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Slaughter Animals: Organic Grain-forage Rations in Fattening Phase/ La ration céréales-fourrage du bétail biologique en phase d’engraissement

March 16, 2010

What kind of ration should an organic slaughter animal be on  in the finishing or fattening phase?

The CGSB Committee on Organic Agriculture considered the following proposal for amendment to the Section 6.4.3 of the Canadian Organic Standards at its January meeting in Cornwall.  

6.4.3 Specific livestock rations shall take into account the following:

b. for ruminants, that at least 60% of the dry matter in daily rations consist of hay, fresh/dried fodder or silage. As an exception, slaughter animals may be finished on a ration of up to 60% grain for up to 150 days, provided the cattle have free-choice access to long-fiber forage ( >10 cm stem length).”

 During the meeting, the proposal was revised as follows:   The grain ration was reduced from 60% down to 50% and 150 days to 10% of the life of the animal.

Taking into account the province and agri-climatic zone in which you raise cattle, the feed that you grow or have access to, the natural conditions that favour ruminant health, what is your opinion on the issue?

Quel type de ration devrait recevoir un animal de boucherie biologique lors de la phase de finition ou d’engraissage?

Lors de la rencontre du Comité sur l’agriculture biologique de l’ONGC tenue en janvier à Cornwall, une proposition d’amendement à l’alinéa  6.4.3 de la Norme nationale sur les Systèmes de production biologique a été étudiée:

 6.4.3 Les rations propres à chaque espèce animale doivent tenir compte des points suivants :

b. dans le cas des ruminants, du fait qu’au moins 60 % de la matière sèche dans les rations quotidiennes est composée de foin, de fourrage frais ou séché ou d’ensilage. À titre d’exception, les animaux de boucherie peuvent être engraissés par une ration composée jusqu’à 60 % de céréales pendant une période allant jusqu’à 150 jours, à condition que le bétail ait un accès libre à du fourrage à longues fibres (longueur de tige >10 cm).

 Après discussion, cette proposition a été modifiée, le pourcentage de céréales passant de 60% à 50% et la période de 150 jours devenant un maximum de 10% de la durée de vie de l’animal.

En considérant la province et le climat où se déroulent vos opérations, les aliments pour animaux que vous produisez ou auxquels vous avez accès, et les règles naturelles qui influent sur la santé animale, quelle est votre opinion sur ce sujet?

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Peter Stockdale permalink
    March 16, 2010 5:57 pm

    You do not clear what animal species you are asking for comment on. If it is swine then 50 – 60% is fine. If you are talking about cattle then 50% is too much. they should be finished on grass or good hay for healthy fatty acids. Most cattle are fattened too much and the fat is discarded. Also their digestive system anterior gut fermentation ( four chambered stomach) was evolved to digest cellulose and not grains. Farming ruminants should be to take advantage of their digestive abilities and not to compete with swine or people for food the latter two could eat. The diet you are discussing is too high in concentrates ( grains) to be regarded as organic. It is very little different in my opinion from conventional industrial agriculture (feedlots). If you are talking about sheep then they should be fattened off grass, as is my system. The only time they should be fed grain is to flush them at mating time or in the last 3-4 weeks of pregnancy when you reckon on two or more lambs. Peter Stockdale DVM

  2. Dwight Brown permalink
    March 16, 2010 9:18 pm

    I eat grass fed beef. It is tastier, more nutritious and uses a lot less energy. I think the animal is much healthier as well. Why would we try to make it more like conventional?

  3. March 17, 2010 6:20 am

    Hi All Organic customers do not want beef that is grown in a feedlot or anything that resembles a feedlot. We don’t ever want a reporter filming our organic beef being raised the same as conventional. If we feed beef a very high grain ration for 5 months or 1/3 of thier life we are not doing much different than the coventional beef industry. We just have to carefull of the optics.

    Ron Hamilton

  4. March 17, 2010 11:13 am

    According to research studies, feeding ruminants on natural pasture grasses produces meat with less saturated fat, more omega-3 fatty acids, more vitamin E and higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a “good fat” that is believed to fight cancer. Their stomachs react adversely to other feed rations (including grains) which hinders digestion and increases methane production. The end result of grass fed ruminants is meat that is more benefitial for human consumption with less greenhouse gas emission by the animals. This is a win-win situation for the entire planet which should be preserved. I would like to see grain finishing eliminated from the standards.

