As with the production of organic crops, the health and welfare of livestock is largely achieved without reliance on synthetic inputs such as antibiotics. Preventive measures are used to minimise the risk of pests and diseases.
The first step in achieving satisfactory animal health in organic farming is choosing breeds according to their vitality, adaptability to local conditions and resistance to diseases. The preference for indigenous breeds and strains suited to the specific farm environment also helps in this regard.
Organic farming also works to encourage the natural immunological defences of livestock by providing the following:
- Adequate and high quality feed
- Regular exercise
- Free-range access to appropriate pasture.
Other methods of disease prevention include:
- Maintaining adequate and appropriate housing in hygienic conditions
- Appropriate stocking densities both outside and when the animals need to be housed, such as over the winter months
But of course all the prevention in the world can’t stop livestock suffering the occasional illness or injury and in such cases organic farmers are required to work quickly to ensure that their suffering or pain is kept to a minimum, and that affected livestock are returned to full health as quickly as possible.
Treatments preferred by organic farming include:
- Homeopathy – an alternative treatment using highly diluted doses of agents that bring about similar symptoms to the disease-causing agents, encouraging the body to cure itself against the disease
- Phytotherapy – ‘herbal’ treatments using plants and plant extracts
As the health and welfare of organic livestock is paramount, veterinary treatments may also be used where homeopathy or phytotherapy is not appropriate.
The new EU Regulation on organic farming, for example, contains the following point:
Disease shall be treated immediately to avoid suffering to the animal; chemically synthesised allopathic veterinary medicinal products including antibiotics may be used where necessary and under strict conditions, when the use of phytotherapeutic, homeopathic and other products is inappropriate, in particular restrictions with respect to course of treatment and withdrawal periods shall be defined.