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Farm-Raised Venison and Bison Before the Common Era

Discussion in 'Research' started by Jdailey1991, Aug 23, 2018.

  1. Jdailey1991

    Jdailey1991 Troubadour

    According to The Modern Farmer, people have been farming deer since the 1970s. The link provided also explains the benefits deer farming has over conventional livestock farming. The one fundamental problem I have with this is that they're still farming wild deer. Which means that they are not yet completely reliant on humans, along with other environmentalist complaints.

    So let's hypothesize on deer farming during the Neolithic, a time when agriculture was just starting. We still have Rangifer, the caribou, only this time, they are FULLY domesticated, not SEMI-domesticated. There are also the deer listed in the link, too:

    • Cervus (wapiti, sika and red deer, though I'm personally not so sure considering how big and volatile they are, especially during rutting season)
    • Axis axis (chital, or Indian spotted deer)
    • Dama dama (fallow deer)
    • Odocoileus (whitetails and mules)
    If any one of these have been bred to serve humans in the sixth or seventh millennium BCE, would we still breed cattle, sheep and goats along with them, or would the domesticated deer fill all three niches at once?

    In a similar vein, in OTL, the 800 breeds of cattle totaling up to 1,400,000,000 individuals are descended from a species who had been extinct for only a few short centuries--the Aurochs.

    But at the same time that Aurochs became the first of man's walking beefs, there was a fair diversity of a related wild cattle--the bison. Not just the American Bison (Bison bison) and the Eurasian Wisent (Bison bonasus), but also the Ancient Bison (Bison antiquus), the Longhorn (Bison latifrons) and the Steppe Bison (Bison priscus). Any one of them, in an alternate history scenario, could be a likely candidate for a good amount of beef and milk.

    But before I finalize this point of departure, a curiosity stands. Why did man decide to domesticate cattle belonging to Bos rather than Bison? Was it a question of geography, characteristic, or both?
  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    Yes. I think it would be both, geography and characteristics and a whole lot of other things.
    If I remember correctly, most domestic animals [other than the chickens] can be traced back to west-central Asia. That doesn't strike me as Bison or deer territory. You work with what you've got.
    Why go after the Bison if the Aurochs was closer and more compliant?
    Why tame the deer if sheep and goats are easier to herd, give you more milk, meat, wool and are on your doorstep?.
    The Sami people have [semi] domesticated the Reindeer [Caribou] over the last however-long to make them more docile and compliant by killing off the more aggressive males. So why fully domesticate an animal if you can get what you need from something that looks after itself most of the time?
  3. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    I'm not in any way an expert on this, so make sure to do your own research for further requirements for domestication, but here are some traits most domesticable animals share:

    1. They mature quickly. After a year, a dog should be able to begin working for its owner, the same cannot be said for a chimp. Not a problem with deer.
    2. They have a flexible diet. Any animal that needs specific food, will be more difficult to handle, whereas a goat or cow can survive on something as omnipresent as grass. Not a problem with deer.
    3. They have a social hierarchy that is compatible with human hierarchies. A dog is easy to domesticate, because they rely on similar family units as humans do. Herd animals are similarly easy to handle, because herd mentality promotes submission to whatever creature that can provide for them and can demonstrate power. This is the big problem I'd imagine deer to have. Their males are too naturally independent to be easily contained, and without compliant males, you won't be able to domesticate generations fo deer.
    4. Pleasant demeanor. This wouldn't be a problem with deer females I'd assume, though they may be more skittish than other similar animals and therefore more difficult to domesticate, but again you run into major issues with males being independent and aggressive, especially during mating season.

    So all in all, you'd have to find a way to overcome the issues of 3 and 4. Perhaps in your world building you can create a deer species that relies on the same herd mentality as bovines do. That could circumvent the problems.
  4. Yora

    Yora Maester

    You also need to be able to fence them in. Building a fence that a bison can't push over should be quite challenging. And I don't know how deer would do confined to a pasture. Some zoos keep deer, but those have rather large areas to themselves that generally aren't just an open field covered in grass or dirt.

    Another important factor is how much work you have with each animal to make it compliant. You can train one or two zebras, but it just isn't economical to train thousands to provide an army with steeds. Horses and camels are much less trouble in that regard.
    With enough time and labor, there shouldn't be any evolutionary barrier to breed deer with pleasant demeanors that don't try to break out. But what farmer would invest all the needed resources if the process takes so long even his children won't ever see the results?