  5. Andy Hammermeister permalink
    March 18, 2010 12:04 pm

    Firstly I recognize the merits of grass finishing and strongly support this form of production. However, I do recognize that some beef producers use grain finishing in order to maintain consistency in product quality and to control the timing of finishing for certain targeted markets. I also see livestock as having a role in ‘recycling’ grains that do not meet food grade, improving the economics on the mixed farm, and or the grain production system as whole, thus promoting sustainability.
    I would like to have seen a rationale for the changes that are being proposed. If the change is being made because ruminants should only eat grass, then much more significant changes would need to be made for both beef and cattle standards (which I am not proposing here). I am hoping that a change like this is not simply an arbitrary change.
    My perspective is that the standards are there to protect the health and welfare of the animal. As such I have reviewed a bit of literature relating to ‘grain overload’. I’ll stress, this information is for discussion, and I am not in a position to provide an ‘expert opinion’.
    The question then is, “How much grain can be fed, and for how long without inducing health/welfare problems?” We do have scientists in Canada that study grain overload. The Government of Alberta has produced the “Alberta Feedlot Management Guide”, in which a good overview is provided by AAFC Scientist Dr. Tim McAllister et al (see http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/beef11734). Here is my interpretation of the overview:
    - Rumen acidosis and bloat can result from the feeding of excess grain in the diet
    - Rumen pH is moderated by saliva resulting from chewing of primarily coarse forages/roughage
    - Feeding forages (aside from alfalfa) can help to prevent incidence of problems arising from grain feeding.
    - The propensity for grain overload problems varies among different grains: wheat;barley;corn;oats;sorghum. As such, feeding oats is a lower risk than feeding barley (for example).
    - The problems are most likely to occur when there is a rapid change in feed from forages to a high grain content. Therefore the cattle should go through a ‘transition process to reduce risk of grain overload’.
    - Pre-milling of the grain creates more small particles increases accessibility to starch which increase risk of acidosis and bloat. Just cracking the hull of barley (for example) reduces the rate of acid production and hence reduces risk.
    Also in the “Alberta Feedlot Management Guide” Dr. Paul Greenough (Dr Grennough is a retired U of Sask Vet. School professor, and a world renowned authority on lameness in cattle) describes problems arising from lameness. He indicates: “Laminitis or founder is believed to be caused by poisons which form in the second stomach (rumen). Following rapid changes in the diet, the environment in the rumen becomes very acidic and this causes some of the organisms normally present in the rumen to die. The disintegration of the organisms releases poisons into the blood stream. As a result, the blood vessels in the claws swell, causing pain and damage to the tissues that produce the horny shoe…. It is probable that animals between 8 to 12 months of age are more susceptible to high levels of energy intake than are animals from 12 to 16 months of age. TDN (Total Digestible Nutrients) fed at levels over 72% should be considered as a potential risk factor.”
    Other references also suggest that the livestock be transitioned onto grain over three weeks by including it at less than 50% of the diet initially, and using whole grain rather than milled grain. It also suggests that the grain should be mixed with the forage so that the animals eat them in balance (although I wonder if this would reduce the straw length of the forage).
    So from this quick review I would propose for discussion:
    - grain finishing should not commence before the animal is at least 12 months of age,
    - the grain should be fed as whole, cracked, or coarsely rolled as opposed to milled
    - oats and corn should be used as a first choice (maybe limiting wheat and barley to 50% of the grain ration)
    - all animals should go through a 28 day transition onto grain to a maximum of 60% (? See note below) of the diet
    - the “10% of the life of the animal” seems arbitrary and should be dropped; how can you accurately predict the life (i.e. finish date) of the animal? I would rather see a specified number of days permitted on the grain/forage diet based on how long it normally takes to finish. From a health/welfare perspective, reducing the grain rate but leaving a longer period of time could be preferred(?). Perhaps it could remain 150 days but at 50% of the diet.

    • March 25, 2010 2:09 pm

      To help clarify the feeding issue, the rationale behind the debate at the CGSB level is as follows:
      Issue at hand: western producers mainly are requesting the requirement for a ruminant ration to contain 60% forage be changed or lifted for cattle in the finishing/fattening phase (approx 150days).

      The rumen for proper function requires a certain amount of fiber, the intent of this clause is to ensure there are no compromises in rumen function due to improperly balanced diets. This ratio is very conservative and properly balanced rations can be achieved with more energy than 40% concentrate as advised by ruminant nutritionists.

