Recordkeeping for livestock operators

#Audit trail exercises for livestock

Organic inspectors are required to conduct at least one traceback and one mass balance audit trail exercise and a feed audit at each annual inspection. The audit trail evaluates your recordkeeping system as well as activities for traceability and compliance.

How does an audit trail exercise work?

For livestock producers, a complete and thorough audit trail enables livestock and/or livestock products — e.g., milk — to be traced back to the origin. An inspector will be able to easily review individual livestock and livestock products from origin,  the production inputs used, feed sources and pastures grazed, and more.

How do I build my recordkeeping system so it’s easily audited?

It’s critical to establish a common link between all activities, materials and documents in your control system. For instance, using animal identification codes enables a reviewer to work through each phase of your operation. From birth, through grazing and feeding to health care, identifiers make individual records traceable, timely and transparent.

No matter what system you use, it’s critical that your records are well understood by all employees and are clear for inspectors and certifier review.


Your recordkeeping system demonstrates where promise and practice meet for compliance with organic standards. The annual inspection reviews every aspect — from birth records to feed rations — of organic livestock production. Our ability to easily audit and trace all certified organic livestock products maintains the integrity of your farm and enables quick action if issues occur.

What basic requirements are needed for recordkeeping?

Each recordkeeping system will be different. You must maintain documentation — your Organic System Plan outlines recordkeeping strategies, management, and storage — that demonstrates all requirements are being met. Additionally, a few core practices are needed:

  • Records are easily accessible on-site for inspection
  • Documentation must be adapted to reflect your operation
  • All records must be clear, well-organized and auditable

How long do I need to keep records for?

All records related to your organic product need to be stored for at least five years.

What records do I need to keep?

You will need to keep records for all of your major on-farm livestock activities and practices. Check out the other articles in this section for examples of records required by activity, as well as our collection of recordkeeping templates.

#Material(s) records for livestock

Documentation of materials used on your farm is a critical part of your recordkeeping system. An inspection will review the materials used, how they are used, and determine the compliance of your certification.

Which materials do I need to keep records for?

You will need to maintain purchase records for all materials used in livestock production such as pest controls, sanitizers, housing, supplements, and more.

What records do I need to keep for materials?

You will need to maintain purchase records and receipts for each material used. In addition, you will need to keep records of each material used, application target, date of application, and the amount applied. One simple approach is to file each receipt or vet record — with dates and labels — with the brand name, care provider, manufacturer, and ingredient list in chronological order in a binder.

How do I document when and how a material is used?

Using animal identifiers — with color codes, material codes, etc. — is a useful way to document material(s) used on your farm. You and an inspector will be able to trace application of materials for compliance and your future production plans.

Do I need to maintain records for equipment sanitation?

For all sanitation materials used in direct contact with livestock products — examples include milk line sanitizers, carcass wash, etc. — you will need to keep an equipment cleaning log.

#Living condition records

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) outlines requirements for outdoor access and grazing for ruminant and non-ruminant livestock. Records should verify the “Living Conditions” section of your Organic System Plan (OSP), which outlines your plans for housing, outdoor access, cleaning, and lengths of confinement for specific reasons.

What information do I need to keep for bedding records?

If you use roughages for bedding, you must document organic certificates and purchase receipts. If, however, you use forestry products such as wood shavings for bedding, they are not required to be organic.

What documentation is needed for avian housing?

You will need to demonstrate how your ventilation keeps ammonia levels below 25 parts per million, and your extra monitoring practices whenever levels exceed 10 parts per million. Documentation of ammonia levels testing should correspond with the monitoring type — e.g., test strips, electronic meters — and frequency as indicated in your OSP.

If using artificial light, you’re required to document the amount of time and type of artificial light used in your OSP (OTCO allows a maximum of 16 hours of continuous daylight). For example, if there are six hours of daylight in winter months and you use artificial light to prolong daylight to 10 total hours, you will need records demonstrating the light’s total time of active and dimming ability.

What information do I need to keep for grazing and pasture access?

A livestock grazing record — a calendar system, notebook, or spreadsheet — easily audited by an inspector, must show ruminants daily grazing throughout the grazing season(s), for a minimum of 30 percent of daily dry matter intake. The length of the grazing season will vary depending on region, but you must document at least 120 days on pasture. On your sheet, you’ll want to indicate the number of days in your grazing season, the days in which your livestock graze on pasture, as well as pasture rotation.

What information is needed to support temporary confinement?

Livestock may be eligible for temporary confinement under certain conditions, such as severe weather or safety issues. Documentation must provide the date, animal or herd identifier, and the reason for confinement.

#Animal health records

Health records support your health care plans for animals per your OSP.

How should I document health records for animals?

One approach is to keep a record sheet for each individual animal or animal groupings with individual animal identifiers. Identifiers such as an ear tag or band match to records, allowing clear traceability of the animal through its life cycle.

What information do I need to keep for individual animal health records?

After adapting to meet your unique needs, an individual animal record offers a simple, single location to document birth or hatching records, source history, vaccinations, health care treatments, physical alterations or culling/mortality information.

