Organic Livestock

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

tamworth-organic-pigs

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

volckhausens-organic-sheep

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

More resources

Find the resources you need to raise healthy and happy organic livestock.

Ask an Organic Specialist

Featured Video

Knowing proper handling can save lots of money and grief when adding livestock to the farm. In this webinar, Jacki Perkins, a long-time homesteader and MOFGA’s dairy specialist, talks through different livestock handling systems.

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Featured Organic livestock resources

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Musings on Dairy Goats for Milk and Agritourism

By Jacki Martinez Perkins Spring and summer keep the world awash in new life and possibility. One of the cuter examples of this comes in the form of goat kids. These precocious little jumping beans often elicit laughter and curses in equal measure. While their dams are often more pacific in nature, they still require

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What Do We Do with All the Poo?

By Jacki Martinez Perkins As farmers we all acknowledge the benefits and challenges of manure application and storage. Poorly handled manure can create challenges to food safety and water quality in the form of unwanted bacteria and pathogens, and increased fly populations. However, well-managed manure and pasture systems that maximize our natural ecosystems can greatly

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Considerations for Building a Homestead

By Jacki M. Perkins The face of production farming has changed drastically in the last 100 years. We have moved away from growing our own food and have relied on others to provide for us. There has, however, been a growing interest, driven by global circumstances, in re-learning the art of the homestead. The majority

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Strategies for Handling a Hay Shortage

By Jacki Perkins As I am writing this, winter deepens and spring is still a far off dream, and the effects of last summer’s drought will begin to be felt. For anyone buying hay last season, it was a study in budgeting: both for pocketbooks and rations. Short of selling livestock to anyone with enough

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Pasture-Based Livestock Profitability

By Holli Cederholm In Bowdoinham, Maine, farmers Abby Sadauckas and Jake Galle of Apple Creek Farm raise a diverse mix of grass-based, certified organic livestock for eggs and meat, as well as value-added bone broths and pate, sold year-round at local farmers’ markets and a handful of retail outlets. Aspects of holistic management have informed

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Cleaning, Grading and Hatching Eggs

By Diane Schivera, MAT Revised June 2017 Introduction Many natural barriers help prevent bacteria from entering eggs. The “bloom” or “cuticle,” a gelatinous covering that dries after the egg emerges from the hen, helps seal the pores in the shell, reducing moisture loss and bacterial penetration. The many egg membranes also help prevent the passage

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