When people talk about organic food, so often it’s just vegetables and crops that come to mind. Animals managed under organic systems have their own set of rules, too, that involve the food they eat, their health-care protocol and their housing situation. Organic livestock rules—all of the organic rules, really—are meant to be guidelines and each farm sets up the system that works for their operation, so long as that system fits into the guidelines.
Throughout this season, you’ve read about the systems that Elmwood Stock Farm has in place. These are ever-evolving, but the principles behind them always come back to the health and welfare of the animals, because organic standards require that, of course, but more so because it’s part of our farming philosophy.
According to the USDA, on the most basic level, organic livestock is:
- Managed organically from the last third of gestation (for mammals) or second day of life (for poultry). We receive our broiler chickens the day after they’ve hatched.
- Allowed year-round access to the outdoors, except under specific conditions (e.g., inclement weather). You’ve read about the chicken-tractor housing situation the birds have on our pastures, and we don’t keep broilers through the winter.
- Raised on certified-organic land meeting all organic crop-production standards. Our pastures are never treated with synthetic materials, only sunshine, rain and the nutrients left behind by the livestock.
- Raised per animal-health and -welfare standards. National Organic Program health and welfare standards require that animals are raised in a way that accommodates their health and natural behavior. This includes access to the outdoors; shade; clean, dry bedding; shelter; space for exercise; fresh air; clean drinking water; and direct sunlight.
- Fed 100-percent certified-organic feed, except for trace minerals and vitamins used to meet the animal’s nutritional requirements. You read about the difference between organic and non-GMO feeds before, and in a few weeks, we’ll talk about what’s actually in our poultry feed.
- Managed without antibiotics, added growth hormones, mammalian or avian byproducts, or other prohibited feed ingredients (e.g., urea, manure or arsenic compounds). We are happy to raise animals that don’t require anything questionable in their feed to keep them healthy.
Earlier this year, the USDA proposed amended organic-livestock rules that strengthen the humane-care aspect of organic animal keeping. The agency asked the industry for comments on the proposed rules, and it will still be several months still before any decisions are made—then several years before any rules are changed. These changes will impact the large-scale organic producers more than they will our farm because of the pasture-based systems that we already have in place.