims that it is a bit like a cow.

Mysterious property: They migrate in an unexplained way twice a year on the planet of Lamuella before disappearing completely into oblivion.

Old Thrashbarg calls them "Perfectly Normal" Saying that "they come from where they come from, and they go to where they go to, and it's all Bob's will, so it's all perfectly normal".

"Who's "Bob"?"... "Don't ask."

Spoiler: They go to the Domain of "The King", which is apparently their true home.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why would they make a good candidate for domestication, though? They seem like they're basically cows, but all but impossible to domesticate. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Mar 14 at 2:53
  • $\begingroup$ How do you domesticate something that teleports off on you? $\endgroup$ – Thorne Mar 14 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure it qualifies as mythical. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Mar 14 at 4:26
  • $\begingroup$ "Who's "Bob"? In the beginning there was Bob & Bob said "let there be light".. "I said let there be light".. "Argh!" [Bob bangs his shin into the coffee table].. CLICK [Bob finds the light switch] & there was light. $\endgroup$ – Pelinore Mar 14 at 5:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Thorne It doesn't seem like the beasts have an inherent teleportation ability, it's more that their migratory pattern just happens to pass through some sort of teleportation portal or inter dimensional wormhole. Because the heroes of the story get off Lamuella by hitching a ride on them. $\endgroup$ – Mathaddict Mar 14 at 14:36
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The perfect creature

The Sæhrímnir is from Norse mythology

"In Norse mythology, Sæhrímnir is the creature killed and eaten every night by the Æsir and einherjar. The cook of the gods, Andhrímnir, is responsible for the slaughter of Sæhrímnir and its preparation in the cauldron Eldhrímnir. After Sæhrímnir is eaten, the beast is brought back to life again to provide sustenance for the following day."

Basically it's a pig that comes back to life

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for infinite bacon $\endgroup$ – JAQFrost Mar 14 at 1:04
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    $\begingroup$ It's not a very good farm animal for Muslims. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Mar 14 at 4:26
  • $\begingroup$ Odin cares not for their problems...... $\endgroup$ – Thorne Mar 14 at 4:27
  • $\begingroup$ There's only one small problem with this answer, it's a unique creature not a species, there's only one, it doesn't reproduce, it belongs to Odin & he's not selling. $\endgroup$ – Pelinore Mar 14 at 5:15
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    $\begingroup$ Didn't Thor have two regenerating goats as well? $\endgroup$ – Arcanist Lupus Mar 14 at 6:15
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Though it is extremely dangerous, if a Hydra were domesticated (or held in captivity successfully), it does provide enough meat to feed virtually any size population. If you cut off one head, two more grow back immediately, so the Hydra only increases in total head count. Presumably, there is some amount of Hydra neck which also comes with each head, from which several good sized Hydra steaks can be cut. I'd imagine the meat would be a bit like crocodile; probably about halfway between chicken and fish. Obviously, Hydra farming is not for the faint of heart, but considering how much high quality meat could be harvested from a single Hydra in a very short time, it would certainly be worth it.

Griffons and Hippogriffs are obvious candidates for domesticated riding beasts. The ability to fly with a passenger is a pretty good reason to use them.

Medieval Europe and Japan both had lots of stories about domestic fey which would hide around a peasant hut and (in return for small amounts of food left out for it) would do work that benefited the peasants, like repairing furniture or buildings or reaping a field in the night. Certainly no mythology-derived economy would be complete without worker fey.

Dragons are always interesting, not so much as something that is likely to be domesticated, but potentially as something which might be partnered with. Most myths have dragons being as intelligent as humans, and certainly in Western myths, they could often belt out fire hotter than that produced by any forge. The natural outcome of that might be a dragon-powered blast furnace that can produce alloys unavailable anywhere else. Obviously, the dragon would have to benefit from this arrangement, so there would have to be a quid-pro-quo of something they want in return for a few hours blowing into a big stone tower.

Will-o-wisps or pixies kept in jars may be useful sources of light in a pre-electrical setting. Maybe they can be fed with honey, or something equally cheap (though the tales of will-o-wisps usually imply that they "feed" on the dead souls of poor fools who follow their lights into a bog and die).

There are many, many more possibilities...

