Livestock producers who find organic production an entirely different animal than what they're used to can now turn to a Purdue University resource for help.

The Organic and Alternative Livestock Production Systems website (www.ansc.purdue.edu/poa/) provides a wealth of management and production tips for transitioning into the growing industry segment. Consumers also can learn more about organic products and where to purchase them in Indiana.

"This website is geared toward providing producers the information they need to get started in not only organic livestock production, but also grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork and poultry, as well," says Paul Ebner, Purdue Extension animal sciences specialist and the website's coordinator. Producers will learn what changes they will need to make to their existing practices to raise USDA-certified organic livestock, the kinds of feed that are allowable under the USDA standard and how to properly process organic livestock.

The USDA defines organic livestock as animals that have consumed feed or grass grown without certain fertilizers and chemical applications, given access to the outdoors and not treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. Food products carrying a USDA organic label can consist of between 70% and 100% organically produced ingredients, and are labeled as such.

Organic and alternative livestock production systems can be similar but are not synonymous, Ebner says.

"In alternative production, we're talking about systems that are different from conventional systems but not necessarily certified organic," he says. "We're talking about such things as grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork and pasture-raised poultry. Similar to organic labeling, there is a new USDA grass-fed beef program where producers can have a third party certify the cattle's all-grass diet, then have that beef labeled as USDA grass-fed."

It isn't difficult for a conventional livestock operation to shift to organic production but the process can be time consuming, Ebner points out. "The process is different for each type of farm. It might involve producers changing the inputs they're using, not utilizing certain types of fertilizer and giving the land the time to be reclaimed as organic,” he says.

While it takes some work, organic and alternative livestock production can be very rewarding, he adds. “These types of products usually demand premium prices.”
-- Purdue University release