This is a world without humans (so no problems with competition for space, etc.), and where the apex species is a quadruped obligate carnivore with an intelligence roughly on par with that of humans on Earth. One major difference is that they don't have hands, only paws (which may over time evolve to be more dexterious), so they lack the fine manipulation ability of humans.

Being obligate carnivores, these creatures have no reason to, for their own needs, develop farming. Instead, they (essentially free range, but otherwise not unlike how humans do it on Earth) herd livestock, upon which they prey and on which they rely as their primary source of food. The livestock is monitored and protected, but generally expected to (within rather wide geographical boundaries; these creatures moving and moving with their livestock) find their own food. The creatures keep their livestock within areas that are known to be relatively safe, both from others of their own kind as well as other predators.

Would it be reasonable for these creatures to develop such animal husbandry without ever developing any kind of (plant) farming techniques, either in the past or in the future, assuming no massive changes to their biology? Failing that, how could circumstances be arranged to prevent developing farming for as long as possible?

The level of civilization of these creatures that I have in mind is mostly, in terms of what we've seen on Earth, a hunter/gatherer level, with maybe low levels of technology (think simple tools such as, for example, those used by apes and ravens on Earth). Think more along the lines of early humans on the African savannah, than banking salespersons in large cities in Europe or North America.

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    $\begingroup$ Sooner or later they will realize the effectiveness of animal farming (as opposed to herding), and for that they will need the crops. With herding, herders are essentially restricted to the areas where animals can find food. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 30, 2017 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ Nomadic pastoralism is a form of agriculture similar to what the question describes. Many peoples practiced it, notably the Mongols, the Sami and the Bedouins. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 30, 2017 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ Related: What would a society of carnivores be like? $\endgroup$
    – Pere
    Aug 30, 2017 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like the prehistoric cats in Ratha's Creature. $\endgroup$
    – DLosc
    Sep 22, 2017 at 16:38

5 Answers 5


They will develop animal husbandry first. There is no issue with that. However you need one more thing to keep farming from ever happening to supplement food production. You need a highly nutritious (for the livestock) plant that is the most efficient growing plant in all conditions and environments. If such a plant does not exist, the group that grows food more densely for the livestock can support more livestock and hence more population. There are non-dietary needs that can be satisfied by farming as well. Dies, cloth, medicine, drugs, alcohol, building and heating supplies, furniture etc. So never developing farming is a stretch of plausibility.


The OP has updated to change the biology to lack hands. I think an apex predator with no hands will have little need to develop tool using/or advanced intelligence. However if they do get to that level of intelligence few things will stop them from using tools, and developing agriculture.

The biggest show stopper will be if they are highly solitary creatures. A mouth, teeth, tongue, lips and jaw work as a fairly deft replacement for a singular hand. Some species (goat) have a split prehensile upper lip that acts as two thumbs/fingers. So it would require two or more co-operating together to become as adept at tool creation as a single human would. (Long term the team work tool building would probably become better).

Their tool evolution would initially be spurred by combat within their species. If their claws/jaws are lethal weapons then they would start with armor instead. Tying stones/wood/bones around the neck and other vulnerable spots and common targets would increase survivability.

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    $\begingroup$ There is significant reason to believe that a primary driver to developing agriculture (and thus civilization), was because brewing beer is a very time consuming and inefficient task for a single person. It is more efficient for many people to work together and brew it in bulk. Members of a hunter/gatherer actually spend less time providing food for themselves than members of a agricultural community. $\endgroup$ Aug 30, 2017 at 19:18

I think that developing animal husbandry without farming is a definite possibility. It could easily come before farming; however, the likelihood of an intelligent species avoiding the development of farming altogether is not very reasonable. There are quite a few reasons why farming is a likely development for intelligent creatures, even if animal husbandry is satisfying the creatures nourishment needs.

There are many other uses for plants besides food

Plants can be used for a wide variety of purposes other than just food. Spices would likely be discovered and cultivated to flavor the food obtained from the animals. Leaves and husks are often used in modern cooking as containers (banana leaves and corn husks are very common). Outside of food plants provide fibers for textiles, pigment for dies and paints, materials for tools or building, and chemicals for industry and medicine. Plant cultivation also produces food for domesticated animals and allows intelligent creatures to raise them more effectively. The variety of uses that plant life offers are not likely to be covered through animal husbandry alone.

Farming is often more efficient than animal husbandry

These creatures are omnivores, and while they might prefer these creatures that they eat to other food, they also will take the easiest path to survival. Plants grow and produce much faster than animals do. Even the fastest maturing animals take months to grow large enough to be used as food. Plants can produce much more food, often more quickly. Plants also require less resources. Soil, sun, and water are often the only requirements. Animals are less efficient energy wise than plants (see the energy cycle). Also, plants grow and produce using much less space than animals. In the area it would take to grow a cow to maturity, a farmer can likely produce much more corn. Also, it is usually less effort to harvest and cook plants than it is to kill an animal and prepare it for consumption. In nearly every way it is more efficient to produce food through farming than through animal husbandry.

