Feed and nutrition
#Basics about livestock feed
The requirements and regulations for livestock feed are complicated.
What are the basics for creating a feed ration?
Each agricultural feed ingredient must be certified organic
Agricultural ingredients — grains (corn, oats, barley), bean and seed meals (soybean and flax meal), forages (hay, silage, pasture), and kelp — are central to livestock feed. If you grow feed ingredients on-site, they must be part of your Organic System Plan. All purchased feed ingredients must be sourced from a certified organic producer or processor with appropriate documentation.
Use only allowed non-agricultural, non-synthetic ingredients
Provided that they are not prohibited on the National List, non-agricultural and non-synthetic ingredients are permitted for use in feed rations such as blue-green algae, fishmeal, and probiotics.
Any synthetic feed additives or supplements must be on the National List
All synthetic feed additives or supplements must be allowed for livestock feed per the National List. Be sure to submit any synthetic feed additives or supplements to OTCO for review and approval prior to use.
Currently, the only allowed synthetic feed additives are DL-Methionine for use in poultry rations, and trace vitamins and minerals used for fortification or enrichment. Any agricultural ingredients mixed with synthetic feed supplements or additives must be certified organic. This includes carriers and binding agents like molasses, wheat middlings, and rice hulls.
Considerations for complete feed vs. creating a feed ration
Purchasing certified organic “complete” feed provides assurance that all ingredients are allowed for use in organic livestock production.
If you purchase individual feedstuffs, additives or supplements and mix them to make your own ration, be sure to submit all of them to OTCO for review and approval prior to use.
Watch this brief video by the Washington State Department of Agriculture for a detailed explanation of feed requirements for organic livestock.
#Prohibitions for livestock feed
What is prohibited in organic livestock feed?
The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) prohibits the following for livestock feed:
- Synthetic materials not allowed per the National List
- Manure or urea
- Mammalian or poultry slaughter by-products, including blood, meat or bone meal, bone charcoal
- Substances derived from slaughter by-products such as gelatin
- Drugs or hormones used to promote animal growth
- Antibiotics or ionophores
- Feed supplements or additives at levels beyond the animal’s nutritional needs
- Non-certified organic agricultural ingredients
- Certain vitamins and minerals that are proteinated or derived from slaughter by-products or GMOs
- Anything that violates the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act
The program also prohibits the restriction of ruminant livestock — except as allowed — from grazing on pasture during the grazing season. OTCO will not grant temporary variances to feed non-organic feed to organic livestock.
You can read more about what is prohibited in organic livestock feed in the NOP Handbook.
Certain products that are certified organic for human consumption may not be compliant for certified organic livestock feed. Be sure to submit new feed supplements or additives that are not certified organic or OMRI/WSDA-listed for livestock use to us for review and approval prior to use.
What happens if I feed organic livestock a prohibited material?
Livestock fed a prohibited material will permanently lose organic certification.
#Unique feed ingredients
Certain feed ingredients have unique requirements for organic livestock feed programs.
Am I able to use methionine in feed rations?
This essential amino acid for poultry is often deficient in plant-based poultry feed rations. The National List allows synthetic methionine as a feed additive in poultry rations (a specific maximum amount per ton of feed). OTCO will review all rations in your Organic System Plan to determine they do not exceed the allowed amount for your species of poultry.
Am I able to use kelp in feed rations?
Kelp is considered an agricultural product and requires organic certification to be included in organic livestock feed rations.
Am I able to use fish and crab meal in feed rations?
Fish and crab meal are considered non-agricultural, non-synthetic feed ingredients and do not require organic certification to be included in organic livestock feed rations.
However, several fish meal and crab meal products include synthetic preservatives (e.g., ethoxyquin) which are prohibited for use in organic feed. Some natural preservatives are compliant with the organic standards, but all products must be reviewed and approved prior to use.
What do I need to know about using microbes like yeast and bacteria cultures?
Microbes are considered non-agricultural, non-synthetic ingredients and do not require organic certification. You are required to provide verification they are non-GMO.
#Feed supplements versus health care inputs
Certain products used can be considered feed supplements or health care inputs, depending on how they’re used in organic livestock production. Compliance requirements for feed supplements and health care inputs are different. Your intended use of a product will determine its review and if it can be approved.
What is considered a feed supplement?
Feed supplements are used as part of an animal’s diet to help meet their nutritional needs. Feed supplements must meet organic livestock feed requirements. All agricultural ingredients — including kelp — must be certified organic. Synthetic ingredients must be approved for use in livestock feed per the National List.
What is considered a health care input?
Health care inputs treat and/or prevent disease. Inputs are not subject to organic feed requirements, so they may include non-organic agricultural ingredients and kelp. However, all synthetic ingredients must be approved for use in livestock feed or healthcare per the National List.
How does OTCO determine if a product is a supplement or health care input?
Products added to the feed ration or fed on a regular basis are considered feed supplements. They provide a nutritional benefit and must comply with all livestock feed requirements.
Products provided periodically to treat a health concern or for disease prevention purposes, no matter how they are administered, may be reviewed against health care requirements. OTCO takes into account how you plan to use a product to determine compliance; select products may be marketed or used to meet either nutritional needs or provide health care benefits. In all situations, check with OTCO that a product is approved as a supplement or input prior to use.
#Resources for understanding nutritional requirements
The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) requires that livestock be fed rations sufficient to meet their nutritional requirements.
How do I know which feed rations are sufficient?
There are several peer-reviewed and high-quality sources that may help inform your decisions:
- Organic Livestock Producer Guide (from USDA NOP Handbook)
- Nutrient Requirements of Dairy Cattle
- FeedStuffs Magazine
- Morrison’s Feeds and Feeding Reference
- Livestock, Nutrition, Husbandry, and Behavior
- Oregon Tilth Webinar: The Pasture Rule
- Oregon Tilth Webinar: Decoding Organic Feed and Supplement Requirements
- USDA National Agricultural Library, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center
- USDA National Organic Program resources on ruminant livestock feed rations:
Additionally, consulting a veterinarian and animal nutritionist may be helpful. Not all livestock animal professionals understand the ins and outs of organic feed requirements. Submit all feed rations and supplements for review and approval prior to use to avoid issues.