Animal husbandry

Key research questions

  • How can we help the sheep and goats farming industry become more sustainable and resilient?
  • Meeting the protein requirements of poultry and pigs in organic systems is difficult- how can we solve this issue?
  • Healthy animals underpin sustainable production systems, how can we improve animal health and welfare through mixed pastures and agroforesty?

The importance of animal husbandry

Grasslands cover around 40 percent of the earth’s surface and are both an important habitat and the third largest carbon store after wetland and forest. With sensitive management, farm animals play important roles in converting grass to products available for human consumption, in maintaining healthy pasture and soil diversity and in managing habitats.

Access to the outdoors is a cornerstone of organic livestock management and enriched and diverse landscapes (including trees and herb-rich pasture) offer animals valid choices, for example for food selection, health management and temperature regulation.

Animal requirements differ with species, age and with varying production systems. The key elements for sustainable livestock systems include appropriate breeds and breeding, nourishing pastures and feedstuffs, suitable housing and feeding systems and high levels of welfare, health and disease management. Understanding and matching the animal and its requirements within a system is a primary focus for our work.

To create resilient systems livestock cannot be managed in isolation.  We integrate our research with business and markets to promote good returns to farmers. Our work is also integrated with cropping systems research as we recognise that livestock have a valuable and historical place in crop rotations, and with agroforestry through the development of silvopastoral systems.

Our research places ruminants in a central role in future sustainable farming systems and our focus is on fostering animal health and welfare in diverse, enriched environments. As a principled system, organic livestock farming aims to balance productivity with animal integrity and to facilitate natural behaviour patterns within complex systems.

Key elements of the theme

Livestock, ruminants, monogastrics, health and welfare, forage, silvopasture

Current projects

Organic plus: Pathways to phase out contentious inputs from Organic Agriculture in Europe

The 25 partner pan European Organic + project is seeking methods of minimising and eventually phasing out a range of contentious inputs from certified organic agriculture. The research is equally applicable to low input or agroecological systems seeking to minimise environmental impacts. The overall aim of O+ is ‘to provide high quality, transdisciplinary, scientifically informed decision support to help all actors in the organic sector to reach the next level of the organic success story in Europe.

The ORC is working with partners in the UK and at the Universities of Padua and Parma to reduce antibiotic use in the dairy industry. We will be trialling the use of natural immunomodulators to support cow health at calving.

OKNet EcoFeed: researching solutions to producing organic and local feed for pigs and poultry across Europe

The aims of the 19 partner project are to help solve current issues by sharing existing knowledge across countries and to run practical trials for local solutions.

A library of ‘tools’ is being created for existing knowledge and further relevant topics and the outcomes of each trial will be recorded as Practice Abstracts and videos. All material is being placed on the Organic Farm Knowledge platform for open access. ORC has a coordinating role in the project.

ORC Researchers and staff

These ORC team members are currently involved in animal husbandry projects:
Sustainability Researcher
Senior Livestock Researcher