Intelligent creatures are inquisitive and often desire variety

If the efficiency and utility of plants is not enough to inspire their cultivation, intelligent curiosity might be. These creatures would likely desire different tastes and experiences. They would likely see plants sprout and grow and would wonder if they could control it. Regardless of their other motivations, they would probably develop farming for no reason other than it being possible.

That all being said, I do think this situation is possible.

Some ways to prevent the development of farming:

You would need to have some very energy efficient animals for these creatures to raise. Perhaps smaller creatures that can gain energy from the sun? An enormous algea-like fish or lizard seems plausible. Basically make the creatures as easy to domesticate and raise as a plant would be.

Making the animals produce other materials besides food would be another good idea. Perhaps their bones are an excellent building material? Their skins an incredibly useful clothing material? You could have them produce venoms or secretions that are powerful medicines too. Any waste could be used to feed the other animals. Basically this animal (or even better a group of very similar animals with slight but important differences) should be a swiss army knife of usefulness.

I think a good example of what I have in mind is found in slime rancher, a game where creatures called "slimes" provide incredibly useful resources and dominate the surface of an entire planet.

Anyway, I'll reiterate the point:

Is a intelligent society using animal husbandry but not farming reasonable. No. But, with the right amount of thought and creativity this situation could be engineered to happen in your world, which would result in a very cool and interesting alien society indeed.

  • $\begingroup$ I was updating the question as you posted this answer. You may want to review, just in case. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Aug 30, 2017 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ eventually they will stumble on farming just as a way to feed the livestock. They should figuire this out by accident just from occasionally needing to feed sick or injured animals, or later for sea travel. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 30, 2017 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ They're not omnivores, they're obligate carnivores, they have to eat meat and effectively only meat, plant material often can't be digested by such species. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Aug 31, 2017 at 10:16

Farming and animal husbandry developed around the same time in the Near East. But the same people did not develop both at the same time. Pastoral nomads on the steppe did not have farms - they were nomads! They moved their herds from place to place. I read recently that it was these people who invented the wheel, because wagons were useful in toting their stuff, kids and old folks around. Likewise the horse. These pastoralists were not obligate carnivores but the excellent teeth in their skeletons suggest a low carbohydrate diet - milk, blood and meat being the probable staples.

There are still people who live as pastoral nomads today. There is nothing wrong at all with your creatures living like that.

  • $\begingroup$ I was updating the question as you posted this answer. You may want to review, just in case. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Aug 30, 2017 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ That is a very acidic diet, though — other than the blood, of course. It would decay the teeth just as rapidly as the fermentation of sugars in their mouths. Not exactly pertinent to your answer, I suppose … $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2017 at 4:43

"Ever" is a very difficult word.

The limitation is greatly helped by their lack of dexterity suggesting that they're not going to build complex tools to help with the task, but even little things like identifying plants that are poisonous to their herds and killing them as they travel would be steps along the line to farming.

This behaviour would fall somewhere along the transition between true nomadic herding and transhumance, where seasonal pastures are used.

The next step would be removing plants that are of no interest to the herds or overrun the grasslands they need for food. At what point does this sort of behaviour translate into cultivation? Since their primary plant of interest is grass (or equivalent) they never need to sow seeds, but they can still work towards effective monoculture farming just by elimination of plants of no interest.

Population limitations

Population of a species is primarily limited by food supply. A large tribe with a large herd would be able to expand, though at some point they'd exceed the number of people their herds could support. This would give an advantage to a farming tribe with greater supply of food for the herds to allow the herds to grow at an equivalent rate. To prevent this advantage the population would have to be limited by some other mechanism than food limitation.


The rains didn't come, the grass didn't get the autumn/winter/spring growth, there's ever less food especially for those moving where another tribe has moved ahead of them. A tribe who had farmed and stored food would still be able to feed the herds from the store, again an advantage over the nomads. Possibly offset by allowing them to travel great distances relatively quickly, but it would still require quite low population density so they're not treading on each other's toes.


Possibly a large portion of the group were injured in a conflict or are elderly forcing them to remain in one place for longer than normal and work to improve the local pasture for the herds to survive.

Rich grasslands

The tribe has wandered into a temperate region where they no longer need to be nomadic. As long as they do a bit of basic ground clearance to get rid of the brambles and deadly nightshade they can settle down and build.

There are many factors that could cause the tribes to settle into some sort of farming pattern. Probably initially via transhumance and improving the pastures to which they will return next season, but also through more immediate internal or external pressures.


I think they would adopt a transhumant lifestyle, moving with their livestock between summer and winter pastures. This way the plants regrow without farming.

Your obligate carnivores would adapt their diets to (the equivalent of your world to) milk, butter, cheese, etc. which are very nutritious and don't require killing your animals.

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    $\begingroup$ Good considerations, but a tad short of a full answer, methinks. $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2017 at 4:44

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