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Basic Health Care Standards for Organic Livestock

Livestock health care requirements of the National Organic Program


The specifics of organic livestock health care are defined in part § 205.238 of the National Organic Program (NOP). Although many agree that the ethical or humane care of organic livestock is an area of the NOP that could be much improved, there are some specific health care requirements in place that all organic livestock producers must abide by, as shown below.

1. You Must Choose the Right Organic Livestock for Your Farm

When choosing organic livestock, an organic producer must take special care in picking livestock that will thrive and survive easily with regards to site-specific conditions. Organic livestock chosen for your operation should be as resistant to prevalent diseases and parasites as possible so that your animal can avoid disease and so that you can more easily follow other rules of § 205.238.

2. Livestock Feed Must be Organic and Nutritious

Organic livestock feed must meet some basic requirements, such as:

  • Feed must be certified organic as outlined in § 205.237 Livestock feed.

  • The amount of feed given to organic livestock must be sufficient to meet nutritional requirements of the livestock in question at its specific stage of life. Nutritional requirements include sufficient vitamins, minerals, protein and/or amino acids, fatty acids, energy sources, and fiber for ruminants.

  • Organic livestock may not be fed plastic pellets for roughage, mammalian or poultry slaughter by-products, formulas containing urea or manure or any feed in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

  • Feed must be free from antibiotic including ionophores.

  • Organic livestock must have access to pasture and be allowed to graze as as described under § 205.239 (b) and (c).

3. Proper Healthy Livestock Living Conditions Must be Maintained

Organic livestock producers must establish and maintain safe, healthy and appropriate housing conditions for livestock in order to ensure healthy and stress-free livestock. This includes both pasture and shelter conditions.

Sanitation practices of shelter and pasture must be effective at reducing and preventing the occurrence and spread of diseases and parasites. Additionally, living conditions, according to NOP policy, must allow for, "Exercise, freedom of movement, and reduction of stress appropriate to the species."

4. Prevention First - Then Medication

Prevention practices must be used first when attempting to keep organic livestock healthy, but if prevention is not enough to keep an animal healthy, vaccines and other synthetic medications may be used so long as medications are allowed under § 205.603.

You may not give a healthy animal any animal drug, other than vaccinations, if there is no illness present. In addition, parasiticides allowed under § 205.603 may only be used on the following livestock:

  • Breeder stock - used only prior to the last third of gestation.
  • Dairy stock - used only a minimum of 90 days prior to any organic milk production.

5. Non-allowed Organic Livestock Medication Rules

As an organic livestock producer, you cannot do any of the following:

  • Give an animal a synthetic medication not allowed under §205.603 or give an animal any substance containing a nonsynthetic substance prohibited in §205.604 and still label that animal or poducts from that animal (meat, milk, etc) as organic.

  • Give an organic animal any growth hormones.

  • Routinely give an organic animal or organic slaughter stock synthetic parasiticides.

  • Give an organic animal any drug in in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

6. Withholding Care to Maintain Organic Standing is Not Allowed

If an organic animal needs medication that may render them no longer organic suitable, you cannot withhold that medication simply to maintain organic standing.

Keeping health care from a sick animal is not an approved NOP practice and is a form of animal cruelty besides. NOP states that if and when organic approved health care measures fail to restore an organic animal to health you must then try non-organic health care methods.

7. Important: Livestock Care Must be Included in Your OSP

If you're on the path to organic certification, it's important to know that all of the above practices must be included in your Organic System Plan (OSP). To learn more about your OSP, check out the links below.

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