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Topics: Topics: Herding
Agriculture > Herding

Animals provided the ancient Egyptians with food and milk, hides, and dung for cooking fires. Animals also helped with farming and transportation. Breeding animals were common in the earliest Neolithic settlements in Faiyum and on the western edge of the Delta. The Egyptians probably acquired some of their livestock from Asia Minor and parts of North Africa. The ancient Egyptians raised cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys, geese and other poultry, and dogs. They also tried to domesticate the oryx during the Old Kingdom. The horse was introduced in the New Kingdom.

Like the land, herds belonged to large estate owners who employed professional shepherds to tend the animals. The shepherds specialized in one type of animal, such as cattle, sheep, goats, or pigs. They had overseers and assistants such as "bucket carriers" and "fodder men." Herdsmen are depicted in tombs as being very lean and usually unshaven but with little hair on their heads. Being continuously on the move with their herd, they had little time for food and comforts. They are shown with their kilts tucked up and carrying over their shoulders a stick with matting hanging from it, which was used to protect them from the wind and sun. Common scenes show them milking, feeding young animals, helping with births, and bringing the animals to the estate owner for the census.

Cattle were the most profitable livestock animals as beef was the most prestigious meat. There were more cows than bulls in the herds. Green expanses of cultivated lucerne (alfalfa), clover, and chickling vetch provided fodder for domesticated animals. Herds would also clear the straw and chaff left after harvests. Cattle were driven out to the pastures or fields during the day and tied to stones with thick date-palm-fiber ropes to make sure they didn't trample too much of the grass. At night, they were herded to palisaded pens to protect them from wild beasts and thieves. In the winter they were housed in a structure similar to a barn.

Sheep with spiral horns were seen as the incarnation of the god Khnum and later Amun. Priests were forbidden to eat mutton or wear wool, especially during the Late Period, and sheep's milk and meat were not left as offerings to the dead. Texts indicate that goats were more numerous than sheep up to Ptolemaic times. Goats were more accessible as meat sources for poorer households because they were more adaptable to scrub grazing and easier to milk than cows. Pigs were used infrequently as food, except during the Eighteenth Dynasty when large herds were kept. Ducks and geese were kept in feeding pens or were allowed to peck around courtyards for food. Domestic chickens may have been bred as early as the New Kingdom.

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Seated Statue of Rahotep
Seated Statue of Rahotep

Statue

Ostracon of Two Boys Driving Cattle
Ostracon of Two Boys Driving Cattle

Ostracon

Ostracon of Man in Front of a Bull
Ostracon of Man in Front of a Bull

Ostracon

Ostracon of a Scene from Daily Life
Ostracon of a Scene from Daily Life

Ostracon

Model of an Ox
Model of an Ox

Model

Standing Statue of Nefer
Standing Statue of Nefer

Statue

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