Livestock Answers  |  Resources & Research  |  From the Organic Broadcaster


Livestock Fact Sheets:

1. Converting CRP Land to Organic Production
2. Organic Poultry Production: Eggs
3. Organic Poultry Production: Meat
4. Pasture and Living Conditions for Organic Ruminant Animals
5. Protect Livestock in Hot Weather
6. Transitioning to Organic Beef Production
7. Transitioning to Organic Dairy Production
8. Transitioning to Organic Sheep and Goat Dairy Production
9. Transitioning to Organic Sheep and Goat Meat Production


Ask An Organic Specialist: Livestock Answers

I read your article on sprouted barley fodder, and I would like to know if I have to use certified organic barley seed to do this?

Answer by Organic Specialist Joe Pedretti:

Yes, you must use 100% certified organic seed to grow any sprouted fodder used to feed organic animals. Sprouted fodder falls under the 100% certified organic feed requirement and not the crop seed exemption for commercial availability. The USDA National Organic Program recently clarified to all the certifiers that any seed used to produce sprouted fodder must be certified organic.

Can you help me find an organic meat processing plant near my farm?

Answer by Organic Specialist Joe Pedretti:

The scarcity of certified organic meat proces­sors in the Midwest is one of the biggest issues facing the organic industry. The recent loss of the organic processor Premier Meats in southwest Wisconsin has brought this issue to the forefront. There are very few certified meat processors left in Wisconsin and only two of them handle poultry. The lack of certified plants places organic farmers at an economic disadvantage. Either we are unable to label our products as organic, or are forced to raise prices due to the greater distance and time to haul and process our animals.

I encourage you to ask meat processors near you to consider adding organic certification to their services. The rapid growth in consumer demand represents real opportunity to expand clientele and services. Processors can learn more from MOSES or the Organic Processing Institute (

I’ve compiled a list of certified organic meat processing plants in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Many of these are included in our Organic Resource Directory. Farm­ers in other states can find a certified organic processor by searching the USDA website (, select “handling” and your state for a list).


Black Earth Meat Market
1345 Mills St., Black Earth, WI 53515
608-767-3940 |

Weber Processing Plant (beef, hogs)
725 N. Jackson St., Cuba City, WI 53807
608-744-2159 |

Sonday Produce, LLC (poultry)
E870 Highway 54, Waupaca, WI 54981
715-572-1477 |

Pete’s Meat Service, LLC (beef, pork, sheep)
1665 Main St., Rudolph, WI 54475

Springbrook Meats, LLC (beef)
N3485 810th St., Elk Mound, WI 54739

Twin Cities Pack (poultry)
5607 East County Hwy J, Clinton, WI 53525
608-676-4428 |


Halal Food Processors
900 66th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52404
319-366-8327 |

Amend Packing Co (beef)
410 S.E. 18th St., Des Moines, Iowa 50317
515-265-1618 |

Lpb, Inc.
220 W. 1st St., Earlham, Iowa 50072
515-758-9545 |

Premium Iowa Pork, LLC (pork)
108 First Ave. S., Hospers, Iowa 51238
712-752-8666 |


Northern Pride Inc. (turkeys)
401 S. Conley Ave., Thief River Falls, MN 56701
218-681-1201 |

Kb Poultry Processing LLC (poultry)
15024 Sandstone Drive, Utica, MN 55979
507-932-9901 |

Ledebuhr Meat Processing, Inc. (beef, pork, lamb)
5645 6th St., Winona, MN 55987
507-452-7440 |

Swanson Meats, Inc. (beef)
2700 26th Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55406
612-721-4411 |

Lorentz Meats (beef, poultry, hogs)
705 Cannon Industrial Blvd., Cannon Falls, MN 55009
507-263-3618 |

TFC Poultry (poultry)
103 Melby Ave., Ashby, MN 56309
218-747-2749 |

I am thinking about transitioning to organic dairy production. How does the market look these days?

