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What Living Conditions are Required for Organic Livestock?


Question: What Living Conditions are Required for Organic Livestock?

Section § 205.239 of National Organic Program (NOP) Organic Production and Handling Requirements requires that livestock raised organically be provided with some specific living conditions. All of these living conditions must be established before you're certified and must be maintained year-round.

All organic livestock must have access to pasture, which means the great outdoors and fresh air. They also must get access to shade and indoor shelter when needed, an exercise area and clean water for drinking. All living conditions must be appropriate for the livestock species, its stage of life, the climate, and the environment.

Exceptions to the above rules

Livestock may be temporarily denied access to the outdoors if the following applies.

  • Poor weather conditions.
  • The animal is at a stage in life where these rules would not apply - note though that lactation is not a stage of life that would exempt ruminants from any of the mandates set forth by NOP policy.
  • If the rules put an animal's health or safety at risk.
  • If the rules risk damage to soil or water quality.
  • Preventive healthcare procedures or the treatment of illness or injury are necessary.
  • During a period where sorting or shipping animals and/or livestock sales are happening. However, in this case, livestock still must be maintained under continuous organic management.
  • During the breeding process, but bred animals still get pasture access and once bred, ruminants shall not be denied access to pasture during the grazing season.
  • For one week (but no more) prior to 4–H, Future Farmers of America and other youth projects.

Yards vs. pasture

In addition, yards, feeding pads, and feedlots may be used to for outdoor access for ruminants during the non-grazing season. All yards, feeding pads, and feedlots are supposed to be large enough to allow all ruminant livestock occupying the yard, feeding pad, or feedlot to feed simultaneously without crowding and without competition for food. /p>

Any continuous confinement of any organic livestock is prohibited according to NOP policy, as is total confinement of ruminants in yards, feeding pads, and feedlots.

Feed and bedding

Part of organic livestock living conditions include healthy organic feed (section § 205.237 of the rules).

All organic livestock must have clean, dry bedding and if roughages are used as bedding, they must be certified organic, except as provided in §205.236(origin of livestock).

Area maintenance

If a producer is using yards, feeding pads, feedlots and laneways they must be well-drained, kept in good condition, which includes frequent removal of wastes and these spaces must be managed in a way that prevents runoff of wastes and contaminated waters to nearby surface water boundaries.

Manure needs to be managed in a manner that does not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water.

Other reasons a producer may temporarily deny a ruminant access to pasture

  • One week after the end of lactation to dry off.
  • Three weeks prior to birthing, parturition, and up to one week after parturition.
  • Newborn cattle may be kept from pasture for up to the first entire six months, but may no longer be housed individually after the six month period ends. NOP also states that just because you house newborns differently, does not mean they can be confined or tied up in a way that prevents them from laying down or fully extending their limbs.

Fiber specific rule

Fiber bearing livestock may be kept indoors for short periods for shearing.

Dairy livestock specific rules

Dairy animals may be kept inside for milking, but only short periods. And milking must be scheduled in such a way that allows for sufficient grazing time.

Slaughter stock specific rules

Ruminant slaughter stock need to be maintained on pasture for each day that the finishing period corresponds with the grazing season for the geographical location. Yards, feeding pads, or feedlots may be used to provide finish feeding rations. Because during the finishing period, ruminant slaughter stock is be exempt from the minimum 30 percent DMI requirement from grazing, the actual finishing period may not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the animal's total life or 120 days, whichever is shorter.

When writing out your organic system plan, all of the above must be included in the organic pasture management section.

As you can see above, many organic livestock rules are seemingly left up to the producer. Thus, plenty of people debate that NOP rules fail to cover livestock living conditions appropriately or ethically at this time. Hopefully that will change.

Current as of July 2012

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