Organic poultry keeping is based on the premise that the entire life cycle of the bird is completely environmentally friendly. The focus is on the well-being of the fowls and ensuring plant, animal and human health.

There is no official legislation in South Africa that governs when products may be described as organic. However, the South African Organic Sector Organisation (SAOSO) recognised that organic farming was becoming more popular and therefore needed regulating. A Standard for Organic Production and Processing was drawn up to meet the need for quality management and assurance.

SAOSO Standard for Organic Production and Processing

The Standard includes specific references to keeping organic poultry.

Naturally there must be sufficient fresh air, water, feed, warmth and natural daylight, to satisfy the needs of the poultry.

Organic principles include the fact that there may be no landless animal husbandry systems. This means that organic keepers do not keep chickens in battery cages.

At least one third of the floor area of the housing must be solid, not of slatted or of grid construction and the floors must not be slippery.

Poultry houses/buildings must have exit/entry pop-holes of adequate size for the birds and the pop-holes must have a combined length of at least 4m per 100 m² of the house/building.

Each poultry house/building may not contain more than 4 800 chickens, 3 000 laying hens, 5 200 guinea fowl, 4 000 female Muscovy and Peking ducks, 3 200 male Muscovy or Peking ducks or other ducks, 2 500 capons, geese or turkeys. The total usable area of poultry houses/buildings for meat production on any single production unit must not exceed 1 600 m².

Poultry buildings must be emptied of livestock between each batch of poultry that has been reared. The house must be cleaned and disinfected. Keepers must leave the open air runs empty in order for the vegetation to grow back.

The environment must provide for the behavioural needs of the poultry, such as nesting, wing stretching/flapping, foraging, dust-bathing, perching and preening.

In the outdoor area 4m² of area should be available in rotation per laying hen or per broiler. The areas differ for guinea fowl and other poultry species.

Keepers may keep 16 broilers in mobile poultry houses with a maximum of 30kg live weight per square metre.

Organic breeding

Eggs may be considered organic only if the poultry has been organically managed from two days old.

organic poultry keeping
In South Africa smallholders may produce poultry products  according to the SAOSO Standard for Organic Production and Processing.

Sometimes exceptions can be made. A notifiable exception to a requirement stipulated in the standard, is one which is allowed once the relevant certifying authority was notified and has given authorisation for the said exception to apply. A notifiable exception might apply for the bringing in of organically bred chicks: “When organic poultry is not available 2-day-old conventional poultry may be brought in.”

Organic feed

Organic animals eat organic forage and organically produced feed of good quality. Organically produced feed means that the keeper grows crops for feed in pastures where they use no chemical pesticides or fertilisers.

Inputs used for animal feed shall be evaluated for their impact on animal health, welfare, and behaviour.

The Standard lists the substances that are not to be included in the diet.

No genetically engineered organisms or their derivatives are allowed. This includes seed for growing feed and the feed itself.

Medication and vaccines

The organic philosophy is based on the theory that a healthy, well fed and stress free animal will be better able to withstand parasites and disease. The chosen breed should also be resistant to the local pests and diseases.

Should an animal be injured or become ill, it should be treated with natural medicines and treatments, including homeopathy, Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture. If the operator is forced to use synthetic allopathic veterinary drugs or antibiotics, the animal can no longer regarded as organic.

organic poultry producers do not use any growth stimulants, hormones or elective antibiotics.

Medicament notifiable exceptions may be permitted under certain circumstances. Vaccinations, for example are allowed if they are a legal requirement.

Small scale poultry keepers may access the SAOSO Standard here.

Free range vs organic poultry keeping

All organic poultry keepers provide free range environments. However, the eggs and chicken that are described as free range in stores are not necessarily organic. They might not have been fed organic feed and might have been given medications.

To read other articles about poultry click here.

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