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Raising organic livestock: What happens on the farm

Organic livestock: A closer look

Ever wonder what it takes to raise an organic cow, pig or lamb? Knowing how and why animals are raised organically can help you make better food shopping decisions for you and your family.

Organic Cattle

What is organic agriculture?

Meat with a "certified organic" stamp or sticker must meet certain requirements issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM), organic farms should:

  • Sustain and enhance the health of soil, plants, animals, humans and the planet;
  • Be based on living ecological systems and cycles, working with and helping sustain them;
  • Build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities; and
  • Be managed in such a way so as to protect the health and well being of the environment.

An organic barn

You won't find a row of narrow stalls on an organic farm. Rather, barns are usually clean and open, and more often than not, use more environmentally efficient resources than their factory farm counterparts. They're often smaller, too, so they use less water and power and produce less waste. Furthermore, organic farmers use only the manure from their organic livestock to fertilize their fields, so the food the animals consume has no added chemicals or pesticides.

How are the animals treated?

Mike Hansen at Good Earth Farms allows his livestock to graze and roam freely, rather than keeping them locked up in a barn. "People are more and more concerned about the welfare of the animal," explains Hansen. "Our cattle, for example, are never confined. We work very closely with the animals. We know everything about them and work hard to treat them well. They are treated with respect." All year long, the livestock are allowed outside and have the option of going inside if they wish -- a common practice in organic farming to allow animals to get exercise and fresh air, and live a more natural existence.

What do organic livestock eat?

Organically raised livestock eat food that's free of antibiotics, growth hormones, drugs, chemicals and pesticides. They also do not eat any animal by-products. Hansen's livestock graze on clover, baled hay and grass outside in fields and pastures, providing a more well-rounded diet. Organic farmers also don't use chemicals or pesticides on pastures where livestock graze, so the animals don't ingest chemicals -- and by extension, you don't either.

Getting the organic meat to your table

Organic meats must be slaughtered in an organic slaughterhouse, where it won't be contaminated by non-organic meat. Organic slaughterhouses are inspected on a regular basis to ensure that all equipment is clean and safe.

All in all, the next time you buy certified organic meat, you'll know that the animals have enjoyed fair treatment and a healthful diet.

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