Dairy cattle


Organic cows cannot be permanently housed, but must spend the majority of their lives outdoors. The cows must have appropriate bedding and adequate space when they are brought indoors during bad weather. Organic cows are fed mainly on clover-rich grass and must be allowed to graze fresh forage throughout the grazing season. Organic dairy cows are fed a minimum of 60% forage and a maximum of 40% concentrates. Whatever the balance of forage or concentrate, all their diet must be 100% Organic. Average yields in organic production are around a third less than in intensive production. Cows fed on concentrated feed may produce more milk, but it can be stressful for the cow to do so and put a strain on the animals health.


The feeding of calves must be based on natural milk, preferably maternal milk for a minimum of three months. A calf may only be weaned when it is taking adequate solid food to cater for its full nutritional requirements. Calves cannot be weaned before three months of age. Because the typical high-yielding breed of black and white cows (Holstein-Fresian) cannot be reared for high quality meat production, it is common practice for male dairy calves (who can't produce milk in the future) to be killed at birth or exported to the continent for veal production. Soil Association standards have never allowed the sale of calves to continental style veal systems, and since 2010 our standards have specified that licensees must have a plan to end the practice of culling new born calves within five years. Options for organic farmers include raising native breeds such as a Red Poll or Shorthorn that hasbeen bred for both milk and meat, or raising male calves for organic 'rose' veal - a robust, mature meat, pink in colour and aged for flavour. Male calves raised for veal enjoy plenty of space and light inside suitable buildings over winter and outside at pasture for the rest of the year, a varied diet and the care of a foster cow when available.



organic pigs

Organic pigs are kept in conditions that, as far as possible, allow them to express their natural behaviour. This includes being kept in family groups with free access to fields when conditions allow. In practice this means that most organic pigs will be outdoors all year round, though indoor housing is permitted in severe weather conditions, provided that there is plenty of straw bedding for the pigs, and continued access to an outdoor run.

Pigs are natural foragers - they enjoy rooting (their natural instinct to dig up the grass with their nose) and exploring. They are highly inquisitive, social animals and have a language which contains some 40 different expressions for passing on information.

To ensure animal welfare, the Soil Association bans several practices that are common in the non-organic pig industry. For example:

Nose ringing - this is used to prevent pigs from natural rooting behaviour
Tail docking - pigs in confined spaces often bite each others tails, so non-organic producers dock tails to prevent this
Farrowing crates - these are small metal cage only inches wider than the female pig, which are used around the time she gives birth to restrict her movement and prevent her from following maternal instincts.
Pigs fit into organic rotations well because they add fertility at the end of a grass ley. To prevent the build up of parasites it is recommended that once pigs have been on a piece of ground, they do not return to it for four years.



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Organic chickens and turkeys are able to behave naturally - grazing, pecking the ground, scratching and dust-bathing. Organic poultry must have continuous and easy daytime access to pasture or range covered with suitable vegetation, except in adverse weather conditions. Organic poultry cannot be permanently housed, though shelter and protection from predators must be provided at all times.

Pasture must be regularly rested from poultry to allow vegetation to recover and prevent the build up of parasites. Chickens being raised for meat (broilers) must be housed with room for a maximum of 10 birds per square metre. A flock must not contain more than 1,000 birds. (Intensively-reared broiler chickens are normally housed in groups of up to 40,000 in large shed.) For chickens raised to lay eggs, Soil Association organic rules do not allow more than six birds per square metre indoors, with a maximum flock size of 2,000 - layers spend at least a year in their accommodation and so need more space.

While intensively reared chickens live for around 42 days in cramped and stressful conditions, chickens raised to our standards cannot be slaughtered until they are at least 81 days old, unless they are defined as being a slow growing or traditional strain, when they can be slaughtered earlier.

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