A”Paleo Diet” for Livestock


The popular Paleo Diet, also known as the caveman or stone age diet, is an intriguing concept. It purports to mimic the diet of hunter/gatherers in the Paleolithic era. However, recent studies have revealed some of the same potential health problems associated with other similar high protein/low carb diets. 

I believe the diet would be more effective if it encompassed some other aspects of the paleo world.  For example, I doubt paleo-man always enjoyed three square meals every day — thus adding intermittent fasting to the regimen would be of benefit.  Likewise, paleo-man had to work harder than today’s office dwellers just to eat and survive — so adding a strenuous exercise program would be indicated.  Like a three-legged stool, a program involving diet, fasting, and exercise is more stable and would come closer to duplicating paleo-mans environment and ancestral lifestyle.

While they cannot always be controlled, there are other variables to consider. 

  • The nutritive value of paleo-foods has undoubtedly changed over 10 millennia since paleo times. Soil depletion over the centuries mandates some form of mineral supplementation for good health in any era.
  • Ethic groups evolving in different parts of the planet would develop specialized digestive abilities to match their different food choices. For example,  Inuit’s from close to the Arctic Circle as compared to a native living in an equatorial rain forest
  • Digestive efficiency has changed but not so much as to prevent the animal’s return to ancesteal diet if provided.

Pondering the ramifications of the cave man diet led me into some interesting byways of speculation about the applicability of this concept to how we manage our animals today.    I wonder;

  • Do animals have an inherent species-specific metabolism that thrived on a certain nutritional and lifestyle environment?       If so, are we meeting those needs? 
  • Have their nutritional needs and digestibility’s changed over the millennia? 
  • Would animals be benefited by a a return to an ancestral diet and lifestyle and, if so, how?.

According to scientists, there were clusters of animal domestication in different places about10,000 BCE, give or take a couple thousand years either way.  This generally correlates to the times when human were transitioning from a hunter-gatherer society to agrarian society or stay in place form of agriculture.

There is evidence dogs were tamed in Europe and Siberia 33,000 years ago. Being carnivores by nature, there is a lot of similarity in their ancestral diet and that of today.  There is controversy even now about including grain in a canine diet.  

Some finding show cats living in close proximity to man in Cyprus around 9500 BCE.  I doubt there is any confirmed evidence cats have ever actually been domesticated to the point of being subservient to humans. .

Pigs domesticated 15,000 years ago.  As omnivores, pigs are extremely adaptable as evidenced by the ease at which escaped pigs can revert to a feral lifestyle. 

The lifestyle of sheep and goats as grazers and browsers is not much different than when first tamed 1about 12,500 years ago.

One of the greatest lifestyle change occurs in some horses.  First domesticated in the Eurasian Steppesaround 3500 BCE, horses were prey animals and led a nomadic life, ranging over wide areas because of predator pressure and the quest for food and water. Their forage was low in moisture and low in nutritive density. 

Now our pleasure horses are fed a totally inappropriate diet of high-moisture, high nutritive density grain and forage. They spend most of their time in a small paddock or box stall and get little exercise —  a lifestyle totally different from their native environment and then we wonder why they have health and emotional problems.

Arouch 1

Cattle were domesticated from the wild aurochs in the areas of modern Turkey and Pakistan around 10,500 BCE. Today some range cattle still enjoyt that environment, but many do not. In my opinion the huge mega dairies are not only an environmental disaster but also a blatant example of animal abuse.  The average dairy cow in the US rarely completes two lactations, never reaching adulthood.  At calving time, an astounding 50% of the cows suffer from either a metabolic disease or an infectious disease, and sometimes both. Many of the rations contain high amounts of grain which causes rumen dysfunction. Most of these poor beasts are raised, from birth, in total confinement and never even see grass — a sad commentary on animal welfare in this country.

A bright spot in the dairy industry is the grazing movement.  Animals are allowed to graze pastures when availabe. Forward thinking dairymen transitioning to this program see a multitude of benefits to animal health and productivity as they begin providing dietary and lifestyle condition compatible to the inherent needs of the animals. 

Bottom line: Even small steps to duplicate  a native diet and environment will be beneficial to the health and productivity of our animals.