What Is Animal Science?
Animal production is one of the major sectors in South African agriculture and contributes substantially to the economy of the country. Animal science covers most aspects of animal production and animal products. This includes all husbandry facets of livestock species (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, ostriches and horses) and the products derived from them (meat, milk & dairy products, wool, mohair, eggs, skin & leather and feathers) as well as relevant aspects of aquatic (fish, etc.) and wildlife species. Animal science deals mainly with the three basic disciplines, namely breeding, physiology and nutrition, but also aspects of animal product sciences e.g. meat, dairy, wool, etc.
The animal scientist
To be recognised professionally as an animal scientist in South Africa, a person should have at least a four-year B.Sc.Agric. degree with animal science as a major subject. After five years of experience, animal scientists may apply for registration at the South African Council of Natural Science Professions, which is the legal body for recognition of the profession.
A career in Animal Science
Education and training
Animal science constitutes a comprehensive, yet fundamental, field of expertise. Subjects studied at graduate level include animal anatomy and -physiology, breeding and nutrition [monogastric (e.g. pigs and poultry) and ruminant (e.g. cattle and sheep)] and husbandry. Additional courses may include meat science, dairy science, ecology, pasture science and agricultural economics. It may be worthwhile to also include some training in marketing and project management to broaden your horizon of employment opportunities. The graduate course is compiled to educate and train an animal scientist to enter the labour market with a well-developed, general knowledge of animal and related sciences.
Animal scientists are trained in South Africa at the Universities of Pretoria, Stellenbosch, Free State, Natal, Fort Hare, Venda and The North, where a 4-year B.Sc.-degree in animal science is offered. Animal anatomy and -physiology, monogastric (pigs, poultry, dogs and cats) and ruminant (cattle, sheep and wildlife) nutrition, breeding and management are studied at graduate level.
Specialisation in a specific discipline is often required to ensure employment opportunities as an animal scientist, especially for senior positions in research and education. Postgraduate specialisation (M.Sc. and/or Ph.D. degree) requires an in depth study of a specific subject in one of the disciplines (e.g. nutrition, breeding or physiology) of animal science. Training in business management will always be an asset when applying for a management position.
Animal science training provides the animal scientist with the necessary knowledge and expertise to enter various sectors of primary, secondary and related animal agriculture. There are vast opportunities for the dynamic animal scientist who is inquisitive, dedicated, enthusiastic, eager to learn new skills and willing to adapt to an ever-changing environment.
Depending on the field and level of specialisation in animal science, employment opportunities may be found in the following fields:
- Animal husbandry industry (e.g. farm, feedlot or production house management)
- Animal products industry (e.g. dairy products)
- Feed industry (e.g. animal feed production companies)
- Pharmaceutical industry (e.g. pharmaceutical companies)
- Research institutions (e.g. the Agricultural Research Council)
- Educational institutions (e.g. universities, technikons)
- Consultancy and advisory services (e.g. private consultant, agricultural co-operations)
- Semen & embryo collection and artificial insemination companies (e.g. Taurus)
- Breeding organisations (e.g. breeders’ societies, SA Studbook)
- Agricultural development institutions (e.g. NGOs, Department of Agriculture)
- Nature conservation institutions (e.g. nature reserves, game farms)
- Legislative / Regulative institutions (e.g. Department of Agriculture)
Disciplines in Animal Science
Animal breeding is the specialisation in animal science, dealing with the breeding of livestock and other species, with the aim to genetically improve and/or conserve a population (e.g. breed or herd) of animals. This is basically done through the selection and mating of those animals that have the desired traits, according to the breeding objectives decided upon for that population. The process to achieve this objective includes research and development of:
- Appropriate performance testing techniques and procedures
- Animal, parentage and performance recording techniques and systems
- Data processing techniques and models to do breeding value predictions
- Lastly, but most important, the interpretation and practical application of such breeding values and related genetic information in a scientific and balanced way to achieve the breeding objective.
The animal breeder plays the role of a “genetic engineer” in the development of future generations. Unfortunately, the results of an animal breeding programme can usually only be seen after some years, because the generation interval of most livestock species is long – for cattle it is about five years.
