To satisfy our palate (and dietary needs, historically) we started to use many animals, some of which we now keep in extremely high numbers (estimates of 1 billion to 1.4 billion of cattle alone). What would these numbers be had we chosen different animals to exploit or refrained from doing so? Do we have any idea of what the size of populations of these animals would be without our intervention? I am asking mainly about farm animals such as cattle, chickens. Since these are usually rather domesticated, the answers can be about numbers of their closest relatives in the wild.

Subsequently, in a hypothetical vegan world where we do not exploit animals anymore and we do not keep them on farms or anywhere else, what are the numbers we should look to gradually reduce these populations to?

  • That would depend hugely on how the animals are kept. In conventional mass farming, male and female animals are kept separate, so they would not reproduce at all. And in a hypothetic vegan world, we wouldn't keep animals in farms, so they would start to roam in the wild. Who knows how their populations would behave. Can you make your question clearer?
    – Turion
    Mar 4, 2017 at 22:49
  • I intended for the question to ask about a situation in which there are no farm animals kept by humans, much like any other animal is today - we do not keep and tend to (apart from protection/regulation of numbers in areas) deers, bears, wild rabbits etc. I wanted to as that if catle or poultry were just another animal from many, not ons whose numbers we artificially inflated, what would be their natural numbers? And what should we seek to reduce their populations to once (or if) we achieve animal abolitionism in order to tidy up the mess we made? I will try to clarify my question. Mar 4, 2017 at 22:59
  • They are domesticated and bred animals, they don't occur in the wild and don't have natural numbers. (You could maybe ask what the numbers of their closest wild relatives are...)
    – Turion
    Mar 4, 2017 at 23:02
  • I see your point. I thought of the process of domestication as of one particular evolutionary influence and so I assumed the farm animals to be almost as natural as any other species that originated over time. I see how my take on things could complicate the matters and so I added what you suggesst to the question. Thanks for improving my question. Mar 4, 2017 at 23:29

1 Answer 1


I would say that, if we stopped keeping farm animals, the numbers of those animals would be reduced to effectively zero. This doesn't include farmed animals kept as pets (rabbits or guinea pigs) or feral animals whose ancestors were farm animals (feral horses or feral pigs); those would likely stay around current levels.

Why? The land used to support those animals is good, productive land, and would be used for other purposes, probably mainly cropland. The animals themselves have been bred for traits that make them useful for domestication by humans, which are certainly not traits that make it easy to survive in the wild. If they stayed around humans they would likely be viewed as a nuisance, eating our crops, and action would be taken to reduce their numbers, probably through sterilization or relocation programs.

Some animals may be kept around in symbiotic relationships, like goats or sheep acting as lawn mowers, but that would likely be rare.

  • Thanks for your answer! It seems to me that this reasoning is on the right track. Do you have any supporting citations for your land use and survival claims?
    – nloewen
    Mar 7, 2017 at 18:45
  • Not on hand, sorry. I will try to find some, but, if someone else does, edits are always welcome! Mar 7, 2017 at 18:57

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