Feed, Feed Supplement, and Feed Additive Regulations for Organic Dairy and Livestock in the United States

eOrganic author:

Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota

Section 205.237 of the National Organic Program (NOP) final rule (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2000) requires 100% organic feed for all organic livestock. Feed is defined as "edible materials, which are consumed by livestock for their nutritional value. Feed may be concentrates (grains) or roughages (hay, silage, fodder). The term feed encompasses all agricultural commodities, including pasture ingested by livestock for nutritional purposes." (USDA, 2000)

In other words, all agricultural components of the ration must be certified organic. Fields—including pastures—used to grow feed for organic livestock, must be certified. Records must be kept of all farm-raised and purchased feed and feed additives. Crop producers who grow livestock feed for sale to organic livestock producers must be certified, and cannot sell their feed as organic under the $5000 small farmer exemption. Check with your certifier if you have any questions about the status of the organic feed you grow or purchase, or about the status of the pastures or range areas that you use or plan to use for organic livestock.

Nonsynthetic (natural) substances, such as oyster shells or calcium carbonate, and synthetic substances that appear on the National List, may be used as feed additives and supplements. The only synthetic feed additives on the National List are: DL-methionine for poultry, which may be used until October 2012; and FDA-approved trace minerals and vitamins. No synthetic colorings, flavorings, dust suppressants, or flowing agents are currently allowed, because none are present on the National List. Agricultural ingredients used as carriers in feed rations must be certified organic.

Livestock feed used for organic production must not contain:

  • Animal drugs, including hormones, to promote growth;
  • Feed supplements or additives in amounts above those needed for adequate nutrition and health maintenance;
  • Plastic feed pellets;
  • Urea or manure;
  • Mammalian or poultry slaughter by-products fed to mammals or poultry; or
  • Feed, additives, supplements in violation of the Food and Drug Administration.

Organic ruminant animals must be grazed on pasture during the grazing season, which is defined by the NOP as "the period of time when pasture is available for grazing, due to natural precipitation or irrigation. Grazing season dates may vary because of mid-summer heat/humidity, significant precipitation events, floods, hurricanes, droughts or winter weather events. Grazing season may be extended by the grazing of residual forage as agreed in the operation's organic system plan. Due to weather, season, or climate, the grazing season may or may not be continuous. Grazing season may range from 120 days to 365 days, but not less than 120 days per year."

During the grazing season, producers who raise organic ruminants are required to:

(1) Provide not more than an average of 70 percent of a ruminant's dry matter demand from dry matter fed (dry matter fed does not include dry matter grazed from residual forage or vegetation rooted in pasture). This shall be calculated as an average over the entire grazing season for each type and class of animal. Ruminant animals must be grazed throughout the entire grazing season for the geographical region, which shall be not less than 120 days per calendar year. Due to weather, season, and/or climate, the grazing season may or may not be continuous.

(2) Provide pasture of a sufficient quality and quantity to graze throughout the grazing season and to provide all ruminants under the organic system plan with an average of not less than 30 percent of their dry matter intake from grazing throughout the grazing season.

Ruminant animals that are temporarily denied pasture must be provided with an average of not less than 30 percent of their dry matter intake from grazing throughout the periods that they are on pasture during the grazing season. Breeding bulls are exempt from the 30 percent dry matter intake from grazing requirement, provided that they are not sold, labeled, used, or represented as organic slaughter stock.

Organic ruminant livestock producers must:

(1) Describe the total feed ration for each type and class of animal in the operation's organic system plan. The description must include:

  • All feed produced on-farm;
  • All feed purchased from off-farm sources;
  • The percentage of each feed type, including pasture, in the total ration; and
  • A list of all feed supplements and additives.

(2) Document the amount of each type of feed actually fed to each type and class of animal;

(3) Document changes that are made to all rations throughout the year in response to seasonal grazing changes; and

(4) Describe the method used for calculating dry matter demand and dry matter intake.

For more information on calculating dry matter intake, see How to Calculate Pasture Dry Matter Intake on Your Organic Dairy Farm Webinar.

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.