21 November 2019
Agroforestry event in Melton Mowbray

A Win Win for Farm productivity and the Environment

3 December 2019
iSAGE training course and workshop

Innovations to improve sustainability in the sheep and goat sector

4 November 2019
Calling all UK Sheep farmers!

Survey on breed distribution and management

31 October 2019
Proceedings of the European Conference on Crop Diversification

Abstracts, presentations and workshop reports now online

21 March 2019
In adversity, what are farmers doing to be more resilient?

Opportunities, barriers and constraints in organic techniques helping to improve the sustainability of conventional farming

Pasture-fed for life

The Pasture Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) was formed to champion the virtues of pasture and to provide a distinct identity for livestock systems that are based purely and simply on pasture. This session will provide a detailed insight into what they do and why they do it. (Organised by PFLA)
Phil Stocker (National Sheep Association): Chair

Session summary

Recently, there has been an increasing focus on the benefits of life-long pasture fed livestock production. 

Phil, chair of National Sheep Association set the scene by outlining some of the reasons behind renewed interest in producing livestock fed exclusively on pasture, including benefits related to meat quality and animal welfare. 

John Turner introduced  Pasture Fed Livestock Association, including its background and aims.  Key amongst these is to provide a recognisable identity for farmers who produce livestock based purely on pasture and forage (i.e. grasses, legumes, brassicas and herbs) as the primary nutrition source and do not feed cereals, concentrates or harvested arable root crops.  

John highlighted the need for a transparent definition of ‘pasture fed’ so that the ‘Pastoral Mark, which is a logo used to label meat produced by farmers who adhere to the PFLA standards, has a clear meaning to consumers.  The ‘Pasture Tracks’ traceability system was also described, which is a means whereby details of a PFLA registered animal are recorded including its age, rearing history and all movements from the farm to the abattoir.

Anna Bassett, also of the PFLA, followed John Turner’s presentation by reviewing some of the science behind pasture fed production. Regarding environmental benefits, Anna pointed out that although fibrous feeds, i.e. pasture, can lead to higher methane emission compared to grain based feeding regimes, pasture feeding captures more atmospheric CO2 through carbon sequestration  which impacts on calculations such that the two approaches become comparable.

With respect to human health, meat from pasture fed animals confers a number of benefits to consumers over grain fed meat. These include higher proportions of omega-3 fats, vitamin E, lutein and conjugated linoleic acid which is a potent defence against cancers.  Animal welfare is also heightened, with studies reporting reduced bloat, respiratory problems and lameness in pasture fed animals, along with increased fertility and longevity.

The third presenter in this session was Dan Bull, manager of Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Berkshire. Dan gave a hands-on perspective of how pasture feeding of livestock works in practice at a commercial enterprise.  Sheepdrove is a 900ha farm, of which approximately 2/3 is grassland.  The farm has two thriving retail butcher shops in London and Bristol, as well as their on-site farm shop all of which are supplied with their own pasture-fed lamb and beef. Dan also highlighted the conservation benefits of their farming system, including hedgerow establishment and provision of wildlife habitat.

There was lively discussion from the audience concerning how PFLA standards might be extended to dairy production, the unique selling point/price premium of pasture fed meat and concerns over avoiding potential consumer confusion due to the introduction of another quality labelling system.  It was concluded that the differences between pasture-fed and organic rearing systems must be clear, and that research comparisons of the relative benefits of the two approaches should be interpreted with caution in the UK where few farmers use solely one approach or the other.

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • Pasture-fed livestock production has a number of positive benefits, including effective land use and health impacts; however, there is a distinction between this and organic livestock production systems.  Care must be taken to avoid confusing consumers and creating competition between two approaches that should be complementary.
  • The ‘Pasture Tracks’ system of recording individual animal details throughout their lifetime is a valuable means of providing traceability.

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

John Turner (PFLA): Background to PFLA and Pasture Fed certification (2.75mb)

The Pasture Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) was formed in order to champion the virtues of pasture and to provide a distinct identity for livestock systems that are based purely and simply upon pasture. From our beginnings as a farmer’s discussion group, we have built on the success of similar initiatives in the US, New Zealand and elsewhere in the world to help shape Pasture Fed systems here in the UK.

PFLA developed standards which cover beef and sheep production. Dairy remains an area of significant interest for future development. PFLA registered the PASTORAL trademark, which offers a guarantee that any produce sold under the label comes from animals reared to our clearly defined standards, so customers can have full confidence in Pasture-Fed produce and its provenance. The distinct characteristics of Pasture-Fed include:

  • Pasture and forage as the primary nutrition sources
  • Permitted forage includes grasses, herbs, clovers and other legumes
  • Grain, concentrate feed and by-products are not permitted.
  • High standards of animal welfare audited within our inspection system

Pasture Tracks is a unique system of labelling and Identity Preservation that provides the ability to trace produce back to the producer and even the individual animal from which it was derived. The “QR” 2-dimensional barcode printed on the PASTORAL labels can easily be scanned by a smart phone or other mobile device to link directly to our website and database. Further options developed for Pasture Tracks ensure there is also provision to represent food that comes from a specific group of producers or a particular part of the country.

Anna Bassett (PFLA): The benefits of Pasture Fed production (360KB)

Pasture-Fed produce brings a wealth of benefits that give it a distinctive presence in the market. Other workshops at the conference will examine greenhouse gas emissions from grassland systems so this presentation will only briefly discuss environmental benefits of pasture based production. However there are other positive outcomes for those adopting Pasture-Fed systems.
There is a solid body of evidence to suggest that Pasture-Fed produce provides some important health benefits for humans when compared to products from grain-fed animals. These include

  • lower in total fat,
  • healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids,
  • higher in CLA -a potential cancer fighter
  • higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, B-vitamins thiamine and riboflavin, minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium, total omega-3,
  • lower in the saturated fats linked with heart disease
  • longer shelf life than beef from grain fed animals.

Pasture-Fed systems can also deliver animal welfare benefits. The difference between Pasture-Fed and other meat may be less extreme in the UK than in other countries with more intensive production systems such as the US. Nonetheless, research shows benefits for ruminants raised in pastoral systems such as reduced lameness. Preference tests also show that cows will chose pasture over barns in many circumstances – giving weight to the perception that ruminants allowed access to pasture have higher welfare because the animals have freedom to express natural behaviours, such as grazing and exploration. Other studies show that ruminants fed on pasture and whose metabolism and production is matched to their natural capacity, are associated with lower stress increased longevity and increased fertility.

Dan Bull (Sheepdrove Organic Farm): Why should farmers just feed grass to their cattle and sheep! (10MB)

The pros and cons of Pasture fed animals. Pros:

  • Meat quality
  • Animal welfare
  • Soil preservation
  • Farming sustainability
  • Consumer confidence

Cons - So few not worth mentioning

How we here at Sheepdrove manage the whole package from breeding to grass selection through finishing to butcher retail outlets.