#Transitioning livestock to organic
The USDA National Organic Program standards allow for a distinct herd of dairy animals — cattle, sheep, goats, etc. — to be transitioned to organic production over a one-year period of organic management.
The standards refer to this process as “conversion.” Once an animal is converted, it may not lose its organic certification (e.g. be treated with antibiotics or fed non-organic feed) and then be re-converted; it is a one-time allowance.
Converted dairy livestock are only eligible for organic dairy production and giving birth to organic calves. They are not eligible for organic slaughter. Only animals managed organically from the last third of gestation may be used for organic meat production.
Learn the requirements
If your certifier finds noncompliance during the livestock conversion process, you will be required to restart the transition. You will need to raise livestock in accordance with organic management requirements for feed and feed supplements, medications, grazing, and living conditions for a full year (365 days) prior to dairy production eligible for organic certification.
Dairy animals in transition may be fed pasture and feedstuffs harvested from any of your fields that are in the third year of transition. Third year transitional pasture and feed must meet all the organic requirements with the exception of land history. Once livestock in conversion are eligible for organic certification, they may no longer be fed transitional feed. Consider timing your pasture and cropland transition to be completed at the same time (or prior to) the completion of your animals’ conversion. You must keep records that confirm requirements were met throughout the conversion year.
Timing your organic certification application
Consider applying for organic certification prior to beginning the conversion. That way, your practices (management and recordkeeping) can be confirmed as in compliance before you have invested a lot of time and expense in the conversion process. You should also have a confirmed sale market and organic processing facility in mind when the year is up. Though this is not required to obtain organic certification, having a solid business plan will help you be successful. OTCO is happy to talk to you about your plans.