Pasture – You May Have a Problem If…

Ruminant livestock producers take note!  The NOP revised its organic standards for pasture in February. Certified producers have through June 16, 2011 to come into full compliance.

Here is an overview of some of the main changes in the revised rule:
•    All ruminant livestock over 6 months of age must graze at least 30% of their dry matter from pasture for a minimum 120 day grazing season.
•    All livestock over 6 months must have outdoor access, even in the winter.
•    After 6 months of age, dairy calves must be housed/grazed in groups.
•    Confinement of animals is only allowed for very specific reasons, which are defined in some detail in the rule, including:

  1. inclement weather, defined as weather that might cause physical harm. (i.e.: sleet)—weather that lowers the production rate of the animal below its maximum is not considered “inclement”;
  2. conditions that jeopardize animal health and safety (i.e.: icy barnyard);
  3. risk to soil/water quality (i.e.: prolonged muddy spell);
  4. preventative health treatment (i.e.: high parasite infestation period for calves);
  5. for dry-off of dairy animals, for up to 1 week; and,
  6. up to 3 weeks pre- and one week post-parturition.

This is not an exhaustive list, so please check out the rule for yourself.  Click here for more info.

You may have trouble complying with the new regulation if:
•    Total animal units (1000 lbs of liveweight) per acre are more than 1-2.
•    A similar ration is fed in the barn winter and summer.
•    Pastures are not rotated, or there are only “night” & “day” pastures.
•    In a continuous grazing system, there are less than 2-3 acres of grazing per animal.
•    Goat farmers relying primarily on browse.  This is not a problem, but will require a slightly different approach for inspection and verification.  The NOP will be posting guidelines for small ruminant pasture, browse, and rangeland (continuous grazing) systems on their website.
•    Youngstock have not been a part of any pasture rotation, or have limited pasture access.
•    Animals are off of pasture for more than half of any 24-hour period (including milking and barn or bunk feeding).
•    Rough calculation of DMI is anywhere below 40%.
•    There are periods of the summer when forage is extremely short, due to soil or local climatic variations (i.e.: being in a rain shadow).
•    Grazing season is around 120 days, and could fall below that in an unseasonably, but not extremely, dry, wet, or cold year.
•    Periods of low forage production are commonly filled in by feeding extra grain, hay, etc., in the barn (this will probably only be a concern if DMI is close to 30% initially, or there are one or more of the other extenuating circumstances listed above).

If you have questions about the new pasture rule—specific language, what it means for your farm’s certification, or to talk about a special circumstance, please contact us at MCS (568-4142).   There are also many resources available, free of charge, to help you develop or improve a pasture system to work with this new rule.
U-Maine Extension, Rick Kersbergen, Waldo, 342-5971 or 1-800-287-1426, richardk@umext.maine.edu; or Gary Anderson, Associate Extension Professor at UMO, garya@umext.maine.edu 1-800-287-7170; or Dee Potter, Fort Kent, 1-800-287-1421, dpotter@umext.maine.edu.
MOFGA, Diane Schivera, Organic Livestock Specialist, 568-4142, dianes@mofga.org.
Maine Grass Farmers Network, Gabe Clark, gabe.clark@coldspringranch.com or call 329-3800 or 628-4272.
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.  Contact your local field office.

A concise list (PDF) of GRAZING RESOURCES can be downloaded under the list of LINKS to the right.

The best thing about the new rule?  Improving your grazing system may save you money and labor, too!

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