More than half the land is used for raising livestock. Cattle occupy an important place in the Malagasy economy. They are, however, more important as evidence of wealth than as sources of meat and dairy products. Only since the end of World War I has the consumption of meat become widespread among Malagasy, and now beef consumption is relatively high compared with other African countries. Cattle are employed to trample the rice fields and to draw plows and small carts. Most cattle are of the humped zebu type. Madagascar has vast natural pastures (60% of total land area) and is free of cattle diseases; there is, therefore, considerable potential for increasing production.
Estimates of the size of livestock herds vary considerably. Estimates for 2001 were cattle, 11 million head; hogs, 1.6 million; sheep, 790,000; and goats, 1,350,000. Total meat production was about 299,000 tons. Beef and live animals are exported. The population of cattle has remained steady because of a high young animal mortality rate resulting from traditional livestock-raising techniques.