Organic cows cannot be permanently housed, but must spend the majority of their lives outdoors. The cows must have appropriate bedding and adequate space when they are brought indoors during bad weather. Organic cows are fed mainly on clover-rich grass and must be allowed to graze fresh forage throughout the grazing season. Organic dairy cows are fed a minimum of 60% forage and a maximum of 40% concentrates. Whatever the balance of forage or concentrate, all their diet must be 100% Organic. Average yields in organic production are around a third less than in intensive production. Cows fed on concentrated feed may produce more milk, but it can be stressful for the cow to do so and put a strain on the animals health.
The feeding of calves must be based on natural milk, preferably maternal milk for a minimum of three months. A calf may only be weaned when it is taking adequate solid food to cater for its full nutritional requirements. Calves cannot be weaned before three months of age. Because the typical high-yielding breed of black and white cows (Holstein-Fresian) cannot be reared for high quality meat production, it is common practice for male dairy calves (who can’t produce milk in the future) to be killed at birth or exported to the continent for veal production. Soil Association standards have never allowed the sale of calves to continental style veal systems, and since 2010 our standards have specified that licensees must have a plan to end the practice of culling new born calves within five years. Options for organic farmers include raising native breeds such as a Red Poll or Shorthorn that hasbeen bred for both milk and meat, or raising male calves for organic ‘rose’ veal - a robust, mature meat, pink in colour and aged for flavour. Male calves raised for veal enjoy plenty of space and light inside suitable buildings over winter and outside at pasture for the rest of the year, a varied diet and the care of a foster cow when available.