Outdoor access, pasture and grazing

#Outdoor access requirements

The USDA National Organic Program standards require farmers to establish and maintain livestock living conditions that accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals suitable to the species, stage of life, climate, and the environment. This includes, but is not limited to, access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise, clean water for drinking and appropriate clean dry bedding.

Allowable temporary confinement
Organic livestock operations may be eligible to provide temporary confinement for an animal due to inclement weather, stage of life, to protect the health, safety, or well being of the animal, or to protect soil or water quality. Confinement — for short periods — may also be allowed for health care practices, treatments, sorting, shipping, breeding, or youth projects. Select reasons for confinement have specific maximum lengths of confinement time. Your Organic System Plan requires detailed information regarding reasons and time periods for confinement.

You must provide documentation in support of meeting all outdoor access requirements. Recordkeeping — a calendar, spreadsheet or logbook — is required for daily activities as well as deviations (e.g., confinement due to inclement weather) from standard practices. Some livestock operations maintain a standard operating procedure manual, noting changes or differences from your protocols. Inspectors and certifiers will review the documentation to confirm that you are meeting your outdoor access plan and all requirements.

#Requirements for ruminant grazing

Livestock farmers are required to demonstrate a functioning pasture management plan for all certified organic ruminant livestock.


During the grazing season, livestock operations must provide an average of no less than 30 percent of animals’ dry matter intake from grazing for a minimum of 120 days on pasture.

Management plan
If the USDA National Organic Program standards requirement — a minimum of 120 days grazing — is not met after four months, OTCO looks to your Organic System Plan (OSP) for information regarding your location, seasonality, climate and intended grazing season length. Whatever is detailed in the OSP must be met. The grazing season may or may not be continuous due to weather conditions or climate.

Dry matter calculations
You must determine an approach to calculate animals’ dry matter demand and dry matter intake. We will review your methods to determine appropriateness and accuracy. In most cases, farmers use the “subtraction method.” The dry matter of consumed feed is subtracted from your livestock’s total dry matter demand. Your calculation must demonstrate that the amounts of feed for animals during the grazing season must be 70 percent or less for compliance. You must meet the dry matter intake — often much higher than 30 percent — threshold as outlined in your OSP.


A weighted average over the grazing season may be used to calculate that dry matter intake from pasture meets your OSP. Such an approach helps account for end of season decline in pasture nutrition or stunted growth from excessive heat.

Livestock must have outdoor access year round in addition to grazing season pasture management plans.

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