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Animals in biodynamic agriculture

Biodynamic agriculture is a step beyond organic farming. It tries to give back to the land much more than what is taken from it when it is used for cultivation or animal husbandry.

Unlike traditional agriculture, biodynamic agriculture is more about a different, much more sustainable and healthier way of understanding the earth, human and the relationship between them when farming and caring for the land.

Livestock farming is part of the circle that makes up biodynamic agriculture. All the plant waste is fed to the animals, which produce manure that is used to compost the soil, thus closing the circle.

In the following, we will look at each of the factors that make it essential to have animals in biodynamic agriculture and how to understand them as living elements entitled to respect.

Cow horns as biodynamic fertiliser

The current practice in conventional cattle farming is to de-horn cows or to rear them without horns. This is to avoid injury due to the very limited areas in which they live and graze.

However, in biodynamic agriculture, dehorning and hornless breeding are not permitted. This is for several reasons:

  • Sirven para fabricar uno de los preparados biodinámicos como compost natural para el suelo. Los cuernos, llenos de boñiga de vaca sin paja se entierran en otoño y se recuperan en otoño.
  • Son importantes para la regulación del calor y la digestión de la vaca, y es precisamente a través de esta digestión que los rumiantes proporcionan el estiércol y la fertilidad más valiosos para la granja.

Animal husbandry in biodynamic agriculture

For biodynamic agriculture, animal husbandry focuses on the lifetime performance, fitness, health and nature of the animals.

The aim of farmers is to keep animals in a respectful way according to their needs. This is contrary to conventionally bred animals, which are often selected for specific high performance characteristics based on economic criteria.

Biodynamic farms generally try to breed their own herds instead of relying on factory farming. This reduces their dependency and results in robust and hardy animals.

To improve animal welfare, the focus is on multi-purpose breeds, as they fulfil more requirements than specialised high-performance breeds.

Slaughter on a biodynamic farm

Over the decades, it has become increasingly difficult for farmers to find slaughterhouses close to their farm, due to the gradual decrease in the number of local slaughterhouses, which is a problem.

This impacts negatively on the farmer’s ability to avoid transporting animals over long distances and hinders the development of direct and local markets. Animals suffer from long transport times and poor slaughtering conditions. Biodynamic farmers who raised their animals with care suffer from not being able to offer them a stress-free end.

A successful solution for biodynamics is the possibility of on-farm slaughter or the use of mobile slaughterhouses. With this, farmers can provide a dignified end for the animal and, at the same time, meet the demand of local and regional consumers and receive a fair price for their work.

Biodynamic livestock and its benefits for the climate

Cows are often seen as climate killers. They certainly produce methane through microbes during the digestion process, which has a greater impact on the climate than carbon dioxide emissions. However, if cows are kept and fed properly, they will actually help to protect the climate.

Methane emission has a negative impact on the climate when it is maintained in an intensive farming system and when additional fodder is needed to support intensive productivity.

In fact, high-yielding cows producing more than 8,000 litres of milk per year need large energy inputs just to maintain performance. This means that they are dependent on fodder from arable land that could otherwise produce food for humans. In contrast, for the 5,000 litre cow, grass from permanent pasture is sufficient.

Land-use changes, such as the conversion of grasslands and forests to cropland, are one of the world’s largest contributors to climate change, so higher-yielding systems actually reduce the focus on human food production while contributing to emissions.

Cattle have the potential to promote root growth through sustainable grazing and thus contribute to humus accumulation and associated carbon storage. However, this is only possible if cows return to grazing. Cow grazing even preserves habitats for birds, bees and others, a valuable contribution to biodiversity protection.

Forage from the farm

Feed for animals in biodynamic agriculture must be produced on the same farm or on other biodynamic farms. Animal meal and certain additives are prohibited. Preventive medicines, such as antibiotics or hormones, are to be avoided as far as possible.

This contributes directly to the sustainability of biodynamic farms, as they are not dependent on imports of feed and additives for their animals, but strive to be as self-sufficient as possible. It also means that they are not contributing to the overuse of antibiotics and the development of resistant strains of infection.

Animals bring a specific quality to their environment and their rhythm shapes farm life. They play a key role in biodynamic agriculture, providing farmyard manure, increasing soil fertility and producing biodynamic preparations. They are therefore a central part of the farm organism. The use of farm fodder helps the farm organism to become more self-sufficient.