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FiBL contributes to success of Second International Organic Animal Husbandry Conference

Knowledge exchanged at global gathering

FiBL’s researchers on animal husbandry, veterinary medicine and related fields presented their research and findings at the Organic Animal Husbandry Conference held in Hamburg, Germany 12-14 September. In addition, the FiBL team took part in the development of research priorities to address the growing challenges to feed the world.

Otto Schmid announced the formation of the Animal Husbandry Alliance under the umbrella of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). The other coordinators of the alliance included Angela Escosteguy from Brazil, Chris Atkinson of the UK, Mahesh Chander from India, and conference organiser Gerold Rahmann from Germany. FiBL’s Otto Schmid and Markus Arbenz of IFOAM explained the need for the alliance to contribute to a better knowledge exchange and collaboration. A webspace on the IFOAM site will be created to facilitate discussion. Participants in the conference were given surveys and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

FiBL scientists were well represented in the workshop sessions as well.  During a session on food security, Christophe Notz of FiBL presented a paper on Feed No Food, a project on dairy cow diets that minimizes the feeding of concentrates to dairy cattle.  The paper was part of a session on food security and led to an interesting discussion of future options for feeding livestock.

The European consortium for organic animal breeding ECO-AB, including FiBL’s Anet Spengler Neff, presented a position paper that identified the challenges that organic animal agriculture faces in closing the production gap with conventional farming systems and presented several possible solutions. The consortium introduced the audience to the various European projects on breeding animals for organic and low-input systems.

Eric Meili of FiBL gave a paper of the performance and efficiency of grass-fed beef. He showed that cattle bred to be efficient grazers can increase their daily average weight gain. Meat quality from beef cattle bred to be raised entirely on pasture can also exceed standards for quality set for animals fed on concentrated grains.

Veronika Maurer organized and conducted a workshop on low-input breeds, and facilitated a workshop on poultry production. The session was well-attended and involved research on both laying hens and meat birds. In addition, she presented a paper on the results obtained in 12 years of FiBL-research on run management for organic layers.

In a diverse workshop on aspects of treatments, Peter Klocke presented on complementary and alternative medicine used as the first line of therapy in the control of clinical mastitis. While the results could not be considered proof of efficacy, the results showed significant improvements in udder health and reduced somatic cell counts in cows treated with homeopathic methods, phytotherapy and other non-antibiotic treatments.

In the small ruminants workshop, Steffan Werne presented new data on the botanical anthelmintic  sainfoin on sheep and goats. Sainfoin significantly reduced the number of excreted eggs of gastro-intestinal parasites, but not necessarily the infection rate. Reducing egg burden with sainfoin could be an important strategy in parasite management. While quality was unaffected, cheese from goats fed sainfoin had a distinctly different flavor.

Otto Schmid also gave a presentation on a world-wide analysis of animal welfare in organic farming legislation and standards, and identified areas for further development of the rules that govern organic production. Schmid presented a checklist for a more outcome-oriented approach for organic farmers and inspectors to use as a complimentary tool to the existing certification documentation and inspection approach.  Farmers can use the checklist to make a self-assessment of their practices. The checklist has been tested on several farms with positive feedback from farmers, inspectors, certifiers and competent authorities.

Brian Baker presented a model that compared the carbon footprints and contribution to climate change of four different dairy farming systems: two organic and two non-organic. The model, called ‘Shades of Green’ was developed by Chuck Benbrook of The Organic Center. The session on climate change and animal husbandry displayed a wide range of approaches to the issue. The presentations were followed by a spirited debate over the appropriate metrics and for impact and how the high variability within organic systems as well as conventional systems makes it difficult to assess the impacts of the two systems.

Brian Baker also organized and moderated a workshop on antibiotic use in organic agriculture, with panelists from Europe, the United States, Australia and Africa. The workshop engaged a lively discussion that involved consideration of animal welfare, trade issues and the appropriate use of all animal drugs in organic farming system. The outcome of the antibiotics workshop will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of the issue and will lead to more harmonized organic standards.

More information


For more information about research presented at the confernce, contact Brian Baker, brian.baker(at)fibl.org

For more information on the IFOAM Animal Husbandry Alliance, contact Otto Schmid, otto.schmid(at)fibl.org