Answer by Organic Specialist Joe Pedretti: Starting in 2012 and lasting through much of 2013, the organic dairy market experienced flattened sales. Some companies stopped recruiting new producers, and even considered quotas and other supply management strategies to reduce supply and to support organic dairy prices. Fortunately, the organic dairy market has rebounded. Sales are strong, and supply is not meeting demand. Many companies again are actively recruiting new organic dairy producers for 2014 and beyond.

Organic feed prices also have moderated in the Midwest and East (but not in the West, due to the California drought). These factors, combined with strong conventional prices, make this is an ideal time to transition to organic dairy—but, you do need to do some homework first.

Before beginning your transition, you should make sure there is a market for your milk. Start by contacting one or all of the organic milk buyers in your area. (Search the online Organic Resource Directory for “milk” to find a buyer near you.) Most of these companies manage their supply closely and commit to transitioning farmers far in advance of the date they can start shipping organic milk. This com¬mitment is key, as it makes no sense to undergo the expense of certification, or of buying organic feed, until you know when and if you can start selling organic milk.

Most companies like to bring on new producers in the fall or winter rather than the spring and summer when their milk supply is naturally at the highest peak. The milk buyers will deter¬mine if they need your milk (supply), if you are on or near one of their milk truck routes (loca¬tion), and determine when you can be ready to ship organic milk (timing).

If they need your milk, and the logistics and timing works out, they will put you in their milk plan and, as you approach your one-year herd transition, make a commitment to pick up your milk once your organic certification has been completed. This commitment is very help¬ful if you need to secure bank loans during the transition. The timing also will determine how you manage your transition—specifically, when you begin your one-year herd transition.
To transition a dairy, the land needs to be man¬aged without prohibited inputs for three years and the herd needs to be managed organically for one year. The National Organic Standards allow a dairy to transition the herd along with the land during the third year of transition. This is a critical point, and one that can greatly reduce feed costs. During that third year, you must manage the herd without antibiotics or prohibited herd inputs, and feed them exclu¬sively your own third-year transitional feed, or purchased certified organic feed.
If you have been managing your land without prohibited inputs already, you may only need to complete the one-year herd transition. Contact MOSES or a certification agency to determine your transition timetable. MOSES also can assist with finding an organic milk buyer in your area.

The rain we've had has made my pasture too wet to graze my herd. How can I meet the livestock grazing requirement of 120 days?

Answer by Organic Specialist Harriet Behar: Actually, the organic regulation requires that if grazing will cause damage to soil or water quality, the farmer should not be grazing that land. So, if it is very wet, and the cattle or other grazing livestock will turn the pasture into a muddy mess, please do not put your cattle out to graze until conditions improve. Also, if it is very dry and putting the cows out on pasture will result in serious overgrazing and bare ground on your pastures, you should not put your animals out to graze.

In addition, the National Organic Program regulations are very clear that the grazing sea¬son for your organic ruminant animals need not be continuous, just must total a minimum of 120 days when they are grazing. Your organic system plan must provide for acceptable grazing opportunities for the full grazing season, when weather cooperates. If there is a dry spell for two weeks at the end of August, you can feed hay to your cattle. Once the pastures improve in September, the animals should be allowed to graze.

You should have enough pasture acreage to provide a minimum of 30% dry matter intake from grazing for all of your ruminants for the full grazing season during a “normal” year. The minimum 120-day requirement is only for areas where the typical grazing season is that short, or there is a significant weather event that causes you to have a shortened grazing season. The typical grazing season in the Upper Midwest is 160-180 days. Use of intensive or rotational grazing management systems can greatly improve the quantity and quality of pasture for your animals.

The percent of dry matter taken in can be averaged over the whole season to meet the rule. For instance, your cattle may receive 60% dry matter intake from grazing in May, June and July and 10% dry matter intake from grazing in August, September and October (due to drought). You would average 35% with this scenario and that would be acceptable. The National Organic Program also has allowed a special exemption for less than the 30% dry matter intake from grazing when the USDA Secretary declares a region a disaster due to drought. However, there is no provision in the regulation to allow non-organic hay, forage or other feeds to be fed to organic livestock, even when a disaster has been declared.

