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Improving the nutrition, health and welfare of organic pigs and poultry (Organised by ORC)

The session aimed to bring together researchers from a number of pig and poultry research projects to discuss findings with a view to how these can inform best practice.

Bruce Pearce (ORC): Chair

Session summary


Pig and poultry workshop

This session provided an overview of the main conclusions coming out of a number of UK and EU-based research projects that are finishing this year. The implications of meeting the nutritional needs with 100% organic feed using existing European protein sources appears to be a greater challenge for poultry than for pigs. There is much potential for developing new protein sources such as sainfoin, grass pea and algae, including more roughage in diets and encouraging better use of resources in the range. Matching the appropriate breed to the system was highlighted as important for improving welfare with some traditional breeds such as saddlebacks able to maintain performance as well as lower mortality rates. The presentations stimulated a good discussion that ranged from whether the UK should lead the way on pushing forward the 100% organic feed regulation, through the requirement for changes in legislation to allow for more novel protein resources to be included in diets, to how better to account for resources in the range.

The three presentations sparked off a lively debate on the challenge of meeting the requirement for 100% organic feed. The first question that was asked was whether, as the EU have pushed back the end of the derogation on 100% organic monogastric feed again, the UK should take the lead on this and the UK certification bodies should change their rules to require 100% organic feed. Representatives of both the UK’s main Control Bodies (OF&G and Soil Association) were present and praised the research that had been done and presented at the meeting but pointed out that more research was still required and that some of the novel protein sources that had been researched would require a change of legislation to be used commercially and e.g. fishmeal would not be used by feed companies which also make feed for ruminants due to the need to avoid contaminating ruminant feed with animal products. There was some discussion about growing soya in the UK with the suggestion that some farmers are already doing it. ORC’s Bruce Pearce mentioned that there will be a research project starting soon which will also be working with some farmers and looking at growing soya in UK.

ORC director, Nic Lampkin, suggested that the search for alternative protein sources was starting from the wrong point, trying to substitute sources of protein currently used in feed, and should focus instead on feeding from the range (fauna and flora) and then only provide feed as a supplement to top up the animals’ requirements. There was general agreement that this would be the ideal way but also a note of caution from some as it is extremely difficult to estimate numbers of earthworms and insects on a given section of paddock and it varies widely across soil types, climatic conditions, seasons, etc. so it would be difficult to estimate how much protein the animals were getting so that supplementary feed could be appropriately provided.

Organic farmer, John Newman, of Abbey Home Farm, Cirencester, provided very useful feedback based on his own experiences. He farms pigs and poultry on his mixed farm and has tried to move over to 100% organic feed. For the pigs this seemed to have worked well. With regards to broilers he houses 200 and takes 50 per week for his own farm shop. Since it is his own shop he likes to have a mixture of sizes of birds and so finds that 100% feed works OK but he suspects that if he was taking 200 per week and aiming them at the wholesale market then he might find it more difficult. His biggest problem was with layers: in the summer they were OK but in the winter they were “skeletal” so he had to move away from 100% organic and is now at, he estimates, 97% organic.

A more controversial suggestion put forward was that perhaps consumers should accept that meat and animal products, like vegetables, are seasonal and it was pointed out that in the past people ate pickled eggs in the winter because hens didn’t lay through the winter. However, there was a general feeling that consumers might not accept seasonal animal products readily.

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • 100% organic feed is achievable for pigs with little or no impact, but is more of a challenge for poultry, with implications for animal welfare if nutritional requirements are not met.
  • Alternative protein sources such as sainfoin, grass pea, insect meal and algae need to be developed.
  • The use of resources from the range should be an essential part of an organic pig or poultry system.
  • The development of breeds appropriate to the organic production system is important.

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Jason Gittins (ADAS): 100% Organic Diet Mixes for Monogastrics – Impacts on UK Production

European legislation currently allows organic pig and poultry farmers to use up to 5% non-organic feed material. In July 2014, it was announced that this allowance would be extended until the end of 2017. This current Defra-funded project is providing information, data and evidence to help establish whether this allowance continues to be needed and the likely implications of a move to 100% organic feeds. The project is led by ADAS and includes inputs from pig and poultry feed specialists of Premier Nutrition and specialist veterinarians from the St. David’s Poultry Team. It includes a review of scientific and grey literature on feeding and nutrient requirements for organically-produced pigs and poultry, with emphasis on studies from the year 2000 onwards. A series of pig and poultry ration formulations has been prepared based on 95% and 100% organic materials, to enable comparison of raw materials, nutrient levels and costs. The project considers potential health and welfare issues which may arise as a result of using 100% organic feeds. The environmental impacts arising from possible dietary changes are also being studied with reference to the production of different feedstuffs, the quantity of nitrogen fed to animals and changes in livestock productivity.

Catherine Gerrard (ORC): 100% organic feed for pigs and poultry – results of an EU-wide project (2.19mb pdf file)

The ICOPP (Improved contribution of local feed to support 100% organic feed supply to pigs and poultry) project has been carried out across a number of EU countries to investigate protein sources that could be used in a 100% organic ration for pigs and poultry. This presentation will give an overview of some of the results of the project, with regards to both pigs and poultry. These include some results on alternative sources of protein and on the benefits of roughage/feeding from the range. It will also give some additional detail on the research that was carried out in the UK by ORC and FAI. This looked at feeding broilers a feed that used European grown protein sources with algae as an alternative to soya and at feeding pigs a diet based on Lucerne silage using either soya, beans or peas to supply protein.

Gillian Butler(NEFG): Lessons from LowInput-Breeds and ProPIG projects (1.62mb pdf file)

This presentation will cover lessons relating to feeding pigs and poultry from 2 recent EU projects. The low input breeds project considered breeding and management (including feeding) of free range and organic laying hens as well as pig production for both ‘commodity’ organic and niche markets. The challenge in ProPIG is to evaluate and improve health, welfare and the environmental impact of organic pig production in Europe .