By Jacki Martinez Perkins, MOFGA’s Organic Dairy and Livestock Specialist Getting into livestock production can be an uphill battle. Choosing equipment is one of the more anxiety-inducing processes. My parents (a dairy farmer and a sole-practitioner large animal veterinarian) often found themselves in situations where they had little to no help from others, and so
Why raise organic livestock?
Organic refers to an agricultural system that is founded on the natural world. Organic farming is at the core of MOFGA’s work, and this includes raising organic livestock. Livestock are animals that are raised on a farm including cattle, pigs, chickens, cows, horses, sheep, goats and other domestic animals. Livestock can be raised for meat, milk, eggs, fiber, land management, breeding stock or a combination of these things. Raising livestock organically promotes humane production of livestock, without synthetic antibiotics, added growth hormones, such as recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), or feed made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Additionally, organic livestock farmers ensure that animals have access to the outdoors and room to move, graze and develop according to their natural behaviors. Organic livestock cannot be fed GMO grains.
Organic livestock needs
In order to start raising organic livestock, there are few things you need. The obvious one is livestock! We’ll cover getting animals in the next section.
You’ll need land to raise your livestock. Smaller landholdings might be more suitable for raising a flock of chickens or starting a small apiary. Having access to 3 to 5 acres of mostly open, fairly dry grassland opens up other possibilities, including sheep, goats and cattle. Learn more about land considerations.
To plot out how much pasture you’ll need for grazing cattle, the Natural Resources Conservation Service poses two questions for you to answer: How many animals should be on your pasture? And how many acres of pasture do your animals need? If you have a limited amount of land but a flexible herd size, you probably want to know the maximum number of animals that you can graze on your pasture. And if you have a lot of land but you want to keep a fixed number of livestock, you probably want to know the minimum amount of land your animals need to graze.
The NRCS continues to go into detail with an equation that can help figure out the exact number of animals you can have per acre. Your goal is to maximize the amount of livestock on minimal land without overusing the land. Without proper land rotation, you can run into myriad issues.
MOFGA has comprised a very comprehensive list of the accepted health practices, products and ingredients that you can use for raising organic livestock in Maine.
Pasture care for organic livestock
Raising livestock on pasture is beneficial for many reasons. Pasture-based systems produce healthy livestock. The meat, milk and eggs from pasture-based livestock is also nutrient dense for consumers. Maintaining livestock pasture offers environmental benefits, as grasslands can also reduce CO2 in the air. Lastly, pasture-based livestock can be more profitable for farmers.
In order to raise certified organic livestock, there are a few requirements for your pasture.
To qualify for organic certification, livestock producers must follow guidelines, including those for pasture, set out by the USDA’s National Organic Program.
One pasture rule outlined by MOFGA Certification Services is that “ruminant livestock must receive a minimum of 30% dry matter from pasture averaged over the entire grazing season.”
What this means in a practical sense varies from farm to farm; however, some basic best practices can be followed to optimize pasture:
- Rotationally graze — set up a series of paddocks to allow livestock to be moved to different sections once the grass has been grazed.
- Don’t graze lower than 4 to 6 inches — this allows grasses to regrow efficiently without needing to access their root reserves and to stay above the height that internal parasites typically climb to, as they need to stay hydrated in those lower levels.
- Move animals off an area after three days to prevent back-grazing (returning to eat the tender regrowth that plants start to do after three days).
Organic livestock information and care
Ask an Organic Specialist
Upcoming Livestock Events
Featured Organic livestock resources
By Jacki Martinez Perkins Fencing In the life of an organic livestock farmer summer brings one never-ending task: fencing. The winter frosts heave most posts loose of their moorings, the deer disregard the works of mankind in their quest for forage, and mother nature herself eats away at even the stoutest of materials. All this
By Jacki Martinez Perkins, MOFGA’s Organic Dairy and Livestock Specialist At MOFGA’s Farmer to Farmer Conference held in November 2022, Trey Gilbert of Herring Brothers Meats spoke with attendees about the demand for in-state slaughter, why they chose to be USDA- and organic-inspected, and what it has meant for their business. Gone are the days
By Kirsten Lie-Nielsen It was 2013, and my husband and I had never raised birds of any kind. Ordering chicks seemed like the logical way to progress our little urban homestead in Maine, and at a whim we added two goslings to our hatchery order. The birds arrived, peeping and squeaking, and it immediately became
By Jacki Martinez Perkins, MOFGA’s Organic Dairy and Livestock Specialist The production of pork in Maine looks very different from other parts of the country. Being geographically distant from slaughterhouses with high capacity throughput as well as grain sources requires most local producers to manage their hogs creatively. Additionally, raising livestock capable of eating a
By Jacki Martinez Perkins Chickens are a popular addition to homesteads due to their efficiency and easy maintenance. Ducks can be another enjoyable option for many reasons. Their personalities are far less aggressive than chickens, their management considerations differ and, because of a difference in proteins, some individuals who cannot digest chicken eggs are able