Livestock Answers  |  Resources & Research  |  Podcasts  |  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

What should I know before getting an indoor fodder system for my organic livestock?

Answer by Harriet Behar:

I know farmers who are growing short grass fodder through the winter in an indoor fodder system for rabbits, pigs, sheep and dairy animals. From talking with them, I can see both benefits and challenges with this system.

The first challenge would be making sure you are meeting the nutritional needs of the livestock that will be fed the fodder. You will need to know the crude protein, fiber, calories and other nutrients needed by your animals during the time of year you will be feeding fodder, and what your short grass fodder will contribute toward those needs. Typically barley is grown for fodder, but any grain could be used. Obtain information on the feed values of the various types of grain fodder and compare that to the nutritional needs of your livestock by age and stage of production. That will help you understand what further feed supplementation you would need, and how much of the ration will be provided by the fodder on a daily basis.

You should also consider a nutritional analysis of what your animals would be receiving in an unsprouted grain, dry hay and feed supplement system. You could then compare the costs between the usual winter feeding system using stored feedstocks versus the cost and maintenance of setting up and managing the intensive fodder growing system. There are numerous resources on the internet that could help you with this important comparison. Search first for the nutritional needs of your specific livestock and then search for the nutrients present in the fodders. The fodder system manufacturers could also provide some basic information on the nutritional content of what is grown. Remember to compare the nutrients in various feedstocks by dry matter, since this fodder is 90 percent water, while dry grain is only 5 percent, which is much more concentrated on a pound-for-pound basis.

While it is very attractive to think of feeding your ruminant and non-ruminant animals green and growing forage when the ground is frozen in winter, you should put pencil to paper to make sure that it makes economic sense for you as well. Sprouted fodder systems grow either in a heated greenhouse or under lights in an insulated building. They require automatic watering systems—and these systems do use a lot of water. Lights and fans for cooling may also be needed. The upfront cost of the building, continual water and electrical needs, not to mention the actual growing containers and forage transfer equipment, all need to be part of your economic analysis.

Find other farmers who are doing this forage system, and see if they would be willing to have you visit and ask some questions. There is nothing like seeing a system functioning in a farm situation to help you imagine a similar production system on your operation. The fodder system suppliers could help you find others who have already purchased their systems.

Depending on your current farm infrastructure (buildings, water availability and energy costs or alternative energy production) and the number of animals you wish to feed, the obstacles above might not be a barrier. Growing this highly palatable feed could make for healthy and very happy livestock on your farm. 

What type of feed supplements can I give to my organic livestock?

Answer by Harriet Behar:

All agricultural feed, such as corn, beans, small grains or forages, must be certified organic in order to be fed to organic livestock. Organic crops grown by small-scale producers who are exempt from organic certification can’t be used. Feed supplements or additives that might contain agricultural products (e.g. soy oil as a dust suppressant), carriers such as wheat middlings, binders or ingredients to improve palatability (e.g. molasses) also must be certified organic.

While no rule says you must purchase feed supplements from certified organic feed mills, this does make it easier to ensure you’re meeting organic rules since they will have acceptable feeds, feed additives (a nutrient, such as an amino acid, vitamin and/or mineral) and feed supplements (nutrient blends added to feed or fed free choice).

As with all inputs, all natural (non-agricultural) items are allowed in organic production—salt, diatomaceous earth, kaolin clay, or enzymes
—as long as there are no synthetic additives, such as anti-caking agents, flavorings or colorings. You will need to get information from the supplier verifying this. Be aware that yellow prussiate of soda (sodium ferrocyanide), an anticaking agent common in bagged livestock salt, is not allowed. You can typically find this product listed as an ingredient on the salt bag. Also note that kelp is considered an agricultural product and must be certified organic to be used in livestock feed.

Organic regulations have some allowances for synthetic materials when a product is used to promote health, such as a homeopathic remedy. Items you give to your livestock on a regular basis, or seasonally as part of their feed, are considered feed additives or supplements and not healthcare products. For example, if you feed eggs to your calves to help them avoid diarrhea for a week, the eggs are a healthcare product and do not need to be organic. But, if you feed eggs regularly until the calves are a certain age, the eggs would be considered a feed and would need to be certified organic.

Yeast and bacteria cultures do not need to be certified organic, even though some may be available in an organic form. However, you must have documentation that they are not from a genetically modified source.

