Farm Table says:
Since 1999, the INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique) has been developing a research programme on Organic Farming-OF (Sylvander et al. 2002), with experiments on organic animal production being performed at Clermont-Ferrand (central France).
The objective was to compare two reproductive systems in sheep meat production and to explore technical solutions to the specific constraints of organic farming linked to reproduction (hormonal treatments are forbidden), feeding (restrictions on the use of silage and concentrates), and health (restriction on chemical treatments). We used a local hardy breed (Limousin) capable of reproducing out of the usual mating season (mating at the end of May)
We compared two lambing systems:
• The “Grassland farming system” (Grass Syst)
- based on one lambing per ewe per year and aimed at high grass self-sufficiency
- not particularly demanding for ewes, and was intended to limit problems relating to compliance with organic farming standards
- has the advantage of having counter-season reproduction to obtain two equal lambing periods (March and November), with meat produced both in summer (grass-fed lambs) and winter (stall-fed lambs).
• The “Accelerated reproduction system” (Acc Syst)
- based on three lambings per ewe over two years, with each ewe mating every 8 months.
- The lambings were equally distributed among June, November, and March, but farming techniques were adjusted to comply with organic farming standards, particularly concerning inputs (for health, feeding, and reproduction). Farmers are showing increased interest in this accelerate system as it is widely used in conventional farming, giving good technical and economic results.
Results and Discussion:
Reproduction, feeding, lamb production, carcass quality, health (particularly internal parasitism), economic return of the flock, grass production, and pasture biodiversity were evaluated.
- The lambs were bred with low therapeutic inputs.
- No economic advantage of increasing lambing frequency was demonstrated, whereas this strategy complicated management and resulted in higher internal parasitic infection of the lambs, and finally showed lower stability.
- There were difficulties in establishing a very high feed self-sufficiency in both systems, especially the more intensive system (4 points lower), due to harsh climatic conditions.
This 4-year study showed there is no conflict between the principles of organic farming and high zoo technical results, insofar as the system is consistent enough. An intensive organic farming practice in our context showed significant instability in animal performances and results. After 5 years of conversion to organic farming, the Grass System is still evolving (soil fertility, plants on pastures, parasitism, etc.) and will observe new global balances and the stability of results over a longer period.
Beyond the technical performances studied and the development of techniques, this work highlights the insufficient support to OF, as the current premium price is not high enough to induce farmers to convert to organic farming. A continuing premium for the organic farming system is necessary, based, initially, on the recognition of its environmental benefits.