Organic livestock farming: benefits, principles, challenges

Introduction to Organic livestock farming:

Organic livestock farming is one among various farming systems that are close to nature & ethics. The use of veterinary drugs & synthetic products in conventional animal farming is continuously increasing the threat to human health. Organic livestock farming method is a land-based activity. In order to avoid environmental pollution, particularly natural sources such as the soil & water, organic production of livestock must in principle present for a close relationship between such production and the land.

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Organic livestock farming not only proves to maintain health & welfare of animals. But is also playing an important role in providing benefits regarding the health of consumers, profit to the producers and sustainability of the environment. Certified organic animals are generally reared by feeding on pastures, fully organic nutrition is provided that is grown and processed by avoiding the use of synthetic pesticides & herbicides. Animals are reared without the use of any genetic modifications & antibiotics or artificial hormones are allowed only when no other option is available that too to a limited extent.

The demand for organic livestock farming is increasing tremendously with the attendant expansion of organic livestock product markets. The presence of developing countries like Brazil & Argentina in exporting the organic livestock products provides welcome opportunities for the other developing countries like India. In order to increase export of organic livestock farming products and develop strong domestic markets a lot of challenges must be overcome by the developing countries. Organic livestock farming has a greater demand & scope in the present global scenario due to more focus on sustainability. Despite its benefits, there are several debatable questions like the circulation of disease organisms, use of medicines & management, etc. regarding organic livestock farming in which further research & re-consideration is needed.

Historical development of Organic livestock farming:

Historically, livestock has always played the main role in organic production systems. During the formative years of the organic livestock movement (the 1920s through the 1950s), the typical organic farms of Great Britain, Continental Europe & North America integrated livestock production with the growth of both food & feed crops.

Livestock provided manure, which is one of nature’s best fertilizers & a good means for recycling nutrients within a crop rotation. Rising organic livestock farming feed alongside food crops, expand rotations; because forage legumes & sod-forming grasses are among the best feeds for ruminant livestock, these soil-building crops physically became part of long sustainable cropping sequences. In such systems, livestock could be fed cull vegetables, weather damaged crops, crop residues, “alternative” grains, and forages & cash crop grains during years of low prices.

Organic agriculture has its roots in traditional agricultural perform in small communities around the world. Farmers passed down knowledge of efficient practices onto subsequent generations. Organic agriculture became observable on a wider scale in the 1960s, when farmers & consumers became concerned that the number of chemicals used in crop & animal production could have negative consequences for human being health & the environment. Since then, it has developed into a more cohesive & organized movement and it is now the fastest growing food sector globally.

Characteristics of organic livestock production systems:

Organic livestock management shall aim to use natural breeding methods, minimize stress, prevent disease, progressively eliminate the use of chemical allopathic veterinary drugs, and maintain animal health & welfare.

Breeds and Breeding

There is a large range of organic farming enterprises. There are farms that focus on scale economies & maximum production efficiency per animal or per hectare. Other farms focus on product quality, self-sufficiency, direct marketing or niche market, etc. These different types of farms may need livestock breeds with different characteristics. At present, organic farmers worldwide keep livestock according to circumstances where breed choice has been based on information from conventional production systems. Such livestock could not be optimally adapted to an organic, low-input farming system.

When animals are genetically adapted to specific or extreme conditions, they will be more productive and production costs will be lower. Also, selecting breeds suitable for the local environment will also safeguard animal health and welfare. Production in intensive systems is associated with high-energy concentrate feeding & regular, prophylactic veterinary treatments and the use of exotic livestock breeds. Livestock breeds developed for use under these circumstances. Organic forage-based livestock systems may need special breeds. Highly productive dairy cows, for example, may endure physiological problems under organic conditions, as they need concentrate.

Feeds and feeding

  • Livestock should be fed with 100 percent physically grown feeds.
  • More than 50 percent should come from farms or formed in the region.
  • Sufficient green fodder must be supplied.
  • Sufficient clean & potable drinking water should be provided.
  • Use of synthetic growth promoters, synthetic appetizers, preservatives, synthetic coloring agents, synthetic amino acids, emulsifiers, urea etc. is prohibited.


