Comparison between 'traditional' and 'modern' animal production and healthcare

Evelyn Mathias, November 2001

The terms 'traditional' and 'modern' are used in a neutral way to differentiate the systems and practices developed by communities from those developed at universities and research stations.  

bulletComparison between traditional and intensive animal production systems
bulletComparison between ethnoveterinary and modern veterinary medicine

Traditional versus intensive animal production

All over the world a wide spectrum of animal production systems exists. These range from 'traditional' low-input management systems in remote rural areas to 'modern' intensive production units where hundreds of animals are kept for the sole purpose of producing food for sale. Numerous variations exist between the two extremes.

Traditional                                                Intensive

The following table compares the extreme ends of the spectrum. However, we need to keep in mind that in reality only few systems will match the ends of the spectrum. Most will combine characteristics of both ends.


Traditional management

Intensive production


Minimization of risk

Maximization of profit



e.g., agriculture and animal production, keeping several species, placing a few animals with neighbours

Specialization and automatization

e.g. chicken farm, large dairy production


Low; optimises investments rather than production

High; maximises production


Mostly local multipurpose breeds

Mostly high performance breeds

Purpose of animal production

bulletFood, fibre, fertilizer and fuel
bulletCash income 
bulletDraught power and transportation 
bulletSavings account 
bulletBuffer against crop failure and other risks 
bulletA way to access and use common property 
bulletSupport for the social network and culture

Production of food for sale

Effect on environment

Sustainable use of vegetation and resources which have no other use 

High use of energy, production of large amounts of animal wastes


Labour intensive

Capital intensive




Dependence on inputs from outside



Market orientation



 Source: Modified after Hooft 1999:26  

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Ethnoveterinary versus modern veterinary medicine

Again, this section compares two extremes at the end of a wide spectrum. The majority of the real-life systems will be somewhere inbetween.


Ethnoveterinary medicine

Modern veterinary medicine


Integration with culture, religion and other aspects of a communitys life; animal healers often also treat humans, and human healers treat animals

Separation from animal husbandry, human medicine, pharmacy, and religion


Holistic: treats whole patient

Treatments often target specific organs


Depends mostly on observation and the senses

Hightech methods play important role

Prevention and treatment

Stimulates immunity and improves the general condition

Seeks to control micro-organisms