Feed and nutrition
#Unique feed ingredients
A few feed ingredients have unique requirements or considerations for organic livestock feed programs.
This essential amino acid for poultry is often deficient in plant-based poultry feed rations. The National List includes an allowance for synthetic methionine as a feed additive in poultry rations at a very specific maximum amount per ton of feed. OTCO reviews all rations to determine they do not exceed the allowed amount for your species of poultry.
Fish meal and crab meal
Considered non-agricultural, non-synthetic feed ingredients, they do not require organic certification to be included in organic livestock feed rations.
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 be sure to submit products to OTCO for review and approval prior to use.
Microbes (including yeast and bacteria cultures)
Considered non-agricultural, non-synthetic ingredients, they do not require organic certification. However, you must provide non-GMO verification.
Considered an agricultural product, it requires organic certification to be included in organic livestock feed rations.
The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) requires that livestock be fed rations that are sufficient to meet their nutritional requirements. How do you know what is sufficient?
Several peer-reviewed and quality third-party sources may help inform your decisions: Organic Livestock Producer Guide (from USDA NOP Handbook), Nutrient Requirements of Dairy Cattle, FeedStuffs Magazine (Reference issue on all species), Morrison’s Feeds and Feeding Reference, ATTRA/NCAT, Livestock, Nutrition, Husbandry, and Behavior, eOrganic, Oregon Tilth Webinar: The Pasture Rule, Oregon Tilth Webinar: Decoding Organic Feed and Supplement Requirements and the USDA National Agricultural Library, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center.
Veterinarians and animal nutritionists can also be helpful, but not all livestock animal professionals understand organic feed requirements. OTCO recommends submitting your feed rations and supplements for review and approval prior to use to avoid a costly mistake.
Certain products used in organic livestock production can be considered feed supplements or health care inputs, depending on usage. It is critical to understand the difference since compliance requirements for feed supplements and health care inputs differ. How you plan to use a product will determine how we will review it and if it can be approved.
Supplements are used as part of an animal’s diet to help meet their nutritional needs and must meet the organic livestock feed requirements. All agricultural ingredients and kelp must be certified organic, and any synthetic ingredients must be included on the National List for use in livestock feed.
Products added to the feed ration or fed on a regular basis are considered feed supplements that provide a nutritive benefit and must comply with all livestock feed requirements. Products provided only periodically to treat a health concern or for disease prevention purposes, no matter how they are administered, could be reviewed against health care requirements.
Health care inputs
Inputs are used to treat and/or prevent disease. They do not have to meet the organic feed requirements, so they may include non-organic agricultural ingredients and kelp. Synthetic ingredients must be included on the National List for use in livestock feed or healthcare.
OTCO takes into account how you plan to use a product — select products may be marketed or used to meet either nutritional needs or provide health care benefits — in order to determine if it is compliant.
Be sure to check with OTCO that a product is approved for your planned category of use prior to use with your livestock.
It is critical to understand prohibited materials and livestock feed requirements. Failure to comply will result in livestock animals’ permanent loss of organic certification.
USDA National Organic Program (NOP) prohibitions for livestock feed include:
- Any synthetic materials not on the National List, including plastic pellets for roughage
Manure or urea
- Mammalian or poultry slaughter by-products, including blood, meat or bone meal, bone charcoal, and substances derived from slaughter by-products such as gelatin
- Any drugs or hormones used to promote animal growth
- Antibiotics or ionophores
- Feed supplements or additives at levels beyond the animal’s nutritional needs
- Anything that violates the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act
Organic ruminant livestock must not be restricted — except as allowed — from grazing on pasture during the grazing season.
The NOP Handbook provides guidance about what is prohibited in organic livestock feed, including non-certified organic agricultural ingredients (including non-organic kelp) and certain vitamins/minerals that are proteinated or derived from slaughter by-products or GMOs. Temporary variances may not be granted to feed non-organic feed to organic livestock.
Certain products that are certified organic for human consumption may not be compliant for certified organic livestock feed, e.g. bread with ingredients not allowed in livestock feed. Be sure to submit new feed supplements or additives that are not certified organic or OMRI/WSDA-listed for livestock use to OTCO for review and approval prior to use.
The requirements and regulations for livestock feed are complex. We’ve summarized a few of the core things to keep in mind:
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 a key part of 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. A feed audit, performed during an inspection, will verify that the amount of feed purchased or grown by the operation is sufficient to meet animals’s needs.
Non-agricultural, non-synthetic ingredients in feed rations
Provided they are not prohibited on the National List, these ingredients are permitted for use in feed rations (e.g., blue-green algae, diatomaceous earth, kaolin clay, fishmeal, probiotics).
Synthetic feed additives or supplements
Must be included on the National List for livestock feed.
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 (e.g., carriers and binding agents like molasses, wheat middlings, rice hulls, and vegetable oil).
Creating a feed ration
Purchase of 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 to OTCO for review and approval prior to use.
Watch this brief video by the Washington State Department of Agriculture as their staff explain feed requirements for organic livestock.