The basic training of the animal breeder should include sito and molecular genetics and biometrics. Because sophisticated mixed model technology is used nowadays for breeding value prediction, the animal breeder will need special training in this field. Aspects of importance are variance and co-variance estimation, contemporary group definition, etc. A love for applied mathematics and analysing data sets will surely be required to make a success in this facet of the animal breeding discipline.
The practical application of breeding values in a balanced way, taking into consideration many factors, is probably the more interesting and challenging task of the animal breeder. To make a success of this facet, it is crucial to have a thorough knowledge of breeding systems, setting of breeding objectives and breeding strategies, choosing the appropriate selection criteria, and, finally, the application of this knowledge in a balanced way to suit the particular production system and environment as well as market needs. A holistic approach, without losing focus on details, is required for this.
The animal breeder is the first link in the animal production chain, and therefore carries a large responsibility in supplying the rest of the production chain with animals that will make money for all involved, while also satisfying the needs of the consumer and society in terms of product quantity, quality, safety, consistency and animal welfare.
Animal physiology is the specialization in animal science dealing with the reproduction, growth and development of domesticated, aquatic and wild animals. A basic systems approach is followed to understand and often solve a variety of problems relating to animal production physiology. The challenges are numerous but most relate to the interactions between genetic, nutritional and other environmental factors such as temperature and humidity on the ability of animals to maintain homeostasis, whilst at the same time maintain a high level of production and reproduction.
Examples include the management and synchronization of reproduction by means of reproductive technologies such as Al and ET. A similar approach is followed in terms of the management and manipulation of growth and production of feedlot and dairy cattle to improve the efficiency of meat and milk production. A more recent development in animal physiology is the use of molecular genetic techniques to study and understand complex physiological processes such as differences in the efficiency of nutrient metabolism in different breeds, species, genders and ages. Animal physiologists play a vital role in the animal industry and are employed at semen collection and Al companies, feedlots, abattoirs, research and educational institutions as well as the pharmaceutical and feed industry.
The success of both intensive and extensive animal production systems relies heavily on qualitative and quantitative nutrition as well as nutritional management. In the light of the increasing human population and ever decreasing natural resources, more complete information and better understanding of animal requirements, nutritional value of feedstuffs and appropriate rations is quite obvious.
Due to outstanding progress being made in recent times in the understanding of intake, digestion, absorption and utilisation of feeds and nutrients, animal nutrition today is in a position, within reasonable limits, to define animal requirements in terms of specific nutrients. Animal nutritionists also have the capability to classify and describe most animal feeds with regard to their nutritional value.
The role of the animal nutritionist is thus to optimise animal production in a world where competition between humans and animals is increasing for certain feedstuffs (i.e. cereal grains). If large-scale human famines are to be avoided in the future, while at the same time livestock flocks and herds are maintained, more efficient use must be made of roughages and other materials such as agricultural and industrial waste in the feeding of animals.
Recently, the science of nutrition has changed its emphasis from the effects of food on the whole animal to the impact of nutrients on selected tissues and organs. It is thus less focused on outcomes and more on mechanisms. The role of the animal nutritionist in the modern world is imperative and will play an increasing important role in the production of quality meat, milk and fibre in the future.
Where can I study Animal Science
The following universities in South Africa offer B.Sc.-degrees in animal science:
Department of Agriculture, Science and Technology
Private Bag X2046, Mmabatho, 2735
Farm Animal Breeds
Animal Breeds List
Brahman – Society
Brangus – Society
Drakensberger – Society
Gelbvieh – Society
Hereford – Society
Limousin – Society
Nguni – Society
Romagnola – Society
SA Dairy Swiss
SA Holstein Friesland
Senepol – Society
Simbra – Society
Simmentaler – Society
South Devon – Society
Sussex – Society
Tuli – Society
Wagyu – Society
English Halbblut Horse
SA Hackney Horse
SA Hackney Pony
SA Miniature Horse
SA Warmblood Horse
SA Saddle Horse