5 Things To Look In For In An Organic Livestock Farm

Sachin Ingewar
Sachin Ingewar

Treating livestock ethically is mainstream in organic farming. Meeting species-specific needs is paramount for ensuring that you are nurturing healthy breeds. By providing the livestock the space and environments they need, organic farmers can reduce a lot of their hard work, especially on the front of preventing diseases. A simple implication of which is negligible administration of preventive and post-diseases antibiotics. The withdrawal period of these antibiotics is between seven and 14 days, therefore, if livestock is consumed within this period, the antibiotics find a way into the human digestive system. Besides, painful mutilations such as trimming of the beak and tail docking can also be avoided, which is often done to prevent feather pecking, arising due to stress from overcrowding.

India accounts for one of largest livestock sectors in the world, accounting for 11.6% of the world’s livestock population* besides being the fifth largest meat producer (54% being red meat). The country is also the world’s largest producer of milk, the third-largest producer of eggs and the fourth-largest chicken producing country. Aquaculture constitutes over a third of the country’s total fish production; India’s annual per capita fish and shrimp consumption is at around 6kg and the global average being around 18kg.

A 2017 study by researchers from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) finds high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in chickens raised for both meat and eggs on farms in Punjab. For the study, the largest of its kind ever to be conducted in India, researchers collected more than 1,500 samples from 530 birds on 18 poultry farms in six districts in Punjab and tested them for resistance to a range of antibiotics critical to human medicine. For research purposes, eighteen poultry farms from Punjab were surveyed, and 1,556 Escherichia coli isolates from 530 birds were tested for susceptibility to 11 antimicrobials. Samples from 510 of these birds were tested for production of ESBL—enzymes that confer resistance to most beta-lactam antibiotics.

Researchers found that two-thirds of the farms reported using antibiotics for growth promotion. These farms were also nearly three times more likely to report multidrug resistant bacteria than those that did not use antibiotics for growth promotion.

A similar study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment in 2014 found the use of antibiotics in the feed of poultry animals. There is no denying the fact that there is a widespread use of antibiotics in food animals for prevention, treatment of infection as well as growth promoters, a process particularly common in poultry production and aquaculture.

According to a study (2010), India accounts for 3% of global antibiotic use in poultry, swine and cattle, making it one of the top consumers along with China, the USA, Brazil and Germany. By 2030, this usage is expected to increase by about two-thirds.

Needless to say, the data points towards a pressing need to route towards organic animal farms. One of the simplest differentiators between an organic and a non-organic livestock farm is primarily the methods used to prevent the onset of diseases. For instance, in a non-organic farm, lambs could be wormed preventatively every four to six weeks. Organic farming bans the use of any preventive antibiotics and wormers and encourage you to manage your flocks carefully to reduce disease risk, especially by using clean grazing systems to minimise the need for worming

It is also essential to apply the organic principles of health, ecology, fairness and care to fish and shellfish farming as well. A diverse range of aquatic species are produced in line with organic principles including many different fish species, seaweed and bivalves (mussels, oysters and clams).

Let’s look into some of the factors that differentiate an organic livestock farm from a non-organic:

Let your livestock be in free range: The animals in your farm must have access to pastures and should be free range for at least eight hours in a day. They must have plenty of space, including indoors and outdoors. You must always provide them with enough light as well as comfort to let them express their natural behaviour. This helps in reducing stress and, eventually onset of any disease. In poultry, however, free range is mostly confused with yarding. Yarding means keeping the poultry in fenced yards. Free range extends beyond that.

Organic Pastures: The livestock must be allowed to graze and forage on organic pasture, which means pastures where only natural fertilizers are used. Instead of manufactured chemical fertilizers, clover is used in organic farming to fix nitrogen so that crops and grass grow. Organic grazing animals , therefore, have a diet containing high levels of clover, which is linked to nutritional differences in Omega 3. In India, soya and jowar is the primary feed for poultry, which isn’t cultivated without fertilizers. Therefore, the focus to let them feed on organic pastures increases furthermore.

Diet free of GMOs: Another aspect to ensure is that it is free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Over a million tonnes of GMO crops are fed to a majority of non-organic livestock which produce chicken, eggs, pork, bacon, milk, cheese etc.

No antibiotics: Organic farming standards primarily ban the routine use of antibiotics. An animal is treated with medicine only if it is sick.  Reducing the routine use of antibiotics helps in minimizing antimicrobial resistances. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that the number of antimicrobials used in food animals will escalate globally from 63,151 tons in 2010 to 105,596 tons by 2030, which is an increase of 67%.  India accounts for 3 percent of antimicrobial consumption in animal food.

Opportunities to express natural behavior: Livestock must be given plenty of opportunities to express their natural behaviours. If an animal is not able to express naturally, they may suffer emotionally and physically. These behaviours may be presumed pointless, but they can be extremely important for the animal. For instance, dust bathing is a natural behaviour by chickens; it occurs when it finds a dirt patch and digs itself into it, covering their entire bodies with dirt. At a time when most of the world population is being deprived of food security, it is imperative to look into organic food supplies that aim to establish a healthy nutritional profile among the food chain. However, we must work towards spreading a holistic framework of knowledge among the stakeholders around the various sustainable farming approaches.

About author

The author is Regional Sales Director, India Subcontinent and South East Asia region, Proteon Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Proteon Pharmaceuticals SA Poland. Proteon Pharmaceuticals focuses on precision biology for microbiome protection to improve animal and human health, increasing environmental sustainability and eliminating the unnecessary use of antibiotics.

* 1. Van Boeckel T.P. et. al. Global trends in antimicrobial use in food animals. PNAS. 2015: 112 (18); 5649 - 5654.

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