  • Animals should not be caged, tethered in buildings.
  • Animals should have enough area to graze.
  • Housing must allow sufficient movement.
  • The maximum amount of fresh air & daylight should be provided.
  • Should be reared in herds or flocks of appropriate size.
  • Dry litter material must be used as bedding.
  • Group penning is arranged.
  • The indoor area is complemented by an outdoor area that must be at least 75 percent of the indoor area.

Disease prevention:

  • Selection of breeds to avoid exact diseases. The indigenous breeds are resistant to most of the disease as compared to exotic breeds.
  • Animals should be raised in a manner that promotes good resistance against diseases & infections.
  • Availability of good value feed in outdoor areas strengthens the natural immune system.
  • Adequate space allowance avoids overcrowding & prevents health problems associated with it.
  • Vaccines should be used when diseases cannot be controlled by other manage mental techniques.


  • Avoid reliance upon routine or prophylactic makes use of conventional veterinary medicines.
  • Non-allopathic medicines, herbal medicines & methods, including Homoeopathy, Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture should be emphasized.
  • Conventional veterinary medicines are allowed in case of an emergency. If used, the with-holding period for livestock products should be twice the legal essential period.

Challenges of Organic livestock farming in Developing Countries:Developing countries are already producing a wide range of organic products & many are thriving well. Though, most of them are often faced by a number of constraints, such as:

  1. Lack of technical know-how, for example, organic farming practices & production methods. In most developing countries, practical support is oriented towards using technologies that can enhance productivity per unit input and time. The practical knowledge, how about organic livestock farming is restricted to private companies that have access to export & limited local markets.
  2. Lack of market information, for example, which products to grow, which markets & distribution channels to choose, competition, market access. Although most of the population in the developing countries become aware of the health & environmental hazard of inorganic agricultural products, there are no extensive promotion works concerning the negative impacts of these products & initiation of the use of organic ones. In addition, most governments in developing countries are promoting the common conventional production systems which could hamper the market information about the accessibility of organic agricultural products.
  3. Organically produced foods have to meet strict regulations. Entering this profitable market is not easy. Farmers are denied contact to developed country organic markets for two to three years after beginning organic management since such countries will not certify land & livestock as organic before that time, arguing that it is essential for the purging of chemical residues.
  4. Intensive management & this is why farming is mostly done on a smaller scale.
  5. Organic farming is still faced with the difficulty of higher labor input in its operation. Other studies show that the major reason why organic farming requires more labor is to carry out manual & mechanical tasks essential to growth. The preparation for sale on the farm or on the market involves more labor on organic holdings. In fact, this could be a challenge to organic livestock farming because of the rising flow of the labor force from rural agriculture to urban areas where they could enjoy a better payment.
  6. Organic farming is still hampered by the requirement of clarity: Consumers were not always sure about what was actually covered by organic farming and the restrictions it implied. The reasons for the confusion lay, among further things, in the existence of a number of different “schools” or philosophies, the need of harmonized terminology, the nonstandard presentation of products & the tendency to blur the distinctions between concepts such as organic, natural, wholesome & so on. The situation was worsened by cases of fraudulent utilize of labeling referring to organic methods. In the future, organic livestock products will gain contact to lucrative local markets because of the growing income, urbanization & the increasing demand of animal products and these together with the information on the inclination to the requirements of organic livestock products, will make opportunity for the deceitful use of labeling.

Factors influencing organic livestock farming success:

With regard to the legislative side, it is extremely important to note that regulations on organic production embrace a wide variety of organic farms; they agree to use different animal breeds, structures, agro-ecosystem management, feeding strategies, & marketing strategies. As a consequence, organic the livestock farm’s success & perspectives are really different from one place to another. For example, found that the situation in North Germany was in contrast to the region in the south, where the variability of amount & proportion of the different feed types is predominantly independent of the milk yield. Many factors form these differences, such as the ecosystems on which farms are based and consumers’ demands & willingness to pay.

Animal nutrition: Legislation and market

Animal nutrition constitutes the main pillar of organic livestock production. Therefore, found that feeding strategies among Wisconsin organic dairy farms were the main determinants of herd milk production and income over feed costs. This could serve current organic farmers & transition farmers when considering feeding management changes needed to meet organic pasture rule necessities or dealing with dietary supplementation challenges.

