Animal husbandry accounted for about 13 percent of the gross value of agricultural production in the early 1980s. Water buffalo and cattle remained the chief draft animals for cultivation, although tractors were playing an increasing role in some areas, as in the maize-growing regions of the central plain. Buffalo, predominantly of the swamp type well suited to paddy culture, were estimated at between 5.5 and 7.2 million. Able to flourish on coarse fodder and roughage indigestible by other livestock, buffalo were found in all farming areas; even very small paddy farmers usually had at least one animal. After maturing, buffalo were used as draft animals for five or six years, or until too old to work, when they were slaughtered and sold for meat. Cattle, numbering between 4.9 and 5.5 million, were used mainly for upland plowing and hauling carts. About 70 percent of all farms had cattle. Although 30 percent of farms had three or more head, there were few herds of more than 10 animals. Cattle also were slaughtered for meat once their usefulness had ended.
Pigs were an important source of meat, and there were about 5 million in the early 1980s. Most farmers raised one or two, and an estimated 150,000 families were engaged in commercial pig raising. Weather conditions were generally unsuitable for using horses except in the North, where the common variety was the so-called Yunnan pony mainly valued as a pack animal. Tame elephants remained important to the forest industry in the 1980s, especially in harvesting teak, where the use of mechanical equipment was economically prohibitive because of the wide dispersal of individual trees.
Livestock reproduction rates were low because most animals were bred only when it did not interfere with work. In addition, debilitating diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease, were endemic to all regions except the South. These diseases retarded expansion of the national herd of livestock, which was reported to be growing at only about 2.5 percent annually in the early 1980s. Shortages of meat in Bangkok in the early 1970s led to student demonstrations and the establishment of export quotas in early 1974 (in early 1979 the quotas were 35,000 head of cattle and 15,000 of buffalo annually). Several commercial dairy herds and smallholder dairy cooperatives furnished some milk for sale. Demand for fresh milk and dairy products had grown, especially in Bangkok.
Almost all smallholders raised some chickens and ducks for eggs and meat. The commercial production of chickens grew dramatically in the 1970s, and nearly 65,000 tons of frozen chickens were exported in 1986, of which 95 percent went to Japan. A considerable number of commercial operations had flocks of over 20,000. Select breeding stock was used, and modern operational practices were followed. Commercial duck farms were almost entirely Chinese operated.