Introduction to Organic Sheep Farming
Organic Sheep farming poses challenges for farmers, who don’t have the choice of using chemicals, antibiotics, or pesticides for raising their heard, but it also creates countless, long-term benefits. Sheep is species of domesticated ruminant mammal, raised for its milk, meat, and wool. To produce organic Sheep, the farm should be registered with an approved organic control body. An adult female sheep is a ewe and an adult male sheep is called a ram. Young Sheep are called lambs. An adult male goat is called a billy or buck, and an adult female goat is called a nanny or doe.
A Step by Step Guide to an Organic Sheep Farming Business
Organic Sheep Farms have larger stalls for the animals and are frequently kept on large pastures. Organic Sheep are also allowed to keep their tails and horns, which many non-organic Sheep farms generally remove, thus causing added pain for the animals. This is important for maintaining healthy Sheep and maintaining a good Sheep by-product. To produce organic Sheep, the farm must be recorded with an approved organic control body which expects a rigorous set of standards to be followed it is these organic standards that ensure the animal’s welfare is important. In addition to requiring that animals are genuinely free-range, organic standards also cover food quality, living conditions, the use of hormones and antibiotics, as well as transport and slaughter. These standards mean that animals raised in organic systems enjoy the highest welfare standards of farmed animals.
Organic livestock production mainly focuses on producing animals from a mainly forage-based system, with an emphasis on maintaining animal health through improved welfare and a reduction in the use of conventional, routine veterinary treatments. Various breeds used in conventional farming can be considered as very ‘high maintenance’ animals, requires frequent prophylactic veterinary treatments and high energy concentrated feeds to meet their potential. Such breeds may be unable to achieve their potential performance under an organic system. Feeding and breeding are the main important factors in the health and welfare of farm animals in organic systems.
Importance of Organic Sheep Farming
The importance of organic livestock production standards is;
- Maintaining closed flocks and herds; i.e. breeding replacements on the farm, to minimize the risk of importing diseases from somewhere else and to develop stock that is adapted to the specific farm conditions
- By using organically-produced livestock feed
- Avoiding the unnecessary use of veterinary pesticides and medicines to decrease possible adverse health impacts
- Providing animals with the opportunities and conditions of life that accord with their physiological needs, general well-being, and natural behavior.
- Allowing animals to adjust to local conditions
- Cultivating/maintaining genetic diversity
Below are the guidelines for organic livestock certification under the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP);
- Organic management plan
- Breed /Strain selection
- Housing and management
- Conversion period
- Breeding and Management
- Manure and urine management
- Record keeping
From Non-Organic to Organic Sheep Farm
To start an organic Sheep farm takes an investment of time on the part of the farmer, and also certainly of money. It takes a minimum of 2 years to convert a Sheep farm to organic status. The breeding livestock must and should manage organically from tupping time for their lambs to be classified as organic. Lambs sold as organic must have come from completely converted land at the time of sale.
Applying for Organic Certification in Sheep Farming
The process of organic certification for hay land and crop may take 3-years from the application date. There must be at least 3-full years between the last use of a prohibited substance and organic certification. There must be good records that provide a clear, auditable paper trail. Some of the supporting documents that must be available include water and soil tests or receipts for the purchase of organic feed and breeding stock. If in case organically produced inputs are unavailable, then records must be kept of efforts to source organic suppliers. All the labels from all purchased supplies must be kept for the audit process. Each organic certifying agency has a precise process for producers to follow. Lamb producers must contact their selected certifying organization before they make any management decisions, new or changes investments.
Potential Sheep Breeds for Organic Farming
Many of the breeds have the following characteristics in common;
- hair (as opposed to wool) and a long or broad, fat tail or rump
- very hardy, non-selective grazers able to withstand extreme environmental conditions
- fat stored in the tail, being drawn on in times of nutritional and physiological stress
- strong maternal and flocking instincts, ensuring high levels of lamb survival
- ability to join year-round
- woolen undercoats that are shed during warmer months
- no requirement for crutching, shearing, mulesing, or docking
- reportedly high internal (worm) and external (fly, lice) parasite tolerance or resistance.
Sheep Breeds for Organic Farming are;
- This breed is characterized by a shiny, white, kemp-free fleece that is shed annually. The hair is soft and pliable (not brittle), unlike that of other fat-tail breeds.
- The breed is well adapted to desert conditions and can survive extended periods without water if succulent plants are available.
- The awassi is the most recognized and widely distributed breed of fat-tail Sheep in the world, highly valued for meat, milk, and carpet wool production.
- The awassi is a large-framed breed with a broad, relatively short tail.
- It is easy to care for and needs only minimal management, factors that have led to a rapid increase in Damara numbers.
- Damaras have a short, hairy coat with a dense undercoat of fine wool fibres that are shed annually. Coat colours vary from white to brown, black, and white roan, often with black spots.
- The karakul is one of the world’s oldest breeds and possibly one of the first breeds domesticated.
- Karakuls are medium-sized Sheep with a long, narrow body, sloping rump and low-set, broad tail with an S-shaped base.
- Van Rooy is a white-haired breed with a broad, firm, oval tail.
- Being hardy and suited to pastoral and arid regions, the Van Rooy is covered in strong, calcareous hair and a short woollen undercoat.
- Dorpers are characterised by a short, loose covering of hair and wool.