In relation to organic feedstuffs, the mainly important obstacles are the difficulty to find them & their prices. This situation is forced by the farms’ high external dependence of feedstuff due to the decoupling between crops & livestock. These facts decrease the organic livestock farms´ adaptability, & their access to feed additives and materials of high quality. As a result, the organic livestock farming sector faces a big challenge that, along with other factors, has to lead to a situation characterized by organic livestock farms without organic products, which decreases their profitability & future perspectives of success. This has been observed also in beef cattle, dairy cow farms, or other species.

One possible result of overcoming this barrier would be the use of local agricultural by-products for animal nutrition since their price is generally low, and according to, they allow adding to their economic value, while providing an environmentally sound technique for disposal of the by-product materials. Moreover, it would lead to either an increase in the incomes for the organic business that sells such by-products or a decrease in the expenditure related to their disposal.

Opportunities for Organic Livestock Farming in Developing Countries Acceptance by Consumers:

Most consumers wish organic foods because they declare it is tastier, as well as healthier both for themselves & the environment. Consumers are ready to pay additional for organic products. Another reason for Organic products prominence is the opposition to genetically customized food. Under organic livestock production process, consumers expect organic milk, meat, poultry, eggs and leather products, etc. To come from farms that have been inspected to prove that they meet rigorous standards, which permit the use of organic feed, prohibit the use of prophylactic antibiotics & give animal contact to the outdoors, fresh air and sunlight.

Consumer demand for certified organic products is mostly concentrated in North America & Europe with the two regions contributing 96 percent of global revenues of certified organic products. Besides a large variety of organic crop products, major livestock products sold are eggs & dairy products. Even though there is less availability & lack of certification process of organic livestock products in developing countries, most of the people, particularly those living around urban areas in are aware of the beneficiary aspects of organic products & thrive to use these products for consumption. Once if the government of these countries endorses organic livestock farming as a policy and if awareness formed & technical assistance is provided among the communities of both urban & rural areas, people tend to produce more of the organic livestock products so this will increase the supply & compensate the price of products.

Encourages Biodiversity:

Organic livestock farming provides energy for microbial activity & this has been suggested as an indicator of change for soil properties because the size & activity of the microbial quotient is directly related to the amount & quality of carbon available.

Organic livestock farms often explore biodiversity than conventional farms since it is usually with more trees, a wider diversity of crops & many different natural predators, which control pests & help prevent disease.

Livestock farmers could tend to think of insects as pests:

mosquitoes & various flies come to mind. Yet dung beetles & other similar insects help to take manure into the soil, where it feeds the microorganisms & eventually the pasture plants. Pollinators that assist the ecosystem function are beneficial to livestock & insects are vital to the food chain. You can encourage insects by having a diversity of flowering plants & by not using broad-spectrum insecticides

Benefits of Organic livestock farming:

Environment: Organic farmers & ranchers use practices that reduce impacts on the off-farm environment. They implement plans to avoid manure runoff, instead of using compost as fertilizer it to conserve nutrients. As well, farmers use sustainable practices such as crop rotation & cover crops to maintain soil fertility and protect soil & water quality.

Animal health: Pasture-based diets develop ruminants’ digestive health, making the rumen less acidic. This lower acidity increases the number of beneficial microorganisms that help ferment ruminants’ high-fiber diet. Pasture-based systems have been exposed to reduce hock lesions and other lameness, mastitis, veterinary expenses, & cull rates.

Although livestock is generally the last part of the farm to be certified organic, they are often central to the farm & can contribute to its success. Livestock plays an even critical role in organic farms than they do on conventional farms. Livestock on an organic farm plays the main role in:

Nutrient cycling: a process in which nutrients are returned to the soil through manure & compost. Amending soils with animal manures can increase microbial biomass, enzymatic activity & alter the structure of the microbial community.

Incorporation of feed crops, such as alfalfa, grasses into crop rotations assists to build soil organic matter. Increasing cropping options, adding diversity of the agro-ecosystem.

Weed control: feed crops can be used to suppress & control weeds and animals can be used to graze out weeds on crops or pastures

Preparing the ground for cropping:

Livestock farm such as pigs can ‘Plough’ rough or new land earlier than planting vegetables or grains, reducing tillage & weed control costs.

Interrupting insect & disease cycles by taking land out of cropping.

Adding value to grasslands & promoting the use of green manures Reducing the financial risks of farming by converting lower quality grain crops & screenings into profit and spreading income more evenly over the year.

