Getting winter housing right on organic beef farms

Lie-back areas are a crucial part of winter housing for Irish organic beef systems, according Teagasc’s Elaine Leavy.

In organic systems, the lie-back area of the shed must account for at least 50% of the total shed area, she said.

The other half of which can be made up of any other type of housing, including slats or cubicles.

Speaking at a recent organic farm walk, the Organic Specialist said that there a number of bedding options available to organic farmers.

These include straw, untreated wood shavings and rushes, which are all renewable products, while straw can be sourced for conventional farms, given the shortage of organic straw available on the market.

Space allocations

The total shed space allocated to each animal is more generous in organic farming than normal systems, meaning sheds need to be expanded or stocking rates reduced.

According to Teagasc, organic farmers must allow 1m2 per 100kg liveweight, within these regulations the minimum areas is 1.5m2 for calves.

When calculating the spacial requirements, it says, many farmers use a combination of a bedded lying area and a slatted feed face, which may offer the best solution at farm level.

Space allocations on organic beef farms

Source: Teagasc
Source: Teagasc

Benefits of straw bedding in organic systems

According to Leavy, the straw used in organic beef farming is not only beneficial to animal welfare but becomes a valuable fertiliser when recycled as dung.

Chopping straw can be beneficial to its breakdown in the field once spread, although this is by no means a necessary step in the process, she said.

The use of dung generated from organic beef production is important, as the aim of organic farming is to maintain soil fertility levels through the efficient recycling of farmyard manures and slurry.

According to Teagasc, the efficient storage and spreading of farmyard manures, slurry or compost is vital to organic farming.

Management of organic farms should ensure regular inputs of manures and a level of microbial and earthworm activity sufficient to breakdown organic matter, while ensuring continuous and efficient nutrient cycling, it says.