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Animal health and nutrition in organic farming

Vaarst, Mette; Weisbjerg, Martin Riis; Kristensen, Troels; Thamsborg, Stig Milan; White, Andrew; Roderick, Stephen and Lockeretz, Willie (2006) Animal health and nutrition in organic farming. In: Kristiansen, Paul; Taji, Acram and Reganold, John (Eds.) Organic Agriculture - A Global Perspective. CAB International, chapter 7, pp. 167-185.

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Animals are important in organic farming systems, both as a part of the concept and in practice, where there is great weight on forming an integrated system with harmony between the land, the animals and the people, involving local recirculation of feed and manure. Good animal health and welfare is an important goal for organic husbandry. In contrast to crops, animals are not just parts of the farming system, they are also sentient creatures and as such they deserve special moral consideration. They are individuals that need to be cared for, they can suffer, and they can interact with each other and with the humans and environment around them. Animal management is, therefore, very different from crop management. Humans have a moral obligation to treat animals well and to intervene before they suffer or die, as this is unacceptable. Organic farming principles go much further than promoting animal welfare in terms of avoiding suffering. One of the basic principles of organic farming refers to access to ‘natural’ behaviour for organically managed animals, which substantially broadens the concept of ‘welfare’. These perspectives are presented and discussed in Chapter 8, where Lund emphasises the importance of integrating naturalness into the concepts and practical application of animal welfare in organic animal husbandry.
The animal welfare goal of avoiding suffering allows the use of synthetic medicines for treating sick animals. This is the only circumstance in organic agriculture where use of ‘chemicals’ is allowed and even recommended in Europe. In the United States of America (USA), antimicrobial treatments are completely prohibited. Some farmers, therefore, change their disease treatment patterns and turn to so-called alternative or complementary methods, sometimes in combination with anti-inflammatory drugs (‘pain-killers’). No matter how diseases are managed, the most sustainable way to avoid suffering and the need for disease treatment is to make more fundamental changes in husbandry methods, such as breeding for increased disease resistance and introducing more species-appropriate housing, and a well-balanced diet. Hörning (see Chapter 6) discusses aspects of breeding and housing, and we will discuss the aspects of feeding and disease management.
Organic farming in a global context is emphasised in this book, and therefore we touch on perspectives of non-certified organic farming, in the way it exists in many regions of the world. In most countries, there are hardly any local markets for certified organic livestock products (e.g. in most African countries), and export is limited for all livestock products as a result of disease status. Certified organic products consist mainly of fruits and cereals for export to privileged consumers such as those in north-western Europe. The certification procedures are too costly for most farmers, especially when nobody wants to pay extra for organic products, organic producers lack support or premium prices are difficult to obtain. Parrott et al. (2005) discuss the issue of non-certified organic farming and categorise four main areas they call the ‘hidden world of ecological farming’:
1 explicit organic approaches (e.g. membership of certifi cation agency);
2 like-minded approaches (e.g. permaculture movement in Zimbabwe);
3 low external input sustainable agriculture (weight on local resources and processes); and
4 traditional farming (‘food grown without chemicals’, or ‘organic by default’).
In this chapter, we will keep the basic ideas of organic animal husbandry in mind and also include the potential organic livestock production with examples from areas that are not certified. Organic farming can in this context be seen as not only a way of producing ‘certified animal products’ but also as a way of farming sustainably, emphasising a harmonious way of using land and keeping animals.
There is great diversity among countries and regions regarding different ways and conditions for farming; farms locations range from mountain to grassland areas, and farming systems from traditional to intensive systems. The aim of this chapter is to present and discuss aspects of animal health and feeding in organic farming systems. A short overview of current knowledge about animal health, welfare and disease in organic agriculture is presented. For nutrition especially, we will focus on the interactions between nutrition and animal health and welfare. We have chosen to concentrate mostly on dairy cattle and grassland feeding, but also provide other examples.

EPrint Type:Book chapter
Subjects: Animal husbandry > Health and welfare
Research affiliation: Denmark > KU - University of Copenhagen > KU-LIFE - Faculty of Life Sciences
USA > Tufts University
Denmark > AU - Aarhus University > AU, DJF - Faculty of Agricultural Sciences
UK > Duchy College
Deposited By: Holme, Ms. Mette
ID Code:13735
Deposited On:28 Jul 2008
Last Modified:12 Apr 2010 07:37
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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