Organic Certification:

It is a certification procedure for producers of organic food & other organic agriculture products. In general, any business straight involved in food production can be certified, including seed suppliers, dairy farm, farmers, food processors & retailers. Certification is basically aimed at regulating & facilitating the sale of organic products to consumers and also prevents fraud.

The five major certifying bodies which monitor the standards for organic production & having worldwide acceptance are:-

– EU regulation (1804/1999),

– Organic Food Products Acts (OFPA) of USA,

– Draft Guidelines of Codex / WHO/ FAO,

– UK Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS)

– International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM)

Steps required for certification:

  1. The local certification group has to be contacted to know their standards as they vary from area to area & type of production.
  2. Study the standards & check by the certification agency if there is anything that is not clear.
  3. Submit a completed application & fees to the certification agency. Confidentiality is secure.
  4. The certification agency’s certification group will consider the application & if anything is in order, will hire a third party inspector to create an on-farm assessment periodically.
  5. The inspector submits a comprehensive report & committee member’s made a decision based on the report & sells products as ‘certified organic’. Some agencies charge licensing fees & have official stickers or labels, which may be purchased.

The followings are the National Standards for Organic Livestock Production (NSOLP) In India:

  • Landscape
  • Fertilization Policy
  • Animal husbandry management
  • Length of the conversion period
  • Brought –in Animals
  • Breeds & Breeding
  • Mutilations
  • Animal Nutrition
  • Veterinary Medicine
  • Transport and Slaughter


How to Get USDA Organic Certification

As a farmer, retailer or other business, gaining USDA organic certification status is a savvy and ethical business move. However, it’s not enough to simply claim “organic.” You must make sure that your product is carrying the certified USDA Organic Seal.
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The USDA National Organic Standard Seal not only shows your ongoing commitment to a healthy planet but assures consumers and buyers that your product meets stringent USDA organic certification requirements. It will make your product more marketable and profitable. So, how do you get started with the USDA organic certification process?
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How to Find out If You’re Eligible?

The best way to find out if your farm or product is eligible for USDA organic certification is to contact a reputable organic certifying agent. An organic certification agent is an agent who is accredited by the National Organic Program (NOP). Choosing the right organic certification agent is a big deal as your agent will help you with the planning process, inspect your product and in the end, license you to use the term “organic” to sell your product.

Who Qualifies?

In general, you may be eligible for organic certification if you are one of the following.

  • A commercial producer of organic crops or livestock such as a farmer or livestock producer.
  • A processor of organic foods, feed, fibers or textiles.
  • A handler of organic products, for example, a broker, packer, wholesaler or distributor.
  • A restaurant owner who sells organic fare.
  • A retailer who specializes in organic products or organic food.
  • A marketer of organic products.
  • A brand owner developing organic products.
  • Not Everyone Qualifies

Not everyone qualifies for USDA organic certification. First of all, your product needs to meet the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. This list, mandated by the Secretary of Agriculture, tells you which synthetic and non-synthetic substances may or may not be used in your organic production and handling operations. You may also be exempt or excluded from organic certification based on a number of USDA regulations.

Is It Right for You?

USDA organic certification is an ongoing process that requires dedication. Getting certified means making a long-term commitment to the organic process and it can be time-consuming.
For example, did you know that to become certified organic you must comply years in advance in some cases? It’s true. National Organic Program standards state that organic crops must be grown on land that has been free from prohibited pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers for three years proceeding growth.
There are many other issues to think about as well. Becoming certified organic means considering your entire operational procedure, not just the end product.

How Much Will It Cost?

When the National Organic Program initially launched USDA organic certification, the cost of a single farm becoming certified was estimated at $750 with a sliding scale fee structure in place for other organic operations.
Current certification fees vary wildly depending on the organic certification agent you choose. Be sure each organic certification agent you’re speaking with gives you a clear estimate of the fee structure before officially choosing an agent. There are also programs that can help you pay for the costs of getting certified, as shown below.

How to Apply?

If you’ve taken the time and initiative to ensure that your processing or distribution process is truly organic, then the actual process of gaining USDA organic certification is fairly straightforward. While variations apply due to specific circumstances, USDA organic certification can normally be divided into three phases. Organic certification includes the application process, the company, and product inspection and certification.

