General principles of organic beef production - Companies aim for closed systems - Animal and plant health stems from soil health - Feeding animals tailored to their physiology. While conventional producers may be lured by higher prices (typically 20 to 30 percent) and expanding markets (consumer demand is expected to outstrip supply for many years), those moving to organic beef production must follow the principles of organic farming. However, evidence from the UK shows that the more intensive forms of organic beef production may require a higher price premium to match conventional yields.
Whole farm planning
This section describes some of the strategies and methods used by organic producers that should be considered when planning the conversion of existing conventional production systems. The specific techniques and strategies adopted by individual organic farmers will vary according to their circumstances, property location and type of livestock enterprise. Good organic managers rely on close observation, forecasting and prevention to develop a robust organic system for any situation.
Strategic alliances with other organic producers, processors or traders can be important in determining business mix and production levels. By collaborating with other producers, a relatively closed sustainable system can also be created between buildings.
Soil fertility management
In organic farming, the use of soluble P fertilizers, such as superphosphate or DAP, is not permitted. Less soluble forms such as reactive phosphate rock (RPR) or guano can be used instead. Other soil conditions such as pH and iron or aluminum binding can affect P release to plants.
RPR can be more effective when applied as a fine powder well distributed in the soil. Rock phosphate contains negligible amounts of sulfur (unlike superphosphate), so a separate sulfur source such as gypsum may be needed in sulfur-deficient soils. Conservation farming techniques such as green mulching have been used to grow organic cereal crops for supplementary feeding.
Many Australian soils are naturally deficient in important trace elements such as copper, zinc, manganese and molybdenum. Deficiencies can be eliminated by mixing trace elements with permitted forms of elements such as copper sulfate or zinc oxide.
Pasture and grazing management
However, seed can be expensive and herb establishment and persistence can be difficult in pasture. Herb meadows can be sown in a dedicated separate paddock, or sown as herb strips in a paddock. However, sowing improved pasture types to improve productivity can be an expensive affair with no guarantee of success.
Simply reseeding a paddock, rather than tearing or tilling, can be successful in some situations. Pasture can be sown and established either during a harvest phase by sowing a crop under, or as a separate activity. Seed can be sown directly with the crop at sufficient rates to produce enough new seed for good pasture establishment in the following year.
Rotational grazing systems are preferred in organic production and can be designed to optimize the use of pasture, maintain pasture composition and control parasites. It is important that paddocks are not grazed too soon after rain, so that the perennial pastures can be allowed to get a head start.
Animal nutrition and feed supplements
The length of the recovery phase in the rotation is critical and can affect overall productivity, pasture quality, worm control and livestock condition. Emphasis should be placed on nurturing and maintaining the natural bacterial flora in the rumen through proper nutrition. The synthesis of this nitrogen into proteins in the leaves is believed to be incomplete, resulting in higher amounts of intermediate nitrogen compounds such as free amino acids, urea and nitrate.
In the UK, during the feed gap, one organic producer is finishing cattle on organic silage, supplemented with organic grain and seaweed as a source of minerals. In addition, perennial pastures are established on the farm to improve forage quality in the dry season. Mineral concentration in plants varies considerably and is influenced by concentrations of minerals in the soil, by plant species, growth stages and soil moisture.
In the first instance, efforts should be made to correct the underlying cause of deficiency. Routine dependence on mineral salts and vitamin supplements in the diet is not acceptable, but a number of organic producers offer animals free choice access to permitted mineral licks.
Selection, breeding, rearing and herd management
Amendments to soils may be necessary, and additional soil treatments may also be needed to correct other possible causes of a deficiency (for example, waterlogging or other factors that lock up nutrients). Careful consideration should be given to the balance of minerals, especially the potassium to sodium ratio. If large numbers of calves are born during the winter, problems such as pneumonia and scour can be worse.
Heifers rarely have this problem, so for these animals late spring calving may be best, with the cows calving two to three months later. If finished cattle are needed year-round, two calving dates may be appropriate. The rumen must be trained to handle high feed intake by feeding high quality forage or hay.
Natural weaning without forced removal of the cow from the calf should be considered, although this is not always possible in some production systems. These rhythms should be considered as part of the management system - for example, peak feed intake usually occurs at sunrise and sunset, so disturbance at these times should be avoided.
Pest/parasite and disease control
Allowing cows to decide when to wean their calves can be very beneficial compared to forced weaning at nine months. Liveweight gains can be substantial and calves have a high finish rate, they just need time to grow to be fit for slaughter. The animal's ability to defend itself against disease through its own defense mechanisms can be enhanced and nurtured by appropriate forms of quality feeding and production levels, and by creating the right environment so that stress and other factors do not weaken the natural resistance.
Colostrum is the starting point for building immunity, and suckling can also stimulate an immune response that can be passed from cow to calf. Control of internal parasites in organically raised cattle can be achieved through rotational grazing management aimed at achieving a clean grazing system. The availability of clean and safe pastures will change over time and can be used strategically to prevent, avoid or reduce parasite problems.
In dry summer areas, free-living worm larvae tend to die more quickly (due to lack of moisture), so a pasture spell during this period may be more effective in reducing the existing worm burden. Derris can be used to control lice, and neem oil extracts and cattle rugs have also been used.
Background - Organic and biodynamic regulations in Australia
Organic standards and certification Organic standards and certification Organic standards and certification Organic standards and certification Organic standards and certification. A grower proposing to establish a serious commercial production of organic beef must seek organic certification to verify that the product is indeed organically raised in accordance with reputable organic standards. In the Australian domestic market there are currently no mandatory requirements relating to the labeling of products as organically grown.
Most reputable retailers require independent organic certification from one of the accredited AQIS organizations for products labeled as organic.
General requirements for organic certification
Protect consumers against deception and fraud in the market and against unproven product claims;. Certification of all production, processing, handling, transport, storage and sale of organic products is dependent on accurate up-to-date records of the business concerned, to investigate the products and processes. Provision may exist for partial certification where part of a property is converted to an organic system while the rest is farmed with existing conventional methods.
Some certification issuers may require development plans for the transition of the entire farm to an organic system within a certain period. Penalties may be imposed for non-compliance with organic standards or violations of certification rules. This may include decertification or going back to an earlier stage towards full organic certification.
How to gain organic certification
Acceptance of the contract and payment of fees enables the producer to market and label the relevant product as certified. Organic certification contracts are generally subject to an annual site inspection and review of farm records. Producers may be subject to random, unannounced on-site inspections as part of obligations that certifiers must meet in order to comply with Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) accreditation.
Some properties may also be subject to inspection by AQIS representatives as part of the certification bodies' regulations. Input products for use in organic productionInput products for use in organic productionInput products for use in organic productionInput products for use in organic productionInput products for use in organic production. Caution should be exercised with products that may be contained in some commercial formulations of the above products.
It can only be used for a specific disease that is known to exist on the organic farm or neighboring farms and that threatens livestock health and cannot be effectively controlled by other management practices. Soil fertility management for biological systems has attracted a number of alternative approaches to understanding soil conditions and plant growth. Dr. Rudolf Steiner - was the initiator of the concepts that form the basis of biodynamic agriculture.
Various approaches and analyzes related to soil conditions and plant growth continue to be developed, and a wide range of alternative inputs are available.