Wendy Johnson and Johnny Rafkin own Jóia Food Farm near Charles City in northeast Iowa,…
Sometimes it is necessary to remove your animals from pasture for welfare reasons. AGW’s farm standards account for this reality (see section 7.5). There are two types of exclusion: Emergency and Planned. For an operation to maintain compliance, however, you must be able to justify removal based on one or the other. Let’s define the two types of removal.
Emergency removal is defined as something that is far outside of the norm; something that happens less than one year in three. Likely causes include extreme weather conditions such as wildfire, ice storm, excessive rain, flood, blizzard, tornado or hurricanes. Disease outbreaks and state or national government requirements could also qualify.
A good example of an emergency removal would be if you lived in an area that has frequent snowfall, but where you have to remove animals from pasture following an extreme snowfall event that rarely occurs more than once every 10 years. If removal from pasture during an emergency exceeds 28 days the farmer must put into place a written plan for animal management (see below).
The other type of removal is planned. Examples for planned removal include known seasonal conditions that make pasture unsuitable for some animals, such as wet and muddy conditions, snow- and snow-covered pastures, or extreme cold that would affect animal welfare or mortality. Unacceptable reasons would include removal from pasture to make management easier or removal from pasture when there is no risk to animal welfare; or removal of animals on a set date each year.
Any plan to remove animals from pasture must be justifiable and meet conditions outlined in the AGW standards—and must be covered by a written pasture exclusion plan. The key to the exclusion plan is that the farmer should be able to describe the triggers that cause them to remove and return animals to pasture. The plan needs to demonstrate:
- Rational and realistic reasons (triggers) for removing animals from pasture based on the condition of the land and animal welfare—not on set dates.
- How animal welfare will be maintained when animals are off pasture.
- All housing and other facilities used when animals are off pasture meet or can be adjusted to meet AGW standards (e.g. space to enable animals to fulfill their behavioral needs.
- Triggers to return animals to pasture.
Sacrifice pasture is an unvegetated area or area where animal activity has denuded more than 20% of the vegetation, but where animals are still being kept, usually for management or welfare reasons. Deliberately keeping animals on denuded lots will obviously require acceptable justification and a Pasture Exclusion plan.
Deep snow-covered pastures generally do not meet AGW’s requirements for access to pasture, although this will depend on the depth of snow, the length of time of coverage (more than or less than 28 days) and the species/breed of animals. A light sprinkling of snow is not a problem, while some animals or breeds will dig through a few inches of snow and still get access to vegetation. Some snowfall may be deep but short lived. These scenarios would rarely justify exclusion from pasture. However, deep snow that will remain on the ground for months will count as exclusion from pasture and require a written pasture exclusion plan.
If you have a question about removing animals from pasture—and whether it is an emergency or planned removal—please get in touch. We would be happy to discuss potential scenarios with you.
Author Tim Holmes is Director of Compliance with A Greener World.