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Organic Dairy Farming in Canada

Frequently Asked Questions


What is Organic Food?

Organic food is grown without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Processed organic foods are carefully handled in order to maintain the organic integrity and quality of the product. Organic farming strives to enhance biological diversity, employ methods that promote optimum soil fertility, and ecological harmony. Attentive livestock care promotes the health of farm animals and meets their behavioural needs.


What is Organic Livestock Management?

Organic livestock management aims to utilize natural breeding methods, stress minimization methodologies to prevent disease and thus eliminating dependency on chemical allopathic drugs to maintain animal health and welfare.


What are Organic Dairy Products? And What is the Purpose of Certification?

Organic dairy products are milk and processed milk products from animals raised under organic management. Organic certification programs are designed to determine whether a farm or processing system meets all the required organic standards. Certification programs provide a discernible audit trail for all organic food, from the farm to processor, to distributor to retailer. Organic certification is a system whereby the producer agrees to abide by established organic standards, and the Certifier agrees to issue a certificate of compliance based on a review of an Operator's Organic Systems Plan substantiated by an annual inspection completed by an independent third party. For further details on the Organic System Plan refer to Section 4 in the “General Principles and Management Standards” (CAN/CGSB 32.310).

In addition to organic certification, organic dairy producers and processors need to comply with other regulatory requirements. For example; in British Columbia, Canada dairy farmers and processors are subject to all aspects of the BC Milk Industry Act.


Do I need to be certified?

Yes, you do. If you are planning to sell organic livestock products that cross provincial borders. Contact your prospective certifier for more information about the level of certification required.


What is organic feed?

The Canada Organic Standard (composed of two volumes CAN/CGSB 32.310 (General Principles and Management Standards) & 32.311 (Permitted Substances Lists)) requires that animals are raised on organic feed. Organic feed is produced on soil that has not been treated with synthetic fertilizers or pesticides for at least three years prior to the first harvest. Some exemptions apply to a dairy herd in transition to organic status – refer to the standard for more details. Organic feed additives such as most vitamins, minerals and probiotics are generally allowed if they don't contain products - prohibited by the standards. Such products - are listed in the CAN/CGSB 32.311, the Permitted Substances Lists (PSL) Sections 5.2 and 5.3.


What kind of health care products can be administered to my animals?

A written and documented herd health program must include strategies for disease prevention, herd health treatments and parasite control. Producers of organic livestock -must not withhold disallowed types of treatments in order to sell livestock products as organic. Most vaccines for endemic diseases are allowed. Most herbal, naturopathic and homeopathic treatments are approved for use in organic dairy herds. Use of antibiotics and parasiticides are strongly discouraged but may be used on a limited bases under certain allowed and/or restricted circumstances (CAN/CGSB 32.311 - PSL Section 5.3). It is advisable to develop a natural herd treatment program, in consultation with a veterinarian or herd health consultant.


How much will certification cost?

Membership and certification fees are sometimes based on a previous year’s farm income. The cost can vary in amounts , anywhere from a range of $600 – $1,800 or even more if a farm is complex, large, or has a dairy processing facility on site. Fees frequently change from year to year, thus it is advisable to contact prospective certifiers for current fee schedules.


What kind of records do I need to maintain and why?

Organic livestock producers must maintain a clear and verifiable audit trail for all organic animals and products produced. Records are proof that producers are doing what they claim to be doing. All organic animals and products must be traceable (CAN/CGSB 32.310 Section 4.3) back to the individual farm of origin. The Verification Officer (VO) who visits the farm must be able to determine from the records and the on-site inspection that a farmer has the capacity to produce the volume of products that is indicated the in- records. All animals must be ear tagged or individually marked (CAN/CGSB 32.310 Section 4.3.3).

Certifiers usually require that the following records (CAN/CGSB 32.310 para 4.4.1) be kept in a complete and auditable form and made available for annual inspection:

  • Birth or animal purchase records
  • Certificates for organic animals from the Certifier of the farm where any animals were purchase
  • Sales records for all livestock and livestock products
  • Purchase receipts for all farm and animal inputs, including feed, feed supplements, bedding, medications, and soil amendments etc.
  • Feeding regime and supplement use
  • Detailed herd health and medication records; individual animal treatment records; SCC and SPC records
  • Withdrawal records for animals treated with restricted medications or prohibited materials
  • Milk production records (dates, weights of shipments)
  • Field records for pasture and/or hay production, including the use of compost material, manure and soil amendments
  • Equipment sanitation and purge records
  • Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for all sanitation materials
  • Composting records should be kept along with manure storage and management


Will my farm be inspected?

Yes, A farm will be inspected annually. A VO will visit at least once during the first year of application and annually thereafter. More inspections may be required depending on the Certifier and certain noted conditions on the farm. The VO will review the submitted Farm Plan, and farm and livestock records. The VO will tour the entire farm and observe the animals; note feed supplies and health care products; pasture quality and use; forage and feed production; farm equipment; barns, pens, fencing and outbuildings. Announced inspections should also be anticipated at any time.


Are there any restrictions on labelling my organic livestock products?

There are organic labelling restrictions (The Canadian Organic Products Regulations, 2009 Part 3, “Label” 22 – 27) that pertain to organic dairy products. A label must be reviewed and approved by a Certifier and a producer must follow the government dairy product labelling guidelines.


