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Organic Production. Sheep & Goat Toolbox. What is organic?.

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Organic Production

Sheep & Goat Toolbox


What is organic?

The National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic production as: "A production system that respond[s] to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity." (NOP 205.2 definition of Organic Production).



  • The word “organic” is legally defined by the National Standard as published in the Code of Federal Regulations.
  • It is illegal to market any agricultural product as organic or to advertise a farm as organic unless the producer is in full compliance with these regulations.

The Organic Foods Production Act

  • Enacted under the 1990 Farm Bill
  • Authorized creation of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP)
    • National standards for production, handling and processing
  • Oversees mandatory certification of organic production
  • Producers meeting standards can label products “USDA Certified Organic”


  • Must meet USDA Organic Requirements to be labeled organic
  • Certification requires 3-year transition period
  • Annual inspection
  • Must keep long-term records
  • Intensive animal, pasture, and facility management is a must!


Organic Certification

  • The Following Must be Certified Organic:
    • Land
      • Pastures
    • Animals
      • Breeding Stock
      • Nutrition
      • Health
      • Living Conditions
    • Production Facility
    • Processing Plant

Organic breeding stock

  • May be purchased from a non-organic operation
    • Cannot be sold, labeled or represented as organic slaughter stock
    • If pregnant, cannot be later than last third of gestation
  • Producer must maintain detailed records

Organic feed

  • Must have access to outdoors year round; must graze at least 120 days a year, and receive a minimum of 30% of dry matter intake from pasture
  • ALL FEED (including pastures) must be organically produced
  • No drugs or hormones
  • No supplements “in amounts above those needed for adequate nutrition”

Organic healthcare

  • Select for resistance
  • Meet nutritional requirements
  • Provide appropriate housing, pasture and sanitation.
  • Allow for exercise, reduce stress
  • Physical Alterations
    • Must promote animal’s welfare
    • Must minimize pain and stress

Organic living conditions

  • Access to outdoors, shelter, shade, exercise areas, fresh air and direct sunlight
  • Access to pasture
  • Appropriate clean, dry, organic bedding
  • Temporary shelter available for
    • Inclement weather
    • Threatening conditions
    • Lambing/Kidding

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§205.603: Allowed Synthetic Substances

  • Certain synthetic substances allowed
  • National Organic Program’s Final Rule lists all regulations
    • To view NOP regulations, go to:
        • Click (on right) “Learn how to get my product certified as Organic”
        • Click “NOP Policies, Procedures, and Reference Documents”
        • Click “NOP Regulations”
        • Click ”Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR) website”

Land requirements

  • Distinct boundaries
  • Wood fencing cannot be treated
  • Map of your organic system
  • Certification is tied to the land as well as to your management and record-keeping as a producer.
  • May sell or rent certified land.
  • New property needs organic documentation of 3 years.
    • If no documentation then land must transition (takes 36 months)

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Organic pastures

Crop Production Standards Apply to Pasture

These include:

  • Crop production standards    
  • Organic Systems Plan
  • Land requirements: transition and buffers
  • Soil fertility and crop nutrient management
  • Crop rotation
  • Pest, weed, and disease management
  • Seeds and planting stock
  • National List of allowed & prohibited materials
  • Recordkeeping

Keeping organic pastures healthy

  • Improve the soil organic matter
  • Understand the causes, life cycle, and feed value of the weed
  • Increase species diversity in the pasture
  • Graze during the time of a weed's maximum palatability
  • Practice high-intensity grazing and high frequency of grazing



Keeping organic pastures healthy

  • Graze several complementary livestock species
  • Introduce biological weed control agents
  • Mow, hand weed, and dig to remove weeds mechanically
  • Use flame weeding or other forms of heat destruction
  • Rotate into annual crops

Benefits of “going organic”

  • In many areas, products sell for a higher premium
  • Animals are raised naturally
  • More environmentally friendly

Weighing cost vs. benefit

Must weigh the additional cost versus the economic return in your area

-- Do your research!

-- Sit down and crunch numbers

-- Assess demand for organics in your region

-- Remember your time is an additional cost

-- Every farm is different.


What is best?

  • Depends on…
    • Farm
    • Market
    • Goals
    • Animals

“Grass Fed”




  • NCAT’s Organic Livestock Workbook
  • Pasture for Organic Ruminant Livestock: Understanding and Implementing the National Organic Program (NOP) Pasture Rule
  • ATTRA’s Organic Livestock Documentation Forms
  • ATTRA’s Organic Standards for Livestock Production: Excerpts of the USDA's National Organic Program Regulations

Additional Resources

    • Click “Organic Farming” on the left
  • “Organic” section of ATTRA’s Small Ruminant Resource Manual
    • Will contain several resources from within ATTRA as well as outside resources
  • USDA - AMS -“Exploring the Organic Option”

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is a nonprofit organization that helps people and communities. NCAT champions small-scale, sustainable and local solutions to reduce poverty, protect communities and promote natural resources. Since 1976, NCAT has weatherized houses, trained farmers, monitored energy use and demonstrated renewable technology. NCAT works on local and national projects that foster a healthy quality of life for everyone.