Except in outlying areas, nearly all of China's arable land is devoted to crops. Most agricultural units, however, also support the raising of large quantities of hogs and poultry. Natural grasslands for the grazing of sheep and cattle occupy 3.53 million sq km (1.36 million sq mi), or 37% of China's total area; the four major pasture areas are Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai, and Inner Mongolia. In an effort to improve these pastures, 303 million ha (749 million acres) were planted with improved forage seed strains from 1976 to 1980. Nonetheless, animal husbandry continues to be the weak link in the agricultural economy.
China leads the world in swine production, the total number of hogs reaching about 454.4 million at the beginning of 2001 (55% of the world's total), as compared with 89.8 million in 1952. The provinces with the largest hog populations are Sichuan, Hunan, Henan, and Shandong. Pig raising, often pursued as a private sideline by peasants, is the fastest-growing sector of the livestock industry, and hogs and pork products are becoming valuable export earners.
The number of sheep expanded from 36.9 million in 1952 to nearly 133.2 million in 2001. Most sheep are raised by pastoral herders, mostly the ethnic minorities, in the semiarid lands of Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Gansu, and Sichuan (Szechuan). Goats, also raised primarily in semiarid areas but increasingly promoted throughout China as a profitable household sideline for milk and dairy production, increased in number from 24.9 million in 1952 to 157.4 million in 2001. Sheep and goats together numbered 288 million in 2001. Provinces with the greatest numbers of sheep and goats include Shandong, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Itenan. In 2001 there were also 129 million head of cattle and buffalo, up from 66.6 million in 1965;8.8 million horses (792,000 in 1965); and 326,000 camels (448,000). Chickens and ducks are raised throughout China on private plots and constitute, together with fish and pork, China's chief sources of dietary protein. The provinces with the largest cattle populations are Itenan, Shandong, Sichuan, and Guangxi. China produced 254,000 tons of honey in 2001, more than any other nation. China also led the world in silk production in 2001, at some 94,000 tons (75% of world production).
In 2001, China produced 65.3 million tons of meat, ranking first in the world with 27% of the total. Some 12.8 million tons consisted of poultry, second only to the United States and accounting for 12% of world production. Pork production in 2001 amounted to 42.9 million tons (first in the world), equivalent to 40% of global production.