      Since BST, all beef cattle to meet the A grade have to be under 30 months of age and under 24 months of age for export to Japan. Some cattle can take 150 days on a high energy ration to achieve A grade. The BST limit, as well as the time for the fattening phase, have put additional constraints on all beef producers and requiring them to be very diligent and efficient during the fattening phase. The additional constraint of a maximum of 40% concentrate feed as per 6.4.3b can mean that the organic producer cannot fatten the cattle within the BST timeline and have A grade cattle.

      In the east many of the finishing rations generally contain a significant amount of corn silage which contains approx 25% grain corn. The prairies are too cool to grow corn. The forages available in the west tend to produce higher levels of protein than corn but lower levels of energy. Growing higher quality forages for finishing beef cattle isn’t necessarily helpful because as an animal reaches maturity it requires less protein, which promotes the frame growth of the animal, and more energy to grow muscle mass. Feeding cattle becomes a matter of trade-offs between protein and energy with energy being the determining factor for feeding cattle for slaughter.

      The prairies generally have colder winters than in the east which requires the animal to use more of the ration energy for maintenance during the colder times which will slow or stop the finishing process.

  6. keith everts permalink
    March 23, 2010 2:32 pm

    Thank you Andy. If you are trying to balance the nutrient load for the animal we need to take in all factors. Ron hamilton I would question your assumptions. we have a large support group that beleives in our product. It is like saying all fattening of chickens should only use naturally found seeds on the free range. We do not put any grain in the animals until the finishing stage at 850 Plus weight range that come off 2 seasons of grazing. But the market place at retail dictates under 30 months. So the timing is crutical to meet the demand. We do a step program to get the animals up to there desired balanced ration. We have software programs and professsional nutrianalists monitoring the animals and rate of gain. In the 16 years of finishing organic we have never had a rejected liver.
    We did a comparison on the levels of animals that we would standing in a finishing area and fed only hay and mineral. We would need twice as many animals standing at a given time to supply our customers. The carbon foot-print to truck hay to the finishing area was also twice as many loads to balance the diet. To take them right off grass is not real in Canada and climate conditions. This year alone we helped out the grass finishing guys in the North part off the province who ran out of grass. We can work through the 60% ration just barley by useing a hotter feed wheat, but I do wish for the health of the animals and the producers. This mentality will slow down the growth of Organic agriculture. I hope we realise that grain movement is at a stand still now if we reduce the timelines and amount of feed grain that we are allowed to use be prepared to explain it to the farmers who rely on the sale of feed grains. I hope I can get all the other finishers to e-mail in there thoughts. I will be contacting them to try and help grow the organic sector not stop it. If anyone wishes any info. on balanced ruminent diets we will be glad to share

  7. Dr. Iris Thorogood, M.D.,C.M. permalink
    March 24, 2010 6:26 pm

    It would seem that grass-fed is the best feeding regime for ruminants. MY INTEREST IS DEFINITELY MEDICAL—our patients have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, ggluten intolerance, allergies, lyme disease, and so on. we advise them to eat all organic foods—when they can be found.

  8. Marc Boulanger permalink
    March 30, 2010 8:50 am

    Most of the animals in Manitoba (and likely Saskatchewan and Alberta) would be on a 60% grain ration at the finishing stage for up to 150 days. Unlike some of the other eastern provinces, we are generally unable to produce the high quality (and quantity) of forages that are required to finish animals solely on forages. A large percentage of our animals are marketed between the ages of 18 – 24 months (540 – 730 days) and a 10% of the life of the animal ruling would be VERY restrictive to the producers here in Western Canada.

  9. Daniel Boulanger permalink
    March 30, 2010 1:18 pm

    I agree with Andy Hammerstein, Keith Everts, and Marc Boulanger (who is my brother for full disclosure).

    We are in an area where it is often hard to produce high quality organic hay in the amounts required to finish our calves for the various markets we supply. There are an abundance however of feed grains and grain screenings that we can access in our area. These grains are not in competetion for human consumption, but an unwanted by-product for grain growers in most cases.

    Our buyers require different amounts of finish on the animal, and it is often difficult to know when exactly the animals will be leaving the ranch. To have a set amount of time or a percentage of time would make it extremely difficult for many who raise fat cattle to adhere to. (ie. Dates for loads to be delivered are often changed as the market dictates, or perhaps a storm occurs and the truck is delayed by a day or two, etc… )

    To say, this animal was on grain for over 10% of it’s life, therefor it is no longer organic does not make sense to me. I feel this would limit the amount of people who would consider raising organic cattle in our area a great deal. I do agree that there should be a limit, I don’t think anyone is argueing here to have cattle on grain for over 150 days, but like Andy stated to have an arbitary number like 10% doesn’t really make sense to me and should be dropped.