Fish and crab meal, usually seen as a “natural” form of the amino acid methionine, may be allowed by your certifier as a feed additive. Fish and crab meal that are not organic, would not be allowed as a significant ingredient in organic livestock feed. DL methionine is the only synthetic amino acid allowed in organic livestock, and only for poultry in specific amounts. Fish or crab meal is not considered agricultural at this time, but some might contain a prohibited preservative: ethoxyquin. Make sure you and your certifier have complete information on any ocean-sourced product to determine if it is acceptable.

The organic regulations also clearly prohibit some ingredients and uses. For example, you cannot feed supplements or additives above the amount needed to supply the nutritional needs of the animal. Plastic pellets, urea or recycled manure cannot be fed to organic livestock. Drugs, hormones, antibiotics or ionophores (ion carriers) cannot be fed to organic livestock. No poultry or mammalian slaughter byproducts can be fed to organic mammals or poultry. This includes blood meal, bone charcoal, bone meal, or gelatin. Any minerals that have been proteinated or derived from slaughter byproducts or GMOs are not allowed. Some of this information will be in the ingredients statement and some will not.

Since the label might not provide all the information you need to judge a product’s acceptability for organic production, you should work with your organic certification agency to verify acceptability of feed supplements for your organic livestock or those you’re transitioning to organic.

If you are working with an animal nutritionist who is willing to help you verify products are allowed in organic production, you can recommend finding acceptable sources of vitamins and minerals by checking these sources: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, (in the 500s) or, the current edition of the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Official Publication. If a nutrient is listed in either of those publications and meets the parameters outlined previously, it would be acceptable. Minor ingredients used in vitamins, such as any type of carriers or diluent that are part of the formulation, are allowed.

There is a fee to view the AAFCO Official Publication that is based on how often you want access. See The Code of Federal Regulations is searchable here

Can I raise livestock on forage if I don't have a perennial pasture?

Answer by Organic Specialist Lauren Langworthy: The National Organic Program states that ruminants must receive a significant portion of their daily nutrition (30%) from pasture. This means that they must harvest (eat) living plants that have roots in the soil. However, the rule does not state that the pasture must be perennial.

There are a few different reasons a farmer might not choose to establish perennial pasture. These include economic considerations, land tenure, or the desire to utilize livestock as part of a soil-building rotation with crops or between alfalfa establishments. Other farmers have perennial pastures, but wish to extend the grazing season in either spring or fall outside their perennial pasture fields. In these scenarios, it may make sense for a farmer to consider annual forage rotations.

Depending on the species you are raising, different species of forages may be a better fit. For example, there are some wonderful forage varieties of sorghum-sudangrass that provide high yields and good feed value. They can also be grazed multiple times if managed properly. However, they grow best in midsummer and should not be grazed below 18-20 inches due to concerns for prussic acid poisoning that is more likely to occur when younger plants are grazed. Sorghum-sudangrasses can also provide benefits within a crop rotation by suppressing weeds and offering a large amount of biomass to be grazed or trampled into the soil.

Annual forages can also be used to extend the grazing season for your livestock as your pastures slow down for the season. An example of this might be planting turnips in July or August to be grazed late into the fall and early winter. Some farmers will plant into standing oat or wheat stubble; some fly-over seed into standing corn; and, others prepare a rough bed with tillage.

Depending on your field, early weed control may be necessary to make certain that you have adequate yields for your livestock. Livestock will graze the greens and pull up the root masses late into the season, sometimes even digging into the snow to retrieve these high-protein treats.

You can also use annual forages for early spring grazing. Clovers or annual cold-hardy grains like winter rye, triticale, or spring oats can be used for early spring forages. Depending on your location, soil, and forage needs, some spring forages can be planted in the fall to emerge in spring. Others may be best frost-seeded early in the season and grazed from mid-spring to early summer.

With some research and experience, many farmers are learning how to leverage the nutritional support of these annual forage crops to extend their grazing season, build soil, and manage field rotations for their livestock. If this appeals to you, reach out to other graziers in your area and see what has worked on their farms.

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 |

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 season 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.

Can I bale graze non-certified livestock in a certified organic hay field this winter?