    For fantasy, I think it much more practical to simply have another made up branch of a species that is naturally agreeable to domestication. We already have horses that seem almost identical to zebras but with enough small differences to make them candidates for domestication. No reason to not have a kind of deer existing in the world that is ready for domestication.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    >If any one of these have been bred to serve humans in the sixth or seventh millennium BCE, would we still breed cattle, sheep and goats along with them, or would the domesticated deer fill all three niches at once?

    We would still breed them all, for the same reason we still breed sheep and goats even though we domesticated cattle.

    >Why did man decide to domesticate cattle belonging to Bos rather than Bison? Was it a question of geography, characteristic, or both?

    We did it because cattle domesticated and bison did not. We domesticated geese but not ducks. Some things work, some don't.
    Laurence and Malik like this.
  6. Jdailey1991

    Jdailey1991 Troubadour


    We did domesticate ducks, so I'm afraid that doesn't answer the bison question.
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    We domesticated cats but not lions. Does that work better?
  8. Jdailey1991

    Jdailey1991 Troubadour


    No, because it still doesn't answer the question as to whether or not geography and personality played a part in our decision to domesticate Bos as opposed to Bison.
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Oh. I didn't realize you were asking an actual historical question. (that sounded snide but isn't meant to be)

    The answer is: we don't know. It happened thousands of years before written records, and even the archeological record is pretty thin. It's an unanswerable question as a matter of fact. As a matter of fiction, however, I can see definite story potential.
  10. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

    Personality would seem to be the leading contender, regardless of location. Eurasian peoples had a milder alternative to bison and focused their domestication efforts on it. Plains natives didn't have an alternative and not one tribe managed to domesticate the American Bison; since they domesticated dogs and eagerly adopted horses after their introduction, there obviously wasn't any sort of deficiency on the human end. Some Europeans tried and noted the creatures' foul temper as a reason why they failed.

    There are American Bison ranches today, but these animals are heavily interbred with domestic cattle and remain pretty aggressive.
  11. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    I can partially answer the "Why Some and Not Others" question: Size.

    Bovines were domesticated because, ancient breeds were SMALL. The further from India westward you traveled, the smaller they got. Like, slightly larger than a large golden retriever or maybe the size of a Saint Bernard. Google ancient or heirloom cattle breeds. It's astonishing to see what a large cow *used to be*.

    Human populations at some point in pre-history in the Indian subcontinent, Eurasian Steppes into Russia, Arab peninsula into Northern Africa, and Europeans inherited a bacteriological or genetic mutation that allowed them to keep digesting milk past infancy. Anthropologists have conjectured that this may be what gave early man an edge vs. other hominids, or certainly is our most recent adaptation as a species. Most younger and mature mammals are naturally lactose intolerant once they stop nursing from their mothers. That's why dairy and dairy foods were not really ever a 'thing' in some parts of Asia and the Americas until Europeans and Silk Road travelers were on the scene. They had the option to domesticate all kinds of mammals for dairy, and for some reason did not. I'd wager you would not be interested in developing dairy stocks if said dairy made you violently ill.

    Temperment plays some role in the animal, but size matters more. We've tolerated goats and sheep for 1,000s of years and they can be ornery ill-tempered little bastards. But, the benefits of fiber, meat, and dairy encouraged domestication of an animal we could outwit and outmaneuver. Every generation gets a little bit tamer, especially if you selectively breed a good temperment into your wild captive stock. With huge animals, or animals with pointy-stabby things that regrow themselves and can leap like gravity isn't a thing, you'd probably go for the smaller but ornery creature that can't kill you as quite as easily.

    The ranchers who raise bison around me (and the ostritch/emu ranchers) have to usually roll out in caged 4x4s or heavy duty 2 ton trucks to interact with part of their herds/flocks.

    Yet, some bison are so tame in spite of their size, they're residents in childrens petting zoos.

    I would also wager that pre-historic peoples tried to domesticate all sorts of creatures. At some point, it's also simple production mathematics: so many pounds of 'feed' is required to produce X amount of product (finish slaughter weight or dairy output). Some creatures just don't have a decent conversion rate of feed::product to make intensive domestication worth while. Goats are still the winner, by the way. It takes very little unspecialized feed, and little space, to produce high quantities of milk.

    Why Caribou? Well, because they're still kind of on the small side and got used to having human handlers quickly. They're too busy roaming huge distances for food under snow pack that they probably were aware that people were not wolves or bears, so they could be tolerated. I wouldn't categorize Caribou as a typical domestication story though. More of a co-dependency or symbiotic relationship in such environmental extremes.

    Space requirements play right into geography. If you can domesticate and produce the animals food sources, it makes domestication easier. If the geography/topography cannot support feed crops it limits your scale of operation.

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