Organic Beef Production

Organic Beef Production

Organic beef producers must feed certified organic feedstuffs. This is true not only for pasture and harvested forage but also for grains, oilseeds, meals, processed feeds, forages, and supplements. Minerals and other non-agricultural supplements typically do not need to be certified, however you must ensure that the mix contains no prohibited substances. The main concern with feeds and storage is ensuring organic integrity. Feeds must be 100% organic in origin, and must be stored separately from conventional feeds to prevent contamination and commingling with conventionally-produced feeds. Ideally, though not required by the standards, feed should be produced on farm whenever possible such as in integrated cropping and livestock systems. This reflects organic agriculture in its purest form, where crops and animals rely on each other for fertility and nutrient cycling.

Animal Health

As an organic livestock producer, disease prevention through excellent nutrition is the most formidable tool you have in keeping cattle healthy. Antibiotics, synthetic dewormers, growth-promoting hormones, and ionophores are restricted in organic production, so the farmer has the benefit of designing a balanced ecosystem to reduce the incidence of disease and injury. As it turns out, a balanced ecosystem is the cheapest, most healthful way of producing livestock. Grazing animals that are allowed to harvest their feed from pasture, calve and live most of the year outside of barns and confining enclosures, who are exposed to a wide assortment of naturally occurring bacteria and other pathogens, are generally more healthy, experience less death loss, and supply a more consistent return on a marginal investment than their confinement-fed, antibiotic-laden counterparts in conventional livestock production.

Some of the basic principles of organic health management include fostering natural immunity in animals by increasing animal and plant biodiversity on the farm, balancing nutrition through pasture grazing management, mineral supplementation, and providing high quality forage in the dormant season. The natural living conditions of pastures and arbors for shade decrease animal stress and remove unnecessary burdens on the immune system. Other practices such as sanitation, vaccination, quarantine of new animals, and the use of probiotics in young animals can also foster a healthier environment for livestock. Probiotics are microbes that protect its host and prevent disease. The best-known probiotic is Lactobacillus acidophilus, which is found in yogurt, acidophilus milk, and approved supplements. It is often used in young calves that are prone to scour, giving them a shot of helpful bacteria to get their digestive system going again. Some ailments are genetically inherited and through selective breeding and culling of offending animals, the herd can be “bred up” to a disease-free herd.

Sick and Injured Animals

Conventional treatment, in the form of antibiotics, is prohibited in organic production. However, there are appropriate, alternative treatments that are effective. For example, foot rot and other injuries can be successfully treated with copper sulfate, iodine, and/or hydrogen peroxide, which are all listed as approved substances for organic livestock production. It is counter to the intent of the organic rule to withhold treatment from an animal to maintain organic certification. In fact, if an animal were to decline to the point of obvious impairment and suffering, and conventional treatment was the only recourse, the treatment should be administered and the animal removed from organic production. It should be remembered that some ailments are genetically inherited and through selective breeding and culling of offending animals, the herd can be “bred up” to a disease-free herd.


Controlling flies, lice, ticks, worms, and flukes can be the most challenging part of organic livestock production. The first line of defense in parasite control is the implementation of specific management strategies that can reduce the incidence of parasitism. These strategies include pasture rotation, planned grazing, dragging or clipping pastures, monitoring w/ fecal samples, and barn sanitation. Synthetic paracitacides are restricted, however the non-routine use of Ivermectin is allowed in breeding stock before the last third of gestation. It is prohibited in slaughter stock. See the National Organic Standards for more information.

Educational Resources for Organic Beef Producers

Organic and Grass-finished Beef (ATTRA)

Transitioning to Organic Beef (MOSES)

Organic Beef (Ag Marketing Resource Center)