Answer by Organic Specialist Lauren Langworthy:

Livestock that are certified organic must only be fed certified organic feed. Sometimes, though, producers find themselves in a situation where they’re feeding uncertified animals on certified organic ground. For example, you may custom graze someone else’s herd on your own certified organic pastures, or you may rotate livestock onto hay or crop fields during your off-season so that you can use their manure and soil-building abilities to support the coming year’s production.

In a short answer, yes, you can graze non-certified livestock on land where you grow a certified organic crop. These uncertified animals do not need to be fed certified organic feed simply because they are on your certified organic ground.

However, if you are planning to manage uncertified animals on certified ground, there are a few considerations you will want to think about. It is likely that your certifier will consider the waste hay, dropped feed, and manure in terms of applied manure with bedding. However, different certifiers could take different viewpoints on how to categorize the application. It is important to check with your certifier before taking any action that could endanger the certification of that land.

You will want to be certain that the feedstuffs you are using won’t be leeching prohibited substances into your pasture. Using the example of hay—you may want to make sure the hay you are purchasing doesn’t have strings or netting that has been treated with a prohibited substance like a fungicide. I would recommend asking your supplier about the netting, wrapping, or strings that were used on the crop before making a purchase, then checking with your certifier if the binding was treated before purchasing. If the hay does have treated binding and your certifier allows you to use it, you’ll want to remove the wrapping and take it off pasture to prevent the substance from leeching into your soil.

While you’re speaking with the supplier, you will also want to know if the feed was treated with any fungicides, preservatives, or inoculants that are not approved in organic production. Again, if any of these substances have been applied, you should talk to your certifier before proceeding.

By asking good questions and thinking ahead, you can help your land benefit from some helpful animal pressure in your off-season, even if the livestock isn’t certified. Please just proceed with caution and in good communication with your certifier to make sure that your productive crop season ahead is in good standing with the NOP.

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.

What should I be doing to prepare my animals for breeding season on my farm?

 Answer by Organic Specialist Lauren Langworthy

While it may seem early to be thinking about breeding season, it’s actually a good time to start getting your plan in order to so that you and your ruminant livestock can be fully ready when the time comes.

The most important factor to consider when thinking ahead to breeding season is nutrition. You’ll want to make sure that the ladies are in good body condition as breeding approaches (body condition scoring is also known as BCS). Underweight or obese livestock may have trouble conceiving, carrying a fetus to term, or giving birth. To get off to a good start, you’ll want to make sure that everyone is healthy, even a little plump, but not obese. This might mean that you have to separate your herd into multiple management groups to reduce competition for feed, or supplement or restrict the diets of certain groups.

Achieving an optimal weight is also important for your breeding males. If they are underweight, they will not have the stamina they need to do their job and stay healthy. If overweight, they might not be successful or could cause injury when mounting females.

A quick check-up for the whole herd is generally a good idea before breeding season arrives. You may want to trim and inspect hooves, do a little clean-up shearing, or sort out young stock that won’t be bred this year. This can be a good time to make sure that small issues with your livestock don’t turn into larger problems when their body has high demands from the pregnancy. It is of particular importance to check hooves and leg joints before turning everyone out for breeding. Males can be hampered by injury or infection. Females will be responsible to carry additional weight during breeding and pregnancy. Small issues with joints, legs, and hooves can be aggravated and become much larger issues at a more critical time for your animals if they are not treated now. Make sure to plan this management early enough that your herd has time to recover from the stress of handling before you’re turning them out for breeding.

Another important consideration is breeding soundness. You can have a veterinarian out to check your males about 30 days before they’ve been turned out with your females. A few tests can help make sure that your leading man will be able to play his part effectively. Farmers and ranchers might consider having a back-up male available in the event there are last-minute issues. You can also put this male out just after your lead male should have completed his job. This “clean up” male can be good insurance, but may complicate your recordkeeping. Make sure that you record the dates that each male entered and exited the herd so that you can manage your breeding lines effectively.

Depending on the species you’re working with and your particular breed and management style, there may be some things that you can do with nutrition or management that will help promote a good and tight breeding window for your flock or herd. For example, a fence line exposure with a male can help induce estrus in your females. You’ll want to be sure you have strong fences if you employ this tactic. Also, “flushing” is a term that refers to feeding your females high quality feeds prior to breeding to improve their performance. While you want to make sure that you don’t induce obesity, this high-quality feed can increase ovulations and promote multiple births in many species.

