Diane Schivera has been involved for more than 20 years with the livestock industry in Maine. Photo by Gary Dunn By Diane Schivera, M.A.T. MOFGA Organic Livestock Specialist When I began working for MOFGA in 1998, we certified one goat and 27 cow dairies; and five beef, six lamb, two wool, five egg, three broiler and two turkey
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
Featured Organic livestock resources
By Diane Schivera, M.A.T. This is my annual wrap-up of meetings I attended in 2016, beginning with the 20th annual Northeast Pasture Consortium (NEPC) meeting held in Maine at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport. It was very exciting to have the meeting in Maine for the first time in its history. The meeting sessions included
A 20-year-old short black poplar that Paul Hand has pollarded in England. Photo by Shana Hanson Two comparable ash trees in September 2016 – one initially pruned in summer 2015 and thriving, the other suffering from drought until it was pruned after the photo was taken. Photo by Shana Hanson Cut fodder is first browsed
Heather, Tyler and Atom Omand resting a few feet away from happy cows at a Cornell agroforestry training at Angus Glenn Farm in Watkins Glen, New York. Black angus cattle eagerly grazing after being released into a fresh paddock in a black locust/black walnut silvopasture system at Angus Glen Farm, Watkins Glen, New York. Photo
Toki Oshima drawing By Diane Schivera, M.A.T. This is my annual wrap-up of meetings I attended in 2015, beginning with the Northeast Pasture Consortium meeting in Morgantown, W. Virginia. Using a conservation planning computer tool created in response to concerns expressed last year at the Northeast Pasture Consortium, Peter Kleinman demonstrated effects of grazing
Beware the Imported Pig! A reminder for those purchasing piglets: Take all precautions to avoid animals with porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED). Signs of PED include severe diarrhea in pigs of all ages, vomiting, and death all pre-weaned piglets. Importing pigs into Maine requires an import permit a health certificate with this mandatory statement: “… Swine