    I believe the exemption should remain as it is, 60% for up to 150 days.

    Andy makes

    • Daniel Boulanger permalink
      March 30, 2010 1:27 pm

      Andy makes alot of valid points and has the research to back up his thoughts.

  10. John Carlisle permalink
    March 30, 2010 2:45 pm

    The question “What kind of ration should an organic slaughter animal be on in the finishing or fattening phase?” leads to the question “What type of finished animal is marketable?”
    There is currently a small demand for grass finished beef. If the producer has the capability and lives in a climate suited to grass finishing and wants to supply that market, this should be possible under the standard.
    When there is a substantial demand for A,AA,AAA organic beef, under 30 months of age and the producer is able to supply that demand, then this should also be possible under the standards.
    When it is impossible to supply customers with the quality of beef they require, that market will disappear and so will the producers.
    We are cattle producers in Manitoba. Our total income comes from the sale of organic finished animals. Currently, there is very little market in Canada. The sales we have made of live loads in the past have required high A grades.
    Our ONLY market now is in the USA. Their requirements are for choice & select,comparible to our A,AA,AAA. Under the BSE 30 month ruling we are able to market most of our production. If the cattle are not finished to the requirements, we would risk being dropped as a supplier.
    I have been raising and finishing cattle for over 40 years. Our land base is best suited to livestock. All of Daniel’s points are valid in our situation as well.
    Our warm-up period for the introduction of grain is 3 to 4 weeks. Most animals finish around 28 months, we would be allowed 2.8 months of grain ration, a month of which would be used getting the animals up to full ration. If the standard reads ” slaughter animals may be finished on a ration of UP TO 50% or 60% grain for 10% of the life of the animal”,The UP TO would mean that the warm-up at low grain ration would be counted in the 10%. The options would be to under finish and risk losing the markets or feed to the maximum allowable for the time allowable and risk the health of the animals. Neither is acceptable.
    Fine tuning the breeding program may help with the finishing time frame however, the majority of organic livestock producers view their cattle income as secondary to their grain production so selection for certain traits has not been a priority. Because cattle are our only source of income, we have invested more time on selection for traits. Unfortunate in this case however, the breed we use to produce our organic beef is a leaner, slower growing breed. All animals no matter what type, need to grow their frame size before they can fill it out. The correct ration will allow this to develop as it should. We would need the 150 days to slowly progress these animals, in good health, to produce a quality product that is marketable. We would find it impossible at the 10% life of the animal time frame. We have been able to produce marketable animals under the current 40% ration but if a market were to open up in Japan, then the 50% or 60% ration would play a role in our ability to access that market. If the standard is too restricted we risk lossing future opportunities.
    In reading through the comments, I would like to address the interest in grass fed beef. There is no doubt merit in the reasoning behind this preference, whether it be belief in health or environmental benefits. If the market demand was enough to warrant a change in production methods, we’d look at that. At the present time there is not enough demand.
    The criteria for making a decision should be based on the ability of producers to comply and not on the personal viewpoint of consumers. There is a very real risk of forcing producers out of organic production if the wrong choice is made. Our operation supports 2 of our children and families as well as ourselves. We are positioning these family members to take over from us. They are finding it very unnerving to realize that their ability to make a living in organic cattle production could so easily disappear.

  11. Victor Blais permalink
    April 15, 2010 2:29 pm

    Bonjour,
    J’ai fait une petite enquête auprès de 2 producteurs de boeuf bio ( Estrie et Centre-du-Québec ) et du conseiller en productions animales du MAPAQ à Rimouski, Christian Pelletier, qui a travaillé à l’élaboration du cahier des charges de la marque de commerce “Boeuf Nature” et qui a travaillé également avec le regroupement de producteurs de boeuf biologiques du Bas-St-Laurent.
    Tous s’entendent pour dire que les normes actuelles sont O.K. Les producteurs du Québec réussissent à finir des bouvillons à 750-800 lbs/carcasse à 22-24 mois et ce, avec des grains mélangés ou des céréales pures, orge,avoine,blé. Évidemment, il faut de bons foins et de bons ensilages. Le Syndicat des producteurs de viandes du Québec est en désaccord avec un changement des normes, d’autant plus que la valeur nutritionnelle de la viande risquerait d’être affectée.