No matter what your protocol for heading into breeding season, you want to make sure that your animals are in good condition and good health. Breeding and pregnancy can be taxing on animals that are in poor condition, obese, or dealing with other health issues. To ensure all of your animals have a successful year, plan time for observation, management, and treatment of little issues that could expound later when animals have more demands on their bodies. The work that you do to prepare your stock for breeding will pay dividends later in your season.


Resources & Research

  • Grants for Livestock & Poultry Farmers
    The Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) offers grants to help livestock and poultry farmers obtain humane certification or expand their animals’ access to pasture. Up to $2,500 is available for projects that improve farm animal welfare, such as building hoop houses, constructing fences, or laying water lines on pasture. Family farmers with at least one year of experience may be eligible.
  • American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA)
    APPPA produces a call-in show, Ask APPPA, on the third Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. CDT. A panel of pastured poultry experts fields questions. Call 712-432-1212 and enter meeting ID 709-102-625.
  • Avian Influenza Update Summer 2015
    The National Organic Coalition outlines factors that contribute to highly pathogenic avian flu (HPAI) and recommends a long-term systemic solution including outdoor access, low density, and poultry with healthy immunities. Read the full recommendation here.
  • Economics of Organic Dairying
    Iowa State University Extension teamed up with CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley for this analysis of 2014 profits of seven dairy farms in North  Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
  • Fact Sheet: Organic Livestock Requirements
    The National Organic Program has created a fact sheet covering the standards for livestock, allowed and prohibited substances, pasture requirements, and benefits of paster-based management.
  • Grass-Fed Lamb Report
    A new national monthly grass fed lamb and goat meat report is available through the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. The report covers wholesale and direct-to-consumer sales information plus market commentary for this expanding livestock segment.
  • Iowa Stray Voltage Guide
    Iowa State University has created a 28-page guide to help farmers discover and resolve stray voltage concerns on livestock farms. The guide addresses causes of stray voltage, farm wiring, biosecurity protocols, and testing procedures.
  • Online Organic Grower Guides
    Online organic resources for growing apples, beans, carrots, grapes, and more from Cornell University. (Although these guides were written primarily for New York growers, the recommendations are applicable to growers in other humid regions.)
  • Prescribed Grazing
    Grazing Native Plants in Iowa is a new publication from the Leopold Center at Iowa State University showing how farmers and land managers are using prescribed grazing for prairie management and gaining agronomic, economic and ecological benefits. The 16-page publication includes information on how to incorporate prairies into a grazing operation, why grazing prairies can be beneficial, and what questions remain for future research.


From The Organic Broadcaster:

Farmers, researchers form Grassland 2.0 to expand beneficial grassland agriculture
January | February 2021

Grassland 2.0, a newly formed collaboration based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is bringing together farmers, researchers, state and local agency staff, milk and meat processors, and citizen groups to seek transformative solutions to the social, economic, and environmental challenges facing Midwest food and farming systems. Read more.


Demand for organic pork creates opportunity for producers plus processors
November | December 2020

The demand for organic meat is growing, and the U.S. organic livestock sector needs to boost production and infrastructure to meet that demand. Read more.


Processors, farmers struggle with pandemic-fueled demand for locally raised meat
September | October 2020

While this year has been extreme for meat processors across the country, it could also be seen as a heightened scenario of a growing trend. As the local food movement grows, consumers want to know where their meat comes from. Read more.


Patience during spring grazing transition pays off throughout pasture season
March | April 2020

A lot of management is required to make a successful spring grazing transition, which is the foundation of good pasture management throughout the year—good management now can make or break the entire season. Read more.


‘Meatless’ farms not ideal for regenerative system
September | October 2019

With the Amazon burning, the call is out to abandon beef, or meat altogether, as the most effective way to save the rainforest.  However, many farmers say the jump to condemn animal agriculture misses the point; the question shouldn’t be whether or not we eat meat, but how and where animals are raised. Read more.


Looming forage crisis requires farmers to take action to survive
July | August 2019

We are in the middle of a developing forage crisis. On our grass-based livestock farm in Lena, Wis., we’ve been doing everything we can to ensure we can survive this forage crisis. Here are some tips to help your farm survive as well. Read more.