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    $\begingroup$ Possible useful reference: Order of the Stick: Getting Ahead In Business $\endgroup$ – Ed Grimm Mar 14 at 3:03
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    $\begingroup$ @EdGrimm - You just beat me! $\endgroup$ – Paul Sinclair Mar 14 at 3:05
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    $\begingroup$ Apparently in ancient myth, the Hydra was poisonous anyway, so... meh. It was an interesting idea. $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Mar 15 at 0:02
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The Hydra

It would probably be a real bitch to tame. But the reward for doing so is awesome: an essentially infinite supply of hydra heads that grow back near instantly.

(There's probably other mythical creatures with similarly fantastical regeneration/multiplicative abilities, perhaps ones that are less dangerous, but the hydra's the first that came to mind.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Trolls are the obvious other choice, I doubt they taste good though. This was my obvious first thought too though :) $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 13 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ Wasn't the hydra's blood poisonous? $\endgroup$ – Thorne Mar 14 at 0:28
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    $\begingroup$ The Lernaean Hydra or Hydra of Lerna more often known simply as the Hydra, is a serpentine .... Heracles would later use arrows dipped in the Hydra's poisonous blood to kill other foes during his remaining labors, such as Stymphalian Birds $\endgroup$ – Thorne Mar 14 at 0:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Thorne yeah - SUPER poisonous. Heracles' arrows were one-hit kill on anything. For years after the hydra was slain. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Mar 14 at 4:15
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The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary

An odd Northern European tale says there's a plant that grows in asia with sheep as its fruit. The sheep are very much alive, so it's not all plant - they walk around and graze the grass, attached to the plant by an umbilical cord. The plant and sheep die when the grass runs out, but I suppose you could keep feeding them more grass and get by.

The advantages? You don't have to support livestock except to feed them, which are usually harder to raise than plants and jack up your prices. You don't have to tame them, or watch them carefully so they don't wander away, worry about legendary enclosures for legendary creatures, etc. You just plant, tend, make sure the Big Bad Wolf stays on the appropriate side of your fence, and prune in season!

You'll even get the wool as a bonus. Livestock are good for more than just meat you know!

(In fairness about obscurity: it was at the top of a Wikipedia page. But who doesn't wish mutton grew on trees?)

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Humans

(And other humanoids such as elves, orcs etc.)

Outrageous, you say? Wait until I'm done.

It may seem a little evil and inhuman to raise intelligent, sentient beings for food and leather. That's clearly not enough, so use the polymorph spell to make it proper and a lot evil by turning them into actual livestock! And then you can turn them into whatever beast suits your economic needs at the moment.

Advantage over other alternatives: besides having the right cattle for the right time, you solve problems related to POW's, overpopulation, crowded prisons and dissidency, all in one go.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, we found the evil emperor... $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Mar 14 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, one problem though... When the creature drops to zero hit points the polymorph spell ends and the creature returns to its original form... so you wouldn't be able to slaughter them for resources... $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Mar 14 at 0:47
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    $\begingroup$ @ArkensteinXII Slaughtering them? You monster! Don't kill them for meat, take some chunks here and there and use healing to keep your cash cow alive $\endgroup$ – Renan Mar 14 at 0:56
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    $\begingroup$ The spell only affects the contiguous creature, so the bits you chop off revert, too. $\endgroup$ – Ed Grimm Mar 14 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ It's economically unwise to slaughter any of your customer base to sell to your other customers, you can halve your potential customers each week this way (if you're selling sausages say) until you've none left, then who will you sell stuff to? $\endgroup$ – Pelinore Mar 14 at 5:21
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Of course, a serious economical evaluation—what is the most profitable creature to use as livestock?—should consider feeding and well-being costs specific to the species, which may vary wildly for the same creature in different traditions (something like creature X in tradition Y only mates once per millenium, but in tradition Z it mates on every blue Moon)

Option 1: The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs assuming you can clone it or get it to reproduce it in some other way and it qualifies as a mythical creature (which arguably does).

