Home on the Organic Range

Karen Adler's picture

Does that title conjure up images of healthy cows grazing peacefully on green rolling hills and ranchers watching baby calves frolic in the grass for the first time? Beyond the idyllic scenes, it takes a lot of hard work and know-how to run a successful organic livestock operation, especially with ever-increasing challenges from drought, climate change, and regulations.


But help is on the way. The new edition of the Organic Livestock Handbook, funded in part by OFRF and produced by Canadian Organic Growers (COG),  is a major boost for livestock producers. And none too soon, given soaring demand.

A 2013 study of the Canadian organic market published by the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) reveals that the market for organic milk and meat is now worth $3.5 billion a year, and, like in the U.S., is steadily expanding. While organic meat is still one of the smallest categories, with only $2.5 million in sales, COTA reports that it is also one of the fastest growing categories, with significant potential to expand. Sales of organic milk reached $57.7 million in 2012, with an annual growth factor of almost 9 percent since 2008. This represents a significant opportunity for Canadian growers.

Organic Livestock production practices have changed significantly in Canada since our friends at COG published the first Organic Livestock Handbook in 2000, and in 2009 the Canadian Organic Standards were enacted. OFRF is pleased to have provided grant support for the production of this second edition of the Organic Livestock Handbook, which incorporates the latest science and knowledge related to organic livestock production systems, provides guidance on meeting Canadian Organic Standards, and features in-depth interviews with some of Canada’s leading organic producers. Hot off the presses, the handbook was unveiled at the Guelph Organic Conference last month, in Southwestern Ontario, to enthusiastic response. A young organic livestock farmer told COG, “There are so few resources available on organic livestock production so we’re excited to read the Organic Livestock Handbook.” And an experienced farmer said, “This new edition of The Organic Livestock Handbook is exactly what I’ve been looking for.”

The book covers a wide range of general principles and management topics, and includes chapters on dairy, beef cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and poultry. While there are differences between the Canadian Organic Standards and USDA’s National Organic Program Standards, Canada has signed equivalency agreements with the U.S. Equivalency means that the intent is similar, not that the standards are identical. One important item in Canada’s General Principles and Management Standards addresses the concerns of many consumers, as well as those in the industry: Provide attentive care that promotes the health and meets the behavioural needs of livestock. This handbook helps farmers and ranchers to meet that principle, and integrate livestock into a whole farm system.

Organic and transitioning producers in both Canada and the U.S. will find much to learn and put to use in this well-organized and power-packed handbook, which is available from COG .  And here’s a special sneak preview for our readers!

For more information about this project, click here.



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