Team approach needed to address lack of meat processors
May | June 2019

A challenge throughout the Midwest remains a lack of local meat processing facilities, particularly butchers that can process small-scale, artisanal meats that need traditional techniques like dry curing or Charcuterie. Read more.


Researchers evaluate pastured broilers as means to reduce flies in organic dairy pastures
May | June 2019

The most effective method of fly control is to break their life cycle and reduce the population to below the pest level. This study was done to determine if broiler chickens can reduce the number of fly larvae from cow manure pats on pasture. Read more.


Conservation initiatives can support organic livestock management
May | June 2019

A farmer’s interest in creating productive, organic farming systems—through soil building, increased soil organic matter, erosion control, and plant and animal productivity—may coincide well with conservation goals of NRCS. Read more.



Farmers develop model for producing poultry in regenerative system
July | August 2018

For my team, it was critical to enter the food and agriculture systems work by choosing a universal livestock, the chicken. This strategy is central to engaging people in the foundational tenet of systems change. Read more.


Organic dairy, like conventional, facing tough times
May | June 2018

With another year of depressed farmgate milk prices looming on the horizon, and several dozen dairy farmers having their worlds turned upside down when told they no longer had a buyer for their milk, many dairy farmers have felt their burning desire for change turn into a raging fire. Read more.



Livestock offer many benefits to cash crop operations
March | April 2018

Integrating livestock into a cropping system improves soil health, reduces risk for a farm, and creates opportunity for efficiencies. It’s a winning strategy embraced by the two most recent MOSES Organic Farmers of the Year. Read more.


Goat farmer finds new book a welcome resource
November | December 2017

Gianaclis Caldwell’s new book, Holistic Goat Care, is a comprehensive guide to raising healthy goats, and solving health issues that arise. It’s well suited for both the new and experienced goat keeper, and covers all types of goats. Read more.


Young farmer creates livestock feed business with ‘waste’ produced by grain mills
November | December 2017

Based on the idiom, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Riverside Feeds takes organic/non-GMO food and feed-grade byproducts from multiple processing plants and remanufactures them into usable livestock protein. Read more.


Select right meat processor for best finish of your specialty meat product
September | October 2017

Meat producers must engage with another business in order to sell their product. The buying experience and the final product that ends up in the customer’s freezer is influenced as much by the processor as the farmer. A strong partnership between the farmer and the processor is essential for success. Read more.


Study examines true cost, benefits of winter bale grazing
July | August 2017

Winter bale grazing has been a topic that has contributed to the soil health conversation of late. This style of grazing is touted by many as a great way to add nutrients to the soil through spent hay litter left behind after the cattle are done grazing, and MOSES Director John Mesko conducted a study to determine the cost and benefits.  Read more.


Farmers find diverse CSA packages popular way to market meat
March | April 2017

Familiarity with the CSA model among both consumers and farmers has created opportunity for expansion beyond the original vegetable mix into new commodity areas. Numerous farms throughout the Midwest and the U.S. have applied the model to diversified livestock operations, and like the result. Read more.


New standards ensure humane conditions across board for organic livestock, poultry
March | April 2017

The USDA finalized its Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule in January, immediately before the change in administration. This rule sets new and improved welfare standards for certified organic farm animals…. Read more.


research-steers-on-ryeResearch looks at integrating crops, livestock to enhance organic farm resilience
November | December 2016

Integrating crops and livestock on a multi-function operation could have multiple benefits and the potential to improve the profitability of these kinds of operations. Read more.


ron-jost-tractorFarmer-veterans connect to share production ideas, resources
September | October 2016

Ron Jost got in over his head. When he came back from Afghanistan for the last time in December 2014, the former cop and Army intelligence analyst put together a plan for his next career. His father wanted to retire from working the family’s Cleveland, Wisconsin farm…. Read more.


chicken - jessiResearch shows fishmeal improves poultry performance
September | October 2016

Recently completed research by the Fertrell Company of Bainbridge, Penn., indicates that broiler chickens fed a ration including fishmeal grow larger and have better feed conversion than those without the nutritional supplement. Read more.


Couple takes second mentorship for new farm enterprise: livestock
July | August 2016

When husband-and-wife team Anton Ptak and Rachel Henderson decided to add livestock to their fruit operation they turned to a resource that had already served them well: the MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program. Read more.


