Farming Labels Explained

By Kathryn Gardner

Organic, free-range, grass-fed; these feel like millennial buzzwords used to con you out of your cash and relieve you of a guilty conscience. But behind the scenes these words can mean a great deal to many lives, and even to your own. Excuse the clichés, but you really do vote with your dollars and knowledge is power, so empower your vote and lets explore exactly what it is that you should be


In our endless endeavor for ‘more for less’, we have shaped our conventional farming practices at the cost of the environment, animal welfare and our health. We cram livestock into artificial, unhygienic spaces, feed them the cheapest, often nutritionally poor, food, pump them with growth serums, and then when their immune systems consequently fail, we top it all off with some antibiotics.

Organic farming practices say ‘no thanks’ to this quackery and aim to repair and maintain environmental health and improve livestock welfare. To be certified organic certain practices must be followed, the livestock are fed only non-genetically modified, organically grown feed and the use of chemical allopathic drugs and growth hormones are prohibited. Animals must be free-range and pests and weeds are to be removed without pesticides and herbicides. Organic farming means no factory farming, industrial farming or feedlots at any stage of the animal’s life.

Although all organic animals are free-range, not all free-range animals are organic. For an animal to be certified free range they must be allowed to spend a significant part of their time (minimum six hours daily) living a natural, free roaming, grass grazing life. It is important to mention that the “part of their time” clause is not a loophole intended to restrict their happy animal freedom, but rather to ensure they are provided the best care. Sometimes taking Daisy inside the warm barn in mid-July is kindest.

Free-range is often summed up by the five freedoms:

  1.  Free access to fresh water and appropriate feed.

  2.  Free access to adequate shelter

  3.  Freedom from abnormal pain, injury or disease, through prevention or rapid treatment

  4.  Freedom to behave naturally, in a specified minimum amount of space without cages and with animals of their own kind

  5.  Freedom from fear and stress

Most non-organic animals in South Africa are fed genetically modified grain and soy. This is not optimally nutritious for livestock and can cause digestive problems, affecting their health, and potentially that of the consumer down the line. The use of antibiotics is pretty much unavoidable in that situation. Cue grass-fed animals. Grass-fed beef is exactly that, the majority of the animal’s diet must come from natural or cultivated outdoor pastures, with supplementary feeding of plant-based food allowed when necessary; we can’t let Daisy starve just because the dry season lasted longer than usual.

Now that you know what you’re supporting when choosing organic, free-range and grass-fed products, we can ask why. There are multiple benefits to these farming practices, and we will explore each in turn in the upcoming articles. Until then, trust me, it’s a good choice.

Kathryn Gardner

B.Sc.Hons | Biodiversity and Ecology

Farm Square Contributor

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