How do I control buttercup weed in my pastures organically?

Answer by Organic Specialist Joe Pedretti: Creeping buttercup is not a problem weed for us in the Midwest, so I am not that familiar with how to control it. From what I have read, it is perennial, and is tough to kill because of its root system. There are no organically approved sprays that do a good job of killing perennial weeds. About the only spray available is vinegar, branded and sold as Burnout:

This product is OMRI listed, but only kills by direct contact, so it works best on annual weeds, and will kill anything it comes in contact with. Vinegar burns all of the above ground growth, which is why it is less effective on perennial plants with a strong root system. It might work with multiple applications on buttercup, but it will also kill your grass and clover.

A better approach is probably to change the conditions that promote buttercup growth. It likes wet, compacted and acidic soils, so liming the soil to increase the pH, adding needed nutrients to enhance grass growth and improving drainage will work better in the long run. A soil test will help sort out how best to improve the soils in that pasture.

I suggest contacting the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. They are an excellent organization of farmers that are committed to sustainable and organic production and are much more familiar with conditions in your region, and have likely dealt with this weed before:

Southern SAWG
200 West Center St.
Fayetteville, AR 72701
P.O. Box 1552
Fayetteville, AR 72702
Ph: 479-251-8310

What can I do now to ensure my herd will have enough pasture this summer to meet the 120-day grazing requirement for organic production?

Answer by Jean Stramel:

Even if you feel that you have plenty of land to pasture animals on, mid-season dry spells and the need to let pastures rest means that you may need to consider particular management alternatives in order to have enough forage this summer. Beyond finding more pasture land, some options to consider include grazing your hayfields, growing summer annual forages, frost seeding, and stockpiling pasture.

There are many resources and guides available to help you choose the forage option that’s best for your operation. Wisconsin Extension offers grazing resources at; so does GrassWorks: A resource that directly addresses your question is “Extend the Grazing Season with a Forage Chain,” a workshop presented by Laura Paine at the 2014 MOSES Organic Farming Conference. The audio recording of that workshop is sold through the MOSES Bookstore under Conference Audio Recordings at

Many producers bring hayfields into the grazing rotation after one or two cuttings. These can be dedicated hayfields, or different fields cut each year. Rotating hayfields with pasture use may increase species diversity and control certain weeds.

We’ve recently seen an increase in the practice of grazing summer annuals, such as sorghum sudan, as a supplement to cool-season forages. Graze only after plants have reached 18-24 inches. It works well to strip-graze a bit of the field each day in addition to the perennial pastures. Care must be taken to avoid prussic acid poisoning, but if you graze this crop during summer slump that is not an issue. Also, avoid grazing during or after frost.

Fall grazing of broadleaf crops such as turnips, radish, or mixtures of several species can be utilized in some cases. Introduce these slowly and do your homework as to the health effects of grazing these species. You cannot rely exclusively on these for grazing, and they should not be more than 75% of the animal’s diet while being fed. Supplement with dry hay, and allow access to grass pastures while grazing brassicas. In some cases, it might work to no-till the broadleaf seed into existing sod, creating a grass/broadleaf mixture.

Frost seeding of red clover at 2-3 pounds per acre and white clover at 1-2 pounds per acre separately or in a mixture in early spring is common in the Upper Midwest. Some graziers frost seed a third of their acres each year to try to keep the 30-50% recommended legume in swards, which is essential for providing nitrogen in an organic system.

Stockpiling forages for late season grazing can work to feed non-lactating animals with lower nutritional requirements. Rest these acres after mid-August, and graze when dormancy sets in due to freezing temperatures. You might be able to graze animals with lower nutritional requirements on CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) fields, if there is access to water. You will need to notify your organic certification agency to include these in your annual inspection and add them to your Organic System Plan. Before doing this, make sure there has been no chemical spraying of invasive weeds, which landowners are required to control under CRP rules. In addition, approval to graze must be granted by the FSA and NRCS (Farm Service Agency and National Resources Conservation Service).