  • Update: a number of sources go back to this paper to say that a goose's egg is about $150\,cm^3$ or around $2900\,g$ of gold (given gold density of $19.32\,g/cm^3$. That means about $93\,$troy ounces (assuming the golden eggs are the same size as regular goose eggs). At current gold market price it means USD\$$\,$110,000 per egg. The number of eggs a goose lays per year goes from 5 (for mediocre wild geese) to 50 (for the best domestic geese). So you could get anything from $15$ to $150\,kg$ of gold per goose per year worth $0.5$ to $5$ million USD respectively.

    The world's annual gold production is approaching $3000\,tons$ (3 million kg). So even a farm with hundreds of geese wouldn't affect the world gold market too heavily. (In the worst case 100 laying geese hens would make $150\,kg\times100\,geese=15000\,kg=15\,tons$ of gold per year.)

    Conclusion: one farm of golden-egg-laying geese would be enough to make you rich, but not enough to disrupt the world gold market.

    Now, if these geese are super abundant/easy to reproduce, that's a different story.

Option 2: Unicorns. They can provide both transportation and food. Their horns purify water and have several medical properties, including serving as antipoison. Their tails and blood also have magical properties.

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    $\begingroup$ Canned Unicorn meat thinkgeek.com/product/e5a7 $\endgroup$ – Thorne Mar 14 at 0:35
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    $\begingroup$ Gold isn't that valuable if it isn't that rare. That having been said, combine your herd of unicorns with their poison-dispelling horns and a hydra... $\endgroup$ – Ed Grimm Mar 14 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ The golden eggs goose would be profitable for a short while. If you have a whole farm of them, shorter still. Once the price of gold plummets from over-supply, they'd be pretty worthless. Or worse - they would be better off dead. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Mar 14 at 4:25
  • $\begingroup$ If the unicorns can only be handled by virgins, then the difficulty of keeping them goes way up. On the other hand, if they tolerate everyone but get really docile with virgins, the difficulty goes way down. $\endgroup$ – Arcanist Lupus Mar 14 at 6:24
  • $\begingroup$ @EdGrimm thanks for the observation, I hadn't really thought about that. I did the numbers. I could be proven wrong, but it seems to me that a farm of golden-laying-geese wouldn't be that disruptive, though. I'd be grateful to hear your thoughts about that! $\endgroup$ – Rafael Mar 14 at 12:35
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Dragons

Of the several varieties of dragons, farming can be greatly adantaged by replacing traditional oxen, cattle or ass with farm dragons to pull the harvest and sowing machines. Agriculture can most definitely be benefited by flying serpants and pest control is an assured, hence minimal crop damage.

Clearing corn feilds would also be a sinch given a few fire breathers and most dragons are friendly like cattle but can be ridden like horses. There are several more obvious advantages that I'll best leave to your imagination.

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A Cockatrice might pass for a decent farm animal. It is part chicken, which means it probably tasted good. They also lay sizable eggs, which can serve as an additional source of protein.

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  • $\begingroup$ Where do you find that Cockatrice's lay eggs? According to the Wiki page you link to, a cockatrice is the product of a cock's egg (an egg laid by a male chicken) incubated in a toad or a snake. Can you cite an authority that suggests the mythology of the Cockatrice included laying eggs? $\endgroup$ – JBH Mar 13 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ Here is a source that says cockatrice lay eggs. Cockatrice have to reproduce some way and only mammals give birth to live young generally. It stands to reason that since both dragons and chickens lay eggs that a cockatrice would to. biblestudy.org/bible-study-by-topic/… $\endgroup$ – SciFiGuy Mar 13 at 22:15
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    $\begingroup$ The biblical cockatrice was most likely a snake - even that bible study link says that. Most snakes do lay eggs (even the Adder, which many think the biblical cockatrice refers to, although they're ovoviviparous). The biblical cockatrice is not the cockatrice of fantasy described by your Wiki link or, without clarification, what the OP intended. $\endgroup$ – JBH Mar 13 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ @SciFiGuy They probably do lay eggs, but I'm not familiar with any bird-cockatrices in the bible, and the link also references the asp incorrectly (I believe that is a type of snake?) $\endgroup$ – theREALyumdub Mar 14 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ It doesn't seem to me like a creature that is known for turning things to stone with its gaze, its breath, or its touch is a good choice for live stock, unless your villagers happen to be a bunch of Discworld trolls. $\endgroup$ – Ed Grimm Mar 14 at 3:21