How Much Land Do You Need for Organic Sheep Farming
Raising Sheep is the best choice for small property owners who don’t have the space to raise cattle but still want to produce their high-quality meat. Naturally, 5 to 7 ewes (female Sheep) and their offspring (lambs), can easily occupy the same amount of land as just one cow and calf.
Around half of the nation’s Sheep (non-organic and organic) are found on hilly upland areas. Most of the Sheep can roam free range for the majority of their lives, even though some may be brought inside to give birth. Stocking rates will usually be lower on organic farms compared to other farms.
Difference between Non-Organic Sheep Farming and Organic Sheep Farming
The big difference between non-organic and organic Sheep systems are the methods used to control and prevent diseases. Non-organic Sheep are likely to receive several veterinary treatments than organic Sheep. For example, non-organic lambs could be wormed every 4 to 6 weeks, irrespective of whether they have worms.
Organic farmers manage their Sheep flocks carefully to decrease the disease risk to new-born lambs and they are using clean grazing systems to minimize the need for worming. Clean grazing includes managing pastures so that Sheep, and especially lambs, are only put into fields that have very low or no worm infestation. If worming is essential for Sheep certain treatments can be used, provided the farmer gets approval from a vet and permission from Soil Association before using the treatment.
Several non-organic farmers may also use organophosphorus dips to control Sheep scab in their farms, which is banned under the Soil Association’s rules. To prevent Sheep scab, you can use double-fencing, which spreads when infected Sheep rub on fences dividing them from healthy ones. Though, this method is impractical on upland areas. Maintaining a closed flock can also prevent disease.
Sources of Stock in Organic Sheep Farming
When you are converting your farm to organic production, the existing livestock can be retained but can never be sold as organic. Though, the progeny of ewes can be sold as organic following the required conversion periods. Ewes must be mated under complete organic management to allow the lambs to be sold as organic. Breeds must be fit for local conditions.
Although producers are encouraged to buy from other organic farms or to rear their replacements, derogation allows up to 20% of the breeding flock to be replaced each year with ewe lambs from conventional flocks, which satisfy several criteria. Care must be taken to source healthy stock kept on farms that have high welfare and health standards and where the right records of all veterinary treatments have been maintained.
You can purchase Store lambs from other organic farms. It is really hard to finish lambs in some parts of the country, mainly in hill areas. Lambs can be sold from rearing to finishing farms, for example, organic hill to organic lowland farms.
You can also purchase stock rams from conventional farms provided they are subsequently managed to organic standards. Borrowed and hired rams can be used if they are managed organically while they are on the farm.
Conventional store lambs may not be taken in and finished as organic stock. And also, non-organic and organic stock of the same species may not be existing on the same holding. The conventional stock of another species may use the organic pasture for up to 120 days each year subject to some exact requirements being met. This needs prior permission from the control body.
Better Housing Conditions foe Organic Sheep Farming
The organic Sheep are generally kept on large grass pastures. When housed, organic Sheep must be provided area having a relaxed, dry bedded laying. Loose housing that is well bedded is preferred. 1.5 square meters must be allowed for each ewe with an additional 0.35 square meter for each lamb. Although wire mesh or slats floors can be used, they must not cross one half of the floor area available to each group of stock.
Feeding Organic Sheep
Organically produced feedstuffs only feed to the organic Sheep. Maximum use must be made of grazing, and all of the feed required should ideally be produced on the farm. At least 60% of the feed must be obtained from the farm or linked organic farms. Nearly 30% of the feed may come from in-conversion sources. Where it is produced on the holding on which it will be used up to 60% of the feed may be in-conversion. The balance of the ration must meet full organic standards.
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Organic Sheep are fed with feeds free from GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms).
Bottle-raised lambs are fed organically produced milk. In organic farms, the organically produced feed does not contain antibiotics, hormones, other prohibited growth promoters, manure refeeding, plastic pellets for roughage, mammalian or poultry animal by-products, urea, or any materials recorded on the national prohibited materials.
Field units or pastures shall be certified organically maintained. No chemical herbicides, fertilizers, pesticides, or other restricted materials. Mineral supplements and synthetic vitamins can be used when organically produced are not available and nutritional deficiency is documented. Synthetic or antibiotics or medication are not allowed. Feed for the organic Sheep is usually composed of pasture grass, and the rest is organically produced on the same farm where the Sheep are farmed. Therefore, the farmers have full control of the food they give to their Sheep, and they are sure it’s 100% organic. Farmers also have the choice to procure the feed from other organic farms, but most select to grow the food themselves to save on costs, as organic feed companies can be expensive and scarce.
For winter feed, both the pasture grazed and the forage conserved and those will generally be produced on the organic farm itself. At least 60% of the diet should come from organic forage.
Where home produced organic cereals are obtainable, these will form the basis of the concentrate ration. Organic concentrates can be purchased, though they can be expensive and scarce. Protein sources may be hard to produce on the farm.
Health Plan for Organic Sheep Farming
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A complete animal health plan must be drawn up, if possible, in conjunction with a veterinary surgeon, to show how the production system will be developed to promote good health, and become less dependent on veterinary medicines.
Preventative management is always encouraged and preferred, but any problems must always be dealt with promptly. The use of homoeopathic remedies is very encouraged.
Antibiotics and veterinary medicines must not be used as a preventative medicine on a routine basis but should be used to prevent distress in the event of illness or injury.
Worm control is obtained through careful grazing management practices to minimize exposure to infection.
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