What qualities about a land-dwelling creature are absolutely necessary to maintain an effective herd of that creature for food and/or resources?

Assume this is an earth-like environment.


4 Answers 4

  • The animal must be docile and handlable enough that necessary veternary work, breeding, and transport are possible. No trying to herd dinosaurs when you only have caveman tech; you won't succeed.

  • The animal must be able to produce enough of a resource or combination of resourcesto overcome the cost of raising it. Aka if you are raising it for wool it must
    produce enough to pay for its food (could mean pasture) and provide a living wage.

  • It is not required but it would be must more cost effective for it to be
    herbivorous. If wolves pooped the cure for cancer, we'd raise a herd of them with a herd or two of cattle for support. It would not be easy but it would be possible.

  • They must not kill each other. (aka herd mentality)

  • You need some way to confine them.

  • It is preferred that their lifespan is fast enough that you can
    harvest within a year or two of being born. This comes into the cost of raising them, however.

Beyond that I don't think there are any hardfast requirements. You can herd elephants, lions, or dolphins with enough resources, manpower, and income from it but none of these will be as easy as sheep.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ About the second point, I think it is reasonable to say that only the likely benefit must outweigh the cost (in terms of direct cost of aquisition, time spent caring for the animals, and money/land/time spent on feeding the animals). For example, a group of guard dogs "produces" nothing, but if having them (and feeding them) means you likely get to keep your stash of high valuables which otherwise would likely be stolen, or you get to keep your other animals which otherwise might fall to predators, then having the dogs can absolutely make more sense than not having them. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Sep 18, 2014 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ Kind of. Having a herd which is what you survive off of must actually produce something. If you have a herd of velociraptors in case there is a war, there is potentisl benefit for your protection, but you still need to protect a rich guy too who pays for their upkeep. Their real income which they are fed off is from the percieved potential value they provide. Dogs, also, are domesticated which changes it a little. $\endgroup$
    – kaine
    Sep 18, 2014 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ This list is for a domestic animal not necessarily a herd animal. The American Buffalo is a prime example of a herd animal that was not tamed or domestic but still a resource of food and fur/leather. $\endgroup$
    – Chad
    Sep 18, 2014 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ Believe in politicians! $\endgroup$
    – Lupino
    Oct 19, 2018 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Lupino Why on earth would I do that? And why is it relevant to this answer? $\endgroup$
    – kaine
    Oct 19, 2018 at 13:09

Another quality which hasn't been mentioned is the animal's mating practices. Some reference I've read - I believe it was Guns, Germs, and Steel - points out that there are several animals which herd naturally, follow a leader, are of great economic value, but are still not kept domestically because they are very difficult to breed in captivity. I think elephants were the example used.


Most likely (if looking at our own planet and herds) it should be herbivorous. Pigs are the only omnivorous animals I can think of that we keep in herds, and it's debatable if they can really be considered a 'herd'. Herd mentality is where they group themselves together without outside influence, sheep, bison, elk, zebra etc.

The ability to be controlled easily, it helps when the animals responds to and follow a leader.

  • $\begingroup$ Carnivores group, they just aren't called herds. Packs (Wolves), Prides (Lions), etc. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Sep 18, 2014 at 19:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ yes, but they aren't kept for food or other resources either. The closest we might get are sled dogs and their resource would be transportation. Carnivores also really need to be domesticated before they can be useful for such things. $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Sep 18, 2014 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ I think that's a key distinction. Herds gather together for protection, packs gather together to bring down bigger prey. $\endgroup$
    – Liath
    Sep 19, 2014 at 9:30

Six Criteria for Domestication:

  • Flexible Diet: Simple. If an animal only eats a sacred herb that grows exclusively on the peak of one Mount Aghraghragh, then don't domesticate it because feeding it will be basically impossible. Instead, choose something that can just munch on grass like cattle.
  • Fast Growth Rate: The less time it takes for the animal to reach sexual maturity, the better. Not only do mature animals provide more meat, but they provide young to replace them when they are slaughtered, as well as milk (if they are mammals).
  • Can be Bred in Captivity: The creature needs to be able to breed in captivity, and be able to do so relatively often. Once we kill these animals for meat, those casualties need to be replaced fast. This is why we domesticated cattle and not pandas.
  • Docility: this one is simple. If it's super territorial and/or eats people, it is too dangerous to domesticate. This is why hippos or bears were never domesticated.
  • Does not Panic too Much: if an animal panics too much, it will probably just attack whatever humans are trying to domesticate it and then run away. This is why we were able to domesticate horses but not zebras.
  • Social Hierarchy: if you want to domesticate herds of animals, there must be herds to begin with. If the animals are in a cohesive social group with a member designated as a leader, then you're all set. If the animals live by themselves, then they are not going to obey any commands given and will probably end up maiming or killing you at some point.

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