I intend to pursue organic certification this spring for the first time for my orchard and some yearling organic feeder beef cattle I am purchasing. My farm has some older copper-arsenate treated fenceposts in place and I recently started to install some posts with the newer chromated copper arsenate (CAC) treatment. Are these allowed, or is there another type of treated wood I can use instead? If these are not acceptable, do I need to remove them?

Answer by Organic Specialist Harriet Behar:

There are no synthetic wood treatments currently listed as approved for organic production. Any new fencing must comply with organic standards and cannot contain these prohibited synthetic materials. However, fencing that is already in place before your first organic inspection can remain even if the posts were treated with prohibited materials. Your certifier may require a specific distance between the treated posts and soil where organic crops are grown. For your grazing animals, an interior poly fence might be required to prevent grazing right next to these posts.

Natural wood, metal, fiberglass and concrete posts are allowed. CAC-treated posts contain many synthetic compounds that are not allowed under organic regulations, including copper, ethanolamine, ammonia, and possibly formaldehyde. Copper is allowed on the National List of synthetic substances, but not specifically for wood preservation.

If you have purchased, but not yet set in place your treated posts by the day of your first organic inspection for organic certification, it is pretty likely that you will not be able to use them where they are in contact with soil growing crops that animals or humans may consume, nor where animals may touch them in any way, such as a corral or fence. Technically, you cannot set in place posts treated with synthetic materials once you are certified, which would mean the date of issuance of your first organic certificate. However, many certifiers ask that these posts not be used after your first inspection, since they will not be back to verify that you’re not using treated posts until your second inspection the following year. There is some slight variability between certifiers on how they handle this issue, but none of them allow the installation of posts treated with prohibited substances once you are certified as organic. The size of the buffer area they may require between existing or newly installed treated posts also can be different between certifiers.

Many times, the treated wood posts are preferred by some for fence corners, and I have seen certifying agencies allow this use, as long as there is a wire strung across the hypotenuse of the right triangle formed by this corner, that way, the animals stay back from the corner where the wooden posts are located and cannot consume grass near the wood.

All of these treatments do leach into the soil, and plants have been known to accumulate the synthetics in their vegetative matter. This is especially an issue in organic orchards. Stabilizing posts placed next to new trees should not have any synthetic treatments. Perimeter fencing around an orchard usually would be far enough away from your trees that treated wood may be used, but the distance required can vary between certification agencies. Many times, the dripline of the outer branches of a mature tree would be sufficient distance to the treated post. To be sure, check with your certifier about the required distance to maintain between treated wood fenceposts and your trees before you install perimeter fencing. Also ask what date they will allow the installation of treated posts in close proximity to your organic plants or grazing area before you are officially considered a certified organic operation.


Resources & Research:


From The Organic Broadcaster:

Can it pay to irrigate pasture in Wisconsin?
March | April 2015

Even in normal years, lack of moisture can substantially reduce forage yields in pastures. Since pasture is an economical source of feed….  Read more.


Let your animals balance their mineral requirements
January | February 2015

Before domestication, cattle lived a lifestyle similar to that of bison in the early American West. Many different plants with different nutrient and mineral profiles were available.  Read more.


Take holistic approach to poultry welfare in organic system
January | February 2015

Good animal welfare is an integral part of organic livestock management. As with soil health and other aspects of organic production, animal welfare is most successfully achieved….  Read more.


Winter is coming: Steps to prepare dairy herd for barn life
November | December 2014

Like it or not, winter is coming and the cows won’t be grazing much longer. With good management of pasture land, cows might be able to graze into late November and December, at least to some extent.  Read more.


Tincture remedies help farmers treat livestock organically
September | October 2014

Many drugs found in modern medicine cabinets have been based on derivatives from natural plant or animal sources.  Read more.