When do I need to update an animal health care record?

Any time an animal receives health care, your records must include the animal, dose, reason, age, material, and date. You’ll need to support your records with documentation of the materials, typically receipts and labels.

#Feed records

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) requires that organic livestock feed consist of certified organic agricultural products. Feed rations may also include allowed feed additives and supplements.

What records are required for a feed audit?

Your inspection will include an audit of at least one feed ration or a component of a ration fed to a specific group of animals during a specific timeframe. Records must demonstrate that the amount of feed consumed matches the amount that was available. The audit will examine harvest yield records for feed grown on-farm and/or receipts and weight tags for purchased feed.

What information do I need to keep for feed and supplement records?

You are required to keep records of what and how much feed and feed supplements your livestock consume. For ruminants, differentiate between grazing and non-grazing season feed plans in your preferred recordkeeping system — e.g., a journal, preformatted spreadsheet or a calendar — and include what was fed to your livestock, feed date, and quantity.

What information do I need to keep for feed harvest and storage records?

Harvest and storage records offer verification that you produced enough food for your livestock. Always track harvest yields for all feed crops. Measurements may be in units that make sense for the crop like the number of bins, bales or total weight.

Records should indicate how many acres (e.g., 100 bushels per acre) were harvested to achieve a total amount. Yields and the field of origin must be recorded in your calendar, harvest spreadsheet or directly on the storage container with the date. Be sure to organize and save weigh tags for review.

What information do I need to keep for feed purchase records?

You are required to maintain purchase records for all feed and feed supplements to ensure compliance. Documentation can include receipts, invoices, organic certificates and feed labels (or accompanying documents) with all brand and ingredient information.

What information do I need to keep for calculating dry matter for ruminants?

At least 30 percent of dry matter intake for ruminants must come from pasture grazing for ruminants during grazing season(s). Unless your animals receive 100 percent of their dry matter from pasture grazing, you’ll need to document your calculations for meeting the dry matter intake rule. These records must be supported by documentation of days grazing on pasture, the length of your grazing season, and pasture rotation.

How do I need to organize feed records?

Your feed records should reflect all activities supporting your livestock nutrition program, including harvesting feed, grazing livestock, purchases of concentrates, forages, feed additives/supplements, and your current ration. Organizing this information alongside your other production records maintains ease of access for inspection and verification.

#Purchase records for livestock

You may only purchase organic livestock from other certified organic operations or via organic auction yards.

What records do I need to keep for purchases of organic livestock?

All livestock purchase records require documentation of the seller’s and animal’s organic status:

  • A valid organic certificate from the seller
  • Purchase documents (e.g., receipts and shipping records) that include the seller’s name and the individual animal identification for each certified organic animal purchased, or the flock ID for each certified organic flock of poultry (e.g. pullets)
  • Confirmation of payment to the operator identified on the valid organic certificate
  • Regulatory animal health program tags, such as Bangs tags/USDA Silver Brite tags for Brucellosis in cattle, or Scrapie program tags in sheep
  • Animal identification number tags, with or without RFID technology
  • Breed registry identification numbers
  • Transportation records (e.g., logbooks, etc.) showing the origin location of pick up, total travel time on vehicle, and delivery to the final destination

#Livestock product processing records

Livestock product processing — on farm or contracted — records depend on your product type(s).

What if I use contracted facilities to produce my livestock products?

All off-site, contracted processing facilities such as slaughter or cut and wrap must be certified organic. Required records include current organic certificates, private label agreements (if using), invoices, and shipping documentation.

What if I produce my livestock products on-farm?

When performing on-farm processing, you will need to document sanitation, commingling and contamination prevention, materials, shipping and receiving.

What if I produce organic and non-organic livestock products?

If you have a split operation, you will need a distinct set of records for your organic livestock to demonstrate that they meet organic standards. You’ll also need to demonstrate how organic and non-organic livestock do not commingle.

#Organic livestock recordkeeping templates

Getting started with recordkeeping can be a big task. In addition to setting up how you want to organize your records, having good templates that cover all of the necessary information is key.

Where can I find organic livestock recordkeeping templates?

The USDA and ATTRA have made several recordkeeping templates available for use on your farm.

Recordkeeping Templates for Organic Livestock Farmers (USDA)
Templates include: livestock list, livestock feeding record, additive and supplement record, grazing days record, pasture rotation and animal movement record, ruminant dry matter intake record, dry matter intake calculation sheets, livestock health records, livestock materials list, temporary confinement record, and more.

Organic Livestock Recordkeeping Templates (ATTRA)
Templates include: pasture activity log, pasture inputs log, organic seed and sprig records, compost production record, fertility and soil monitoring log, weed and pest control log, equipment sanitation log, livestock inventory record, record of purchased animals, individual animal health record, breeding record, outdoor access record, pasture access record, organic livestock sales record, slaughter and product sales record, egg packing and sales records, feed ration record, feed storage record, pest control activities record, feed supplements record, health care products list, and sanitizer(s) inventory.

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