How long will it take before the milk can be sold as organic?

The farm land must have a minimum 36 month transition period from the last use of a non-allowed product such as chemical fertilizers, or pesticides New applications for certification must be submitted at least 15 months prior to any product being potentially eligible for sale as certified organic. The dairy herd must be under organic management for at least 12 months before the milk can be considered organic. It is best to apply for certification in plenty of time; sometimes the certification process takes longer than one might expect.


What are the specific standards for feed, antibiotics, hormones, vaccines and living conditions for dairy cattle?

Only items that are on the Permitted Substances Lists (CAN/CGSB 32.311) may be used. All other materials are prohibited. Refer to the Canadian Organic Standards which include the Permitted Substances Lists.

Conditions

Requirements

Standards Reference:
CAN/CGSB 32.310 (current version) unless otherwise noted

Feed

The feed must be organic.

There must be access to pasture during the grazing season; access to open air at other times weather permitting. Minimum of 0.13 ha (1/3 ac) per animal unit must be devoted to grazing on the farm.

“Pasture” also implies that the animals are getting nutrition from grazing – the minimum acceptable amount is calculated on dry matter basis 30% of the total forage intake during the grazing season for mature animals.

6.1.3 a.

see 6.8.2 Living Conditions for exceptions.

During a catastrophic event where organic feed is unobtainable an exception up 10 consecutive days may be allowed for feed from land in transition to organic known to be free of prohibited substances shall be used in preference to non-organic feed.

6.4.1

Products from sick animals or those undergoing treatment with restricted substances shall not be organic or fed to organic livestock (this includes your heifer calves).

6.7.5

Feed for Herds in Transition to Organic

When the entire herd is being converted to organic:

  1. in the first 9 months of the transition year 80% of the feed, calculated by dry matter must be either organic or raised from land included in the organic system plan and that is managed in accordance with organic crop requirements;

  2. in the final 3 months of the transition year, provide only organic feed conforming to the standard

6.3.1. a. & b.

Specific Rations

Rations shall take into account the need for natural milk for young animals;

6.4.3. a.

When silage is fed, dry hay is at least 25% of the forage ration.

6.4.3. b.

At least 60% of dry matter in daily ration consist of hay, fresh/dried fodder or silage;

6.4.3. c.

Feed Additives & Supplements

Must meet the compositional and labelling standards of the Feeds Regulations, be approved and listed in Schedule IV or V of the Feeds Regulations.

Allowed with these restrictions are:

Diatomaceous Earth as an anti-caking agent up to 2% of diet. Seaweed meal with no added ingredients of preservatives. Trace minerals, elements must non-synthetic chelated or sulphated. Use of vitamins from natural sources is encouraged; synthetic vitamins may be used if non-synthetic sources are unavailable.

Allowed are Trace minerals, elements (mineral products) from Nonsynthetic chelated or sulphated minerals. Synthetic nutrient minerals may be used when non-synthetic sources are unavailable. Minerals may not be used to stimulate growth or production.

Minerals from any source are allowed for medical use.

Milk Replacer is for emergency use only, from organic sources where commercially available. Must not contain antibiotics, animal fats, by-products or Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) ingredients.

CAN/CGSB 32.311 Sections 5.2 & 5.3

Antibiotics

Permitted in emergencies with restrictions.

6.7.6e.

Hormones

Only Oxytocin for post parturition therapeutic use only under veterinary supervision.

CAN/CGSB 32.311. Section 5.3

Vaccinations

Are allowed only if they are made without organisms from genetic engineering or their products.

CAN/CGSB 32.311. Section 5.3 See “Biologics, including vaccines”.

Living Conditions

Shall accommodate the health and natural behaviour of all animals including access to outdoors, shelter, fresh air, natural daylight, fresh water, sufficient space and freedom to lie down, express normal behaviour patterns, non-slip floors (but not entirely slatted). Outdoor stocking densities shall be low enough to prevent soil degradation and overgrazing.

6.8.

6.8.8, 6.8.10.1, 6.8.10.2 and 6.8.10.3 describes minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for adult cows and calves.

Continuous tethering is generally not allowed, some exceptions apply.

6.8.3

Temporary confinement is allowed in some circumstances.

6.8.2

Sources of Animals

Animals used for milk production shall have been under continuous organic management, in accordance with this standard, for at least one year.

6.2.2d. i.i.

 

Prohibited: Cloned animals, embryo transfer.

1.4.1 k. and Section 3. “Cloned Animals”

Once herd is organic, animals they cannot be removed and re-entered into organic management.

6.2.2 c.

Sanitation Practices

Housing, pens, runs, equipment and utensils shall be properly cleaned and disinfected.

6.8.4

Lists of allowed cleaners disinfectants and sanitizers.

CAN/CGSB 32.311 Section 7, 7.3 and 7.4

Environmental issues

Stocking rates shall consider environmental impact.

6.1.4

Use of new Copper Chromium Arsenate (CCA) treated posts/wood is prohibited. Continued use of existing posts in a pasture is generally allowed, however in a confined area they may need to be replaced with allowable posts or covered or treated to prevent animals from rubbing or chewing on the posts, rails or wood.

5.2.2

 


Helpful Online Organic Dairy Farming Resources


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Pertinent Federal (Canadian) & Provincial (BC) Regulations
Organic Dairy Farming in Canada

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