Article Summary: Farming is one of the world’s most labour-intensive and dangerous jobs. And while there are many similarities between crop and livestock farming, both present different challenges and unique opportunities. This article outlines everything anyone might need to know about them, including their definitions and the leading producers worldwide. The top differences between these two farming methods include weather dependency, whether or not stock needs tending every day, plus the requirements of heavy labour, machinery, investment, and market volatility.


Has anyone outside the industry ever asked why you might farm animals instead of a crop?

What did you tell them?

First and foremost, animal agriculture is the most resource-intensive and time-consuming. It also uses more water and land, emits more greenhouse gases, and delivers less of the world’s nutritional needs than crops. Animals need tending every day without exception. Despite this, animal agriculture can be far kinder to the farmer in extreme weather events, which we see more of due to climate change and la Nina and el Nino weather patterns.

There are vast differences between the two most common farming types, crop and livestock farming, and this article outlines everything anyone might need to know about them. 

What is crop farming?

Crop farming is the production of crops on a large scale. Conventional crop farming involves using pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals, whereas organic crop farming does not use pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals.

Climate and soil conditions, plus demand, affect which crops are grown where. Plant growth is dependent on rainfall (precipitation) and temperature. If precipitation levels or temperatures are too low or high, certain crops will not thrive or grow. Therefore, some climates are better for growing certain crops than others.

The world’s most popular crops are:

  • Corn 

  • Wheat

  • Rice

  • Potatoes

These form the world’s most popular staple foods, and China is the main producer of any crop, given its land area.

In Australia and NZ, the most common crops are:

  • Wheat — typical of colder climates, wheat is Australia’s number one crop export. Australia produces around 25 million tonnes of wheat annually, accounting for 3.5% of the world’s annual production. More recently, in 2021-22, Australia produced a record wheat crop of 36.3 million tonnes due to the war in Ukraine, a major wheat producer.  

  • Coarse grains — these are grains other than wheat, including oats, barley, sorghum, corn and barley. Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and finally, Queensland produce the majority of these grains. Most of the coarse grain Australia produces is exported.

  • Sugar cane — typical of tropical countries, sugar cane is farmed in the humid climes of tropical Queensland. However, this crop is under-regulated, and Brazil's emerging dominance as a major sugar can producer is a threat to the nation’s sugar cane industry.

What is livestock farming?

Livestock farming, or animal agriculture, produces milk, meat, and other products for human consumption. Animal husbandry is the branch of animal agriculture that manages the day-to-day care, raising and selective breeding of livestock. Pastoral farming is another term that is used in place of livestock farming.

Livestock dairy farming

Livestock dairy farming is the production of milk from cows. Grazing dairy farms host cows on pastures and are the most common and ethical type of farm in developed countries.

The world’s largest dairy producers are:

  • India – with 22% of the world’s production

  • USA

  • Pakistan

  • Brazil, and

  • China

Livestock sheep farming

Livestock sheep farming concerns the production of wool and meat from sheep (lamb). Grazing sheep farms are found in both tropical and temperate climates.

The largest lamb producers in the world are:

  • China

  • EU

  • Australia

  • India, and

  • Pakistan

The largest producers of wool in the world are:

  • Australia

  • China

  • Russia

  • New Zealand, then

  • Argentina

Top 6 differences between crop farming and livestock farming

  1. Crop farming is weather dependent. Livestock farming is not. 

Animals need to be milked or shorn, fed, and their areas maintained rain, hail or shine. In adverse weather, farmers do not have to tend to their crops. However, weather conditions can severely affect crops' survival and production levels—storms, hurricanes and cyclones, continual frost, snowfall, and drought on the opposite side of the spectrum. Most animals can survive most weather conditions, making them a reliable option for returns year after year.

  1. You can take a day off with crop farming, not livestock farming.

Just like the above, animals need tending every day to be kept humanely and given the best chance of success through maintaining optimum body condition. A crop can be left for a day or two if experiencing staff shortages, a storm, or even a holiday. Whether it’s Christmas day or you’re due for surgery, dairy cows still need to be milked 365 days of the year.

  1. Crop farming requires less physical labour than livestock farming.

Overall, crop farming is less labour-intensive than livestock farming due to the heavy machinery available to do the brunt of the planting, cultivating and harvesting work. Think combine harvesters, tractors, seeding and tillage equipment. Compare that to what a working dairy or beef farm has, usually a utility truck, motorbikes or horses and a lot of heavy lifting. But, it does depend on your crop; rice is one of the most labour-intensive crops to grow and would present difficulties compared to some well set-up livestock farms.

  1. Greater market price variables in livestock farming than in crop farming.

Simply, the price of a crop fluctuates based on demand. With livestock farming, the product not only fluctuates but also the feed price. When feed prices are high, this affects a farm’s bottom line.

  1. Crop farmers can store their commodities, but livestock farmers cannot.

Yes, they can store their grains for longer and wait until the market is ripe to sell. A livestock farmer cannot do this—if an animal is ready, it’s time to sell, no matter what the market is doing.

  1. Both farming types require different equipment and investments.

Combines, sprayers, silos and harvesters are the most expensive investments on a crop farm. The big ticket items are trailers, manure spreaders, feeders, milking machinery, and hay equipment on a farm dealing with animals.

Farming is one of the world’s most labour-intensive and dangerous jobs, for good reason. Whether herding 500kg cattle or running heavy machinery, it is hard work, not for the faint-hearted. While there are many similarities between crop and livestock farming, both present different challenges and unique opportunities.

Until we meet again, Happy Farming!

- The Dedicated Team of, 2022-12-29