Diverse mix of livestock, crops helps this organic farm thrive
July | August 2016

I grew up on a typical Midwestern farm in the middle of the 20th century when most farms still had a diverse mix of crops and livestock, were mostly self-sufficient and provided a comfortable lifestyle for a sizable number of Americans. Diversity was just common sense. Read more.


Got cows? Vet’s new book offers advice for year-round health management
July | August 2016

Four-Seasons Organic Cow Care is an easy, interesting read for dairy farmers. Dr. Hubert Karreman covers all the aspects of cow care, from breeding to feeding and any health issue that crops up in between. Read more.


Farmers, experts examine value of sprouted fodder systems
May | June 2016

There has been much interest over the past several years in the concept of offering sprouted grains as feed, but conflicting information about how valuable or cost-effective the practice is. Read more.


Study looks at impact of warm season annual grasses for grazing organic dairy cows
May | June 2016

Milk production is directly related to dry matter intake, which is directly related to the amount of available dry matter in pasture. For cows grazing pasture to be productive, there must also be healthy pastures that provide adequate forage quality and biomass to feed them. Read more.


Catchy name, good planning contribute to success of Locally Laid eggs
March | April 2016

A sassy name, thoughtful business plan and strict adherence to sustainable practices has propelled an egg company in the northlands of Minnesota to success. Read more.


Care needed to supply methionine in organic poultry rations
January | February 2016

All species of poultry require a well-balanced ration in order to produce meat or eggs on a consistent basis. Since feed can be the number one cost in poultry production, farmers want to maximize feed conversion…. Read more.


Prepare livestock now for healthy birthing season
January | February 2016

My husband and I have a mid-sized flock of sheep on our farm in west-central Wisconsin. This time of year, the ewes are happily awaiting spring lambs. We realize that a healthy lambing season—or birthing season for any animal—requires planning and care long before the impending births. Read more.


Bayfield carrotsFarmers find strength marketing together in rural Northern Wisconsin
November | December 2015

Bayfield Foods is proof that there often is great strength in collective marketing. The cooperative started when some local meat producers wanted to cross-market each other’s products…. Read more.


Silvo-Hoch_Pigs clean up old raspberry patchSilvopasture works with landscape, climate to meet farming goals
November | December 2015

Silvopasture takes its cues from an ecosystem that works with our landscape and climate, adapting form and function to accomplish agricultural goals. Read more.


Ask questions, plan ahead for successful transition to organic dairy
September | October 2015

To make a successful transition and get certified organic, it pays to ask the right questions ahead of time, come up with a plan, and know the costs before starting. Read more.


Smart strategies help cut winter feeding costs
September | October 2015

Winter feeding is the costliest part of a cattle operation. What cattle eat accounts for an average of 73-75 percent of the total cost of an operation; 70-80 percent of that is the cost of feeding in winter. Read more.


Changing climate impacting agriculture, especially livestock production
July | August 2015

“Thing are warming up,” said Bill Bland, University of Wisconsin Extension Soil and Water Conservation Specialist, during his workshop on climate and agriculture at the 2015 MOSES Conference. Read more.


Common sense biosecurity steps help keep organic livestock healthy
July | August 2015

The recent outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) affected conventional confinement poultry farms to a much greater degree than organic operations.  Read more.


Research shows farmers use mob grazing for variety of benefits
July | August 2015

For those of us interested in grass-based agriculture, mob grazing is likely not a new concept. We’ve heard the mob-grazing gurus talk at conferences, read the articles…. Read more.


French shephers’ methods, wisdom offers inspiration to farmers raising sheep, goats
May | June 2015

Scanning my dry pastures mid-summer last year, I pondered the feasibility of wandering with my small sheep flock about my rural neighborhood, allowing them to graze the still lush roadside ditches. Read more.


Group finds advantages in working together to serve market
May | June 2015

There’s a growing market for grass-fed, locally raised poultry, but access to processing and the high cost of quality feed create challenges for small-scale poultry operations. Read more.


Organic Processing Institute digs into poultry processing issues
May | June 2015

Producers of relatively small numbers of poultry have indicated that access to processing plants, especially those offering organic processing, are a limiting factor. Read more.


Research shows organic fermented grape extract works as natural dewormer in lambs
May | June 2015

Gastrointestinal nematode parasitism is one of the greatest threats to economic sheep production in the United States. With increased incidences of anthelmintic resistance and constraints of organic production…. Read more.


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.

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