Living Condition Regulations for Organic Dairy and Livestock in the United States

eOrganic author:

Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota

Organic livestock producers must establish and maintain year-round livestock living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals, including:

  • Year-round access for all animals to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, clean water for drinking, and direct sunlight suitable to the species, its stage of life, the climate, and the environment;
  • Pasture for ruminants during the grazing season;
  • Appropriate clean, dry bedding (when roughages are used as bedding, they must be organic); 
  • Shelter designed to allow for:
    1. Natural maintenance, comfort behaviors, and opportunity to exercise;
    2. Temperature levels, ventilation, and air circulation suitable to the species; and
    3. Reduction of potential for livestock injury.

Yards, feeding pads, and feedlots may be used to provide ruminants with access to the outdoors during the non-grazing season and for supplemental feeding during the grazing season. Yards, feeding pads, and feedlots must be large enough to allow all ruminant animals to feed simultaneously without crowding and without competition for food. Continuous total indoor confinement of all species and continuous total confinement of ruminants in yards, feeding pads, and feedlots are prohibited.

Yards, feeding pads, and feedlots must be well-drained, kept in good condition, including frequent removal of wastes, and managed to prevent runoff of wastes and contaminated waters to adjoining or nearby surface waters and across property boundaries.  

Organic livestock producers may provide temporary confinement or shelter of an animal because of:

  • Inclement weather;
  • The animal's stage of life (lactation is not a stage of life that would exempt a ruminant from pasture requirements);
  • Conditions under which the health, safety, or well being of the animal could be jeopardized;
  • Risk to soil or water quality;
  • Preventative healthcare procedures or for treatment of illness or injury;
  • Sorting or shipping animals and livestock sales;
  • Breeding, except that bred animals must not be denied access to the outdoors and, once bred, ruminants must not be denied access to pasture during the grazing season; or
  • 4H, FFA and other youth-related projects, for no more than one week prior to the event and up to 24 hours after the event.

In addition to the conditions listed above, producers of organic ruminants may temproarily deny an animal access to pasture or the outdoors for the following:

  • One week at the end of lactation for dry off; three weeks prior to birthing; and up to one week after giving birth; 
  • Up to six months for dairy calves, provided that they are not confined or tethered in a way that prevents them from lying down, standing up, fully extending their limbs, and moving about freely;
  • For short periods of shearing, in the case of fiber-bearing animals; or
  • For short periods of milking for dairy animals (milking frequencies or duration may not be used to deny dairy animals pasture.)

Organic ruminant slaughter animals may be grain-finished or grass-finished. Either way, they must be maintained on pasture during the finishing period, but grain-finished animals are exempt from the 30 percent DMI requirements from grazing during finishing. The finishing period must not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the animal's total life or 120 days, whichever is shorter. 

Sections 205.203 and 205.240 of the National Organic Program (NOP) final rule (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA] 2000) require that organic producers must take steps to prevent the contamination of water and minimize soil erosion. Organic livestock producers must make sure that their animals do not cause stream bank erosion, damage natural wetlands or riparian areas, or contaminate water resources.

Organic livestock producers must not use lumber treated with arsenate or other prohibited materials for new installations or replacement purposes in contact with soil or livestock. The prohibition applies to lumber used in direct contact with organic crops and/or livestock, and does not include uses such as lumber used for fence posts or building materials, if the animals are isolated from the lumber by use of electric fences, or other methods approved by the certification agent. If the treated lumber was present prior to application for certification, it may remain, but no new installations are allowed where the animals may consume forage immediately around the posts, or may rub up against the wood, such as in corrals or buildings. Rot-resistant, untreated woods, such as cedar, white oak, or black locust, and metal or concrete posts may be used. Certifiers are not typically concerned about paint, sealers, or whitewash used in barns or other housing facilities.

References and Citations


Published January 21, 2009

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.