Organic milk production

To produce organic milk the farm must be registered with an organic control body and the production system adopted must meet the organic standards specified. Each control body has its own detailed set of standards and it is important to ensure that the system adopted complies with the requirements of the organic body with which you choose to register. Some of the key aspects of production are given below.

EU standards

There are common standards for organic livestock and livestock products marketed in the European Union.

In the United Kingdom these are implemented by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on behalf of the devolved administrations.

Starting conversion

Conversion planning is a very important aspect of progressing from conventional to organic production. In some cases the whole farm will be converted in one block.

In others the conversion may be phased over a number of years, which requires close attention to detail to ensure that milk sold will achieve organic status at the earliest possible date.

Time scale

It takes a minimum of two years to convert the land to organic status.
It is possible to produce organic milk on the day on which the land attains full organic status. To achieve this organic management of the herd must have started nine months, and feeding six months, prior to the intended organic milk production date.

Feeding

From the start of conversion, all feedstuffs used on the farm must be produced and certified to organic standards.

Maximum use should be made of grazing and ideally all of the feed required should be produced on the farm. At least 60 percent of the feed should be obtained from the farm or from linked organic farms.

Up to 30 percent of the feed may come from in-conversion sources. Where it is produced on the holding on which it will be used, up to 60 percent of the feed may be inconversion. The balance of the ration should meet full organic standards.

Forage

At least 60 percent of the diet should come from organic forage.
Both the pasture grazed and the forage conserved for winter feed will normally be produced on the organic farm itself.

Concentrates

Where home produced organic cereals are available, these will form the basis of a concentrate ration. Organic concentrates can be purchased. Compound rations and purchased blends must be 100 percent organic.
Protein sources in particular may be difficult to produce on the farm and may have to be purchased.

Minerals and vitamins

Mineral supplementation is only permitted where trace element requirements cannot be met by the practices of organic husbandry. Some synthetic vitamins may be used, but subject to permission being granted by the control body.

Grassland

Establishment and management of clover-based swards are crucial to the success of organic dairy farms as they are the main source of nitrogen. Clover is required to sustain good levels of productivity.

Red clover, sown with Italian or hybrid ryegrass, can be used to produce bulky silage crops. Molasses, bacterial inoculants and enzyme additives may be used as silage additives.

Note that molasses used as a silage additive (or fed) must be organic itself.

Maintaining soil fertility depends on appropriate rotations, alternating silage and grazing ground where possible and the careful allocation of recycled manures and slurry. Artificial fertilisers are not permitted but lime and some ‘natural’ sources of nutrients can be used.

More information is available in the organic series leaflets ‘White clover-based swards on organic farms’ and ‘Red clover-based swards on organic farms‘.

Livestock manures

The total quantity of nitrogen applied on the farm may not exceed 170 KGN/ha/year (including that produced by the stock on the farm). Manure may be brought in from other organic farms.

This is equivalent to a stocking rate of about 1.8 LU/ha. The maximum applied to any one area should not exceed 250 KGN/ha/yr.

Poultry litter from registered organic farms may also be used.

Permission may be sought to use manure produced on conventional farms. However, the animals from which it is produced must be kept in extensive husbandry systems that satisfy the organic control body, and the rations fed to the stock must be free from GMOs.

Whilst it is unlikely that there will be surplus manure or slurry on an organic beef farm any manure or slurry leaving the farm must only go to other organic farms.

Housing

Note that housing space requirements can differ between control bodies.
Stock must be provided with a comfortable, dry bedded lying area and loose housing which is well bedded is preferred. Dairy cows should be allowed a minimum of 6m2 per animal and for young stock space requirements range from 1.01.75m2 per 100 KG liveweight.

Slats can be used but no more than half of the floor area available to each group of stock may be slatted. Existing cubicles can be used provided they are of adequate size and that sufficient bedding is provided.

An outdoor yard area or lean-to can often be used in calculating space available, providing stock have free access to it and there are no possible waste management or pollution issues.

Animal health

When starting conversion, all cohorts and progeny of BSE cases must be removed from the herd.

A detailed plan must be drawn up, preferably in conjunction with a veterinary surgeon, to show how the production system will be developed to promote good health and become less dependent on veterinary medicines.

Preventative management is always encouraged, but any problems must always be dealt with promptly. The use of homoeopathic remedies is encouraged.

Veterinary medicines and antibiotics must not be used as a preventative medicine, for example, dry cow therapy on a routine basis, but should be used to prevent distress in the event of illness or injury.

The withdrawal period for veterinary medicines must be at least twice the stated withdrawal period. Where the legal withdrawal period is nil or less than 24 hours, the withdrawal period will be 48 hours.

Good management practices including teat dipping, and culling cows with high cell counts assist in the control of mastitis.

Worm control should be achieved through careful grazing management practices to minimise exposure to infection.

Some anthelmintics may be used as part of a control programme, which has been agreed with the control body, and to treat animals where clinical symptoms occur.

Vaccination is permitted, under derogation, in cases where there is a known disease risk.

Where an animal or group of animals receive more than three courses of treatment within one year they lose their organic status, with the exception of vaccination, treatment for parasites and any compulsory eradication schemes.

Livestock which lose organic status then have to go through a further conversion period to regain it.

If organophosphorus products are used, the animals lose their organic status forever.

Clear recording of all veterinary medicine purchase and use is essential.
Sources of stock.

BSE

Purchased cattle must not come from herds which have had a case of BSE in the previous six years.

Existing stock

When a farm is converted to organic production the existing livestock can be retained but can never be sold as organic themselves. However the milk from these cows and their progeny can be sold as organic following the required conversion periods.

Replacements

Although producers are encouraged to rear their own replacements or to buy from other organic farms, up to 10 percent of the breeding herd can be replaced each year from conventional herds which satisfy a number of criteria.

Calves

The minimum weaning age for calves is 12 weeks. During this feeding period whole organic milk should form at least 51 percent of the overall ration, so milk feeding can be reduced to zero by the end of 12 weeks.
Where surplus calves are not being reared and finished on the dairy farm, they may be sold to other organic or conventional producers.

Bulls

Stock bulls can be purchased from conventional farms or hired bulls can be used provided they are managed to organic standards when they come onto the organic farm. AI is permitted.

Selling and buying stock

The sale of organic stock through livestock marts is not generally permitted, though he purchase of pedigree stock and rare breeds is permitted. Consequently farm to farm trading will become a necessary part of marketing stock.

Selling milk

To access premium prices for organic milk it is necessary to sell milk through an organically registered processing outlet. Marketing should always be considered before starting production.

Parlour hygiene

Approved sterilants may be used in milking parlours and dairies.

Dairy bred beef calves

If there is no beef enterprise on the dairy farm it is worth considering making links with organic beef rearers and finishers who might be interested in purchasing weaned calves. Choice of bull breed should also be given consideration.

Contact for further information

David Alexander
Department of Agriculture and Rural Development
31 Station Road,
MAGHERAFELT, BT45 5DN

Tel: 028 7930 2109
Mob: 07771 791532
Email: david.alexander@dardni.gov.uk

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