The Application Process:

If you’re planning to market your product as “organic” you must get certified by a National Organic Program (NOP) accredited agent. First, choose your organic certification agent. Obtain and fill out your agent’s application forms and turn them in. After the agent reviews your application and decides that you’re in compliance with NOP regulations and standards, your agent will schedule a site inspection.

The Inspection:

A reputable organic certification agent will always schedule an on-site visit to inspect your organic production and handling site. The inspection is conducted to ensure that your application information is truthful and accurate. Your inspector will need to see your operations and will want to verify that zero prohibited substances have come into contact with your product.
Before the inspection ends, your inspector will conduct an exit interview with you. During the exit interview, the inspector will inform you about concerns or problems and answer any questions you may have.


After your inspection takes place, your inspector will write a report based on his or her findings. The report, applicant file, and exit interview are again reviewed to ensure National Organic Program (NOP) compliance. If your organic certification agent has zero concerns and all fees have been paid, you’ll be allowed to label your product or company as USDA Certified Organic. If there are minor concerns, you may be certified if you agree to solve the concerns within an appropriate time-frame.
If your agent feels that you are not fully NOP compliant you won’t be certified until you make the necessary changes to become NOP compliant.

How Long Does Certification Last?

Your organic certification will remain valid indefinitely if there are no problems. The only way your certification will end is if you voluntarily surrender certification or if your certification is suspended or revoked by the certifying agent, the State Organic Program’s governing State official, or the Administrator for violation of the Act or NOP regulations.

How to You Transition Your Farm to Certified Organic

Becoming a certified organic farm is a lofty goal. It’s a big deal and the steps leading up to your actual certification process are many. Before you can start the official certification process, it’s wise to follow all the pre-certification steps carefully.

Decide if You Should Transition to Organic

There are many questions to consider before you even decide to go organic or get certified. You’ll need to consider time issues, your current and potential marketing skills, organic labeling, your finances and so much more. Be sure to ask yourself if you’re really ready to transition to organics before you start making big changes on the farm.
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Read the National Organic Program Final Rule

Reading the National Organic Program (NOP): Final Rule carefully and fully is a must. This will educate you about basic requirements for organic production and processing, along with providing you with information on labeling, marketing, finding an organic certifying agent, certification standards and much more.

Identify Potential Organic Buyers & Markets

It’s almost never too soon to start marketing. With organic products, your market reach and buyers will be very different than conventional reach and markets. Organic markets often have geographic or timing issues that may redirect production and seasonal farming decisions.
Additionally, as an organic farm, you’ll need to develop a much heartier marketing skin. Selling people on organics, when they’re more expensive, can be tough if you’re not invested. Learn about how to educate, not simply sell. Seek out markets that are open to organics. You may even want to speak with an organic food distributor.

Get Involved Locally

You can learn a lot from National Organic Program literature, but not nearly as much as you’ll learn by investing in a local organic education. Local workshops, classes, and other organic producers are excellent resources to tap into. Local resources will offer fact sheets, books and usually host events such as field days or special classes, that cover just what you need to know in order to successfully go organic in your own area.

Go Pesticide Free Now!

A basic criterion for a certified organic farm is that the farm, or more precisely, the cropland, must be managed organically for three years prior to certification. According to NOP, certified organic crops must come from land that is totally free of prohibited substances for 36 months prior to the first organic harvest. You need documentation about when you last applied prohibited substances and you can’t use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or treated seeds during the transition period. Certified organic seeds aren’t required, but start searching them out, as it can be difficult to find them.

Contact an Organic Certification Agency

Don’t wait to contact an organic certification agency. Certifying agents are valuable resources and can hook you up with helpful tips plus all the planning materials you need. Plus, your agent will help you get started on your organic system plan.

Work on Your Organic System Plan

National Organic Program Standards requires every single farm, ranch or handling operation seeking organic certification to submit an initial organic system plan (OSP). Completing your plan can be a long process so the sooner you get started the better. Also, your plan is exactly what it says, a plan; and a good plan will help make the organic transition that much easier.

Fake It Until You Make It

It actually doesn’t hurt to pretend you’re certified organic for a while, before actually taking the leap. Because you’ll most likely need to make changes in your processes and marketing, it can pay off to pretend you’re already fully organic incorporated. Before you go organic is the time to start using organic techniques and practices. Successful organic farming and production are, in part, based on your ability to follow an organic routine and to make changes to the said routine when needed.