Organic poultry and eggs

In order to produce and market organic eggs or poultry meat, the unit must be registered with an organic control body and the production system adopted must meet the organic standards specified by that body. 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. Individual control body standards may differ slightly from the United Kingdom base-line standard and from each other.

Marketing

Although securing a market for organic produce may seem like the final step in setting up a production unit it is always wise to research potential outlets before any expenditure is incurred.

With regard to poultry the options are to secure a production contract or agreement with an egg packer or in the case of poultry meat a poultry processor.

Alternatively, it may be feasible to develop a local market for direct sales, in which case premises may need to be registered for the purpose of egg packing.

On the poultry meat side, on-farm processing will need to be set up with advice from the Environmental Health Department of your local Council. 

Conversion of land

The production of organic poultry or eggs is only possible where sufficient land is available for the birds to roam and forage.

The actual area of land required will depend on the type of poultry involved and the standards set by the control body.

Before produce can be sold as ‘organic’ the land to which the stock have access must go through a period of conversion which can take up to 24 months depending on its previous history.

However, in the case of poultry it is possible to achieve conversion in 12 months but this is subject to monitoring and approval by the control body.
During this time all feeds used on the holding must be free from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).

On a more general point, poultry prefer land that is light and free draining as this facilitates their natural instinct to scratch and dust bathe.
Trees and hedges provide shade in summer and where possible should not be removed at time of site preparation.

The land area to which poultry have access must be well covered with suitable and properly managed vegetation.

Consideration also needs to be given to the location of housing within the land area so that birds are able to range over all the ground.

A fox-proof fence is needed on the perimeter of the land.

House and equipment

Whether houses are mobile or static will usually depend on the scale of production and standards set by the control body.

In any case, an insulated building is needed so that the stock is protected from extremes of temperature.

A system of artificial lighting is also needed so that birds can carry out normal activities during the dark days of winter.

Ventilation can be either natural or fan assisted depending on stock numbers and layout of the house.

Standards for internal stocking density, pop hole sizes, feeding and drinking space, droppings pit and perch space are all set for individual species by each control body.

These need to be consulted at the planning stage so that buildings and equipment are constructed with a view to compliance.

All types of poultry need to be provided with good quality litter so that bird health and welfare is maintained.

Litter may be either of straw or wood shavings provided the material is not treated with chemicals that are unacceptable to organic production.

As organic production only authorizes certain products for cleaning and disinfection, surfaces need to be constructed and maintained so that they can be thoroughly cleaned at the end of each crop.

A storage area for record keeping and egg handling is recommended.

Stock

Although in the long term it will be necessary to acquire both day-old chicks and replacement pullets which are produced to organic standards, in the short term it is acceptable to get stock from non-organic sources provided that the pullets are reared in compliance with the organic feed and veterinary requirements.

Birds must also be managed for a specified minimum time to organic standards before they or the eggs they produce may be sold under the organic label.

Stock which cope well with outdoor systems, and in the case of meat birds slow-growing strains, are recommended.

Minimum ages of slaughter are specified for meat birds according to the particular species involved.

Feed supplies

Poultry feeds are normally purchased as compounded rations that have been formulated having regard to the age and type of stock involved.

From a producers perspective it is therefore essential to identify a feed miller who is accredited to organic standards and can deliver supplies to the area in which the unit is located.

As feed must be manufactured from organic ingredients, to standards that are specified in organic regulations, costs will be higher than standard poultry rations.

Husbandry and management

In general the management routine and husbandry of organic flocks will be similar to that required for standard poultry flocks of the same type.

However, as veterinary medicines and antibiotics must not be used on a routine basis, special attention is required with regard to general hygiene and biosecurity.

As part of the conversion process a veterinary health plan must be drawn up, preferably under guidance from a veterinary surgeon.

This needs to be updated and maintained throughout conversion as well as when organic status is achieved.

The emphasis throughout is on preventative management and developing a system that promotes good health and welfare and is less dependant on veterinary medicines.

In the event that a real need for veterinary medicines can be demonstrated, then this may be allowed, subject to the conditions laid down by the control body.

In organic production the withdrawal period is at least twice the stated withdrawal period.

As with any poultry enterprise attention to detail and prompt attention to problems that arise will pay dividends in terms of welfare and overall performance of the flock.

Manure

It is a requirement of organic standards that the maximum quantity of nitrogen applied to land does not exceed 170 kg N /hectare/year.
In practical terms this is equivalent to 260 laying hens or 580 meat chickens per hectare of land.

If a poultry unit does not have sufficient land to spread the manure produced at the permitted level an arrangement should be made with another organic holding to take the surplus.

Storage facilities for manure need to be constructed so that sufficient capacity is provided to carry over periods of the year when spreading is not permitted.

The construction of the store should also ensure that pollution of watercourses is avoided.

Record keeping

In order to demonstrate compliance with organic production standards and to underpin consumer confidence, a comprehensive set of records must be maintained.

These will show all production activities including, sourcing of stock, feed supplies, production performance, manure disposal, veterinary records and health plan.

Records must be available for annual inspection in order to maintain registration.

Contact for further information

Stephen Graham,
Poultry Adviser
Greenmount Campus
45 Tirgracy Road
Antrim BT41 4PS

Tel: 028 9442 6745
Mobile: 07827 443 016
Email: stephen.graham@dardni.gov.uk

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