  12. Geneviève Lemire permalink
    April 26, 2010 8:39 pm

    Nous habitons près de Rivière-du-Loup (Québec) et nous avons eu le plaisir de “tâter” de la production de boeuf bio pendant 3 ans. Nous avons réussi à faire des carcasses de 700 à 900 lbs en 21 à 23 mois, avec du foin sec de 2e coupe, des grains mélangés (blé, orge, pois et avoine) et des minéraux. La classification des carcasses a donné des grades A et AA, excepté une tête qui a classé B (manque de finition). Étant aussi producteurs laitiers bio, nous savons l’importance de produire des fourrages de grande qualité et c’est vraiment payant d’y mettre beaucoup d’efforts.

    De même, plus la quantité de grains est importante dans la ration du ruminants, plus le ratio oméga 3:oméga 6 est défavorable pour la santé humaine:
    Pelletier, Christian et Les Viandes biologiques du Québec 2007. Teneur en oméga-3, en oméga-6 et en ALC de la viande de bœuf biologique. Rapport de projet « Essais à la ferme » MAPAQ, Direction régionale du Bas-Saint-Laurent, juin 2007
    http://www.agrireseau.qc.ca/agriculturebiologique/navigation.aspx?r=Teneur%20en%20oméga-3,%20en%20oméga-6%20et%20en%20ALC%20de%20la%20viande%20de%20bœuf%20biologique.

    Ce n’est pas pour rien que plusieurs instances canadiennes recommandent de ne consommer de la viande rouge que 1-2 repas/semaine. On les comprend quand 99% de la viande rouge offerte aux consommateurs canadiens est produite avec des rations contenant 90% de grains.

    Les producteurs de l’ouest canadien ont des arguments intéressants. Il serait opportun d’avoir le point de vue d’agronomes de ce coin de pays, ayant un point de vue non conventionnel évidemment!

    • Julie Belzile, Filière biologique du Québec permalink
      April 28, 2010 3:29 pm

      The rationale submitted to the CGSB Committee (and posted above by “organicfederation”,) is based on two elements that refer to the “east” but do not reflect the QC data where most of the organic beef is successfully raised within the 24 month deadline:
      1. Very little corn when any is used and it is also too cold to grow corn in these QC areas.
      2. According to Environment Canada, winters are colder in these QC areas than in most areas in the prairies.

      It is very surprising to read comments that dismiss the opinion of the consumers. The QC organic standards is in line with the EU and does not allow that much grain (50 or 60%) for finishing ruminants. There are concerns that adopting more relaxed rules might negatively impact the organic label.

      The rationale submitted to CGSB also says that growing higher quality forages for finishing beef cattle isn’t necessarily helpful – this seems to be in contradiction with other comments posted on this website that say more grain is required because producing high quality organic hay is not possible is some areas. So, we definitely need a better and more consistent explanation on why more grain would be needed in the west and the impact on the nutritional value of the meat.

  13. Danielle Brault, agronome permalink
    May 3, 2010 9:13 am

    Si les producteurs de l’Ouest ont de la difficulté à produire des fourrages en qualité et quantité suffisantes comme le soulignent Daniel et Marc Boulanger, il serait peut-être intéressant pour eux de récolter des céréales en vert et de les entreposer. Les contenus en protéine et énergie sont intéressants.

  14. April 13, 2011 7:15 pm

    All ruminants should be grass fed right up to the end. They were not made to eat grain and it is not healthy for them. Organic consummers don’t want to eat sick animals!

  15. November 8, 2011 1:44 pm

    We (with our cow/calve producers) have been grass feeding and finishing now for over 1 1/2 years. We finish over 200 head a year and this number keeps growing every year. We process animals weeky to supply a fresh market. Our cattle finish between 24 and 30 months because all animals don’t finish the same. All our animals are age verified so we know thier age. We are in central Alberta so the weather is a typical prairie winter. We use high quality hay and alfalfa pelletts in the dead of winter. I agree that not all organic consumers want a grass finished animal so some supplmental grain feeding may be required for these consumers but I feel that the ultimate goal should be towards a mainly grass fed, longer life animal. The organic consumer doesn’t want a chicken that is finished in 38 days, they want an chicken that is at least 50% older. This is because they then know that this chicken wasn’t raised in a factory. The consumer doesn’t want a totally pushed feedlot organic beef. By raising the animal mainly on grass and finishing on grass or feeding a little grain on grass an animal wiil a little older and then the consumer will know that this isn’t factory famed beef.

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