Animals in the Farm Ecosystem

Livestock animals, such as cows, sheep, goats and chickens, have many roles in the farm ecosystem. They eat corn and hay grown on the farm, they provide milk, eggs, wool and meat for humans, and their waste can fertilize the soil. Animal manure contains many nutrients that plants can use to grow. Some farmers collect the manure generated in their barns and spread it on their fields. Animal waste can also be a problem, however. Bacteria in manure can cause diseases. If livestock are near streams, their waste may enter the water that other animals (including humans) may want to drink.

Wild animals are also part of the farm ecosystem. Deer and raccoons may eat a farmer's corn crop, while groundhogs can dig under their fields. Scarecrows are used to scare away wild birds from stealing grain out of farmers' fields, but they also scare away birds that might eat harmful insects. Skunks, toads, frogs also help the farmer by eating harmful insects. Farmers use fences to keep out unwanted animals.

Sheep can be rotated between pastures so they have younger, tastier plants to graze on.
Photo by Stephanie Martin
Goats eating
Goats are good for pastures because they spread manure as fertilizer and eat many plants that other livestock won't.
Photo by Emily Sprowls
Some farmers feed their livestock grain in their barns.

Eco Info
Roughly 90% of the total US grain crop is used to feed livestock!

A practice called intensive grazing allows cows or sheep to graze for their own food in pastures of grass and clover, while spreading their waste over the field as fertilizer. The farmer moves the animals between areas of the pasture every few days or so. This gives the livestock a chance to graze on young, juicy plants in a different field, and to give the plants in the other areas of the field a chance to grow back after being eaten. This intensive grazing rotation prevents animals from grazing or trampling plants to death, allows more different kinds of plants to grow in the pasture and ensures an even distribution of fertilizing manure. Intensive grazing is a method of sustainable agriculture.

Eco Info
Only 15% of livestock feed comes from natural grassland.

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