Young farmers benefit from mentors’ experience
September | October 2014

Caleb and Lauren Langworthy have been on their own land for only a couple of years, and know that the ground work they do now will make their job easier in the future.  Read more.


Financial analysis shows grass-fed beef is good bet for producers
July | August 2014

The U.S. grass-fed beef sector has experienced exponential growth over the past 15 years. Read more.


New book helps readers learn if dairy life is good fit for them
July | August 2014

I’ll admit it. I was a fan of Gianaclis Caldwell before opening her most recent book, The Small Scale Dairy: The Complete Guide to Milk Production for the Home and Market. Read more.


Thwart external livestock parasites with prevention, organic controls
July | August 2014

External parasites on livestock can lead to economic loss for producers. Studies have shown that even moderate infestations of parasites could cost you one pound of milk/meat…. Read more.


Prevention only ‘cure’ for deadly, new swine virus
May | June 2014

The first cases of a new swine disease, Porcine Endemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv), were reported in the United States in May 2013. Read more.


chicken - jessiHome-grown feed can supplement poultry ration
March | April 2014

Poultry will eat many different things, and live. But, to grow efficiently and be cost-effective for egg or meat production, very specific nutritional needs must be met. Read more here.


Langmeier field day 003

Feeding flaxseed to cows offers multiple benefits
March | April 2014

Introducing ground flaxseed as a dietary component for organically managed cows may have a three-fold benefit. Read more here.


E Scenic DCPManage dry period for healthy, productive female ruminants
January | February 2014

With dairy cows, goats and ewes the goals are healthy, productive mothers that deliver vigorous offspring, milk well…. Read more here.


Butchering Beef bookNew books provide insights into humane butchering
January | February 2014

The timing couldn’t be more perfect for Adam Danforth’s two new books…. Read more here.


Compost_Bed_Fig_1Successful Winter Manure Management Using Bedded Packs
November/December 2013

With cold weather on the way, farmers with animals are setting up their winter feeding systems. Read more here.


Microsoft Word - health and management factsheet_MOSES.docxProof Positive – Impact of Organic Management on Dairy Animal Health
September/October 2013

The long-term, multistate research project aimed to identify organic management factors influencing…. Read more here.


Sierra Exif JPEGRobotic Milker Adds Flexibility to Dairy Farm Life
September/October 2013

A typical dairyperson’s life revolves around a regular twice-a-day commitment to milking cows. Read more here.


 Dairy FamilyDairy Grazing Apprenticeship: Employment and Training for the Next Generation
July/August 2013

Historically, the family has been the primary institution for providing training, experience and resources…. Read more here.


KefirGot Kefir? ‘Best Kept Secret’ for Healthy Organic Calves
July/August 2013

One of the most important keys to success in organic dairy production is the rearing of healthy calves.  Read more here.


SI ExifIntegrating Livestock with Crop Production Yields Benefits for Both
July/August 2013

Crops and livestock have historically been integrated in farming systems. However, in the last 50 years there has been a trend…. Read more here.


No SoyProof Positive – Soy-free Poultry Ration Research
July/August 2013

With the development of faster growing, high nutrient-demanding animal breeds, the high protein content and low cost of soybeans…. Read more here.


Sierra Exif JPEGSprouted Barley Fodder – A Revolution in Animal Feed?
July/August 2013

Record high grain prices and the drought of 2012 are driving up interest in alternative feeds. Read more here.


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Proof Positive – Research on Raising Dairy Steers Provides Insights
May/June 2013

With the extreme drought conditions in the Upper Midwest during 2012, many dairy producers continue…. Read more here.


212proof1Proof Positive – Are Feed Costs Lower for Wis. Grazing vs. Confined and Organic Dairy Farms?
March/April 2013

Most of us have the perception that input costs rose slowly and steadily through…. Read more here.


EQIP pastureFarmer Uses EQIP to Improve Farm, Environment – EQIP cost share funds application deadlines loom
January/February 2013

During a trip to the Farm Service Agency a couple of years ago…. Read more here.