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

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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

Two Important Updates Regarding Livestock

Toki Oshima illustration By Diane Schivera, M.A.T. Important Update on External Use of Zinc Sulfate The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) recently sent letters of non-compliance to certifiers that allowed external use of zinc sulfate, ZnSO4, to treat hoof infections of sheep, goats and cows. MOFGA Certification Services was one of those certifiers. The NOP

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Forage Quality

By Diane Schivera, M.A.T. Want to save money and feed your animals well at the same time? On most farms the biggest cost for keeping livestock is feed. The quality of the feed can seriously impact the health and production of livestock. For ruminant animals, most if not all of their feed will come from

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Notes from Livestock Meetings

By Diane Schivera, M.A.T. The Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) Field Days, held in Mansfield, Penn., in September, featured talks on innovative ideas, current research and practical strategies for enhancing the health, productivity and profitability of organic dairy farms. Here are some tips from that event. Fodder from Sprouted Grain John Stoltzfus of Be-A-Blessing

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Livestock

By Diane Schivera, M.A.T. Part of my job is to attend meetings where experts, including farmers, talk about livestock. This year those meetings included the Maine Agricultural Trades show, which had a session for the Maine Grass Farmers Network, the Common Ground Country Fair, and the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) meeting. Tips from

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Organic Sheep and Goat

A well-made lane guides sheep to pasture at Susan Littlefield’s Yknot Farm in Belmont, Maine, which is transitioning to organic. Photo by Diane Schivera. By Diane Schivera, M.A.T. Raising sheep and goats organically can be a challenge, so many farmers who support organic principles have not transitioned their animals to certified organic. Presently MOFGA Certification

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Highlights

Toki Oshima drawing By Diane Schivera, M.A.T. Conferences and workshops are rich sources of tips for livestock care, pasture management, marketing and more. Here are some ideas gleaned from 2011 events that I attended. At the Maine Grass Farmers Conference, Jim Gerrish of American GrazingLands Services LLC in May, Idaho, said that to raise meat,

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