Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Feb 19, 2008 12:06 PM

Organic standards for dairy cattle and poultry

Can someone please set me straight w/ as to how the standards pertain to feed and space for the animals? I can't seem to find the right information on an i-net search. . .which I'm sure is due to my current brain shutdown.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Are you looking for information on "organic" or how the animals are treated? I think the former only pertains to what they are fed.

    5 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      I'm wondering what the organic "standards" say about what they can be fed, what hormones/antibiotics they can or can not be given, and whether the "standards" say anything about how they are treated, whether they have to be pastured a certain amount of time, whether their is a minimum amount of space required per animal.

      1. re: gourmanda

        This is one site you might want to look at:

        I believe there have been recent threads on this board about the subject as well, but couldn't find the link off hand. It is a subject that my husband and I, as omnivores, are considering as well. We looked at the Niman Ranch site last night, but couldn't believe how expensive the meat was. Am planning to talk to farmers at our local farmers' market this weekend.

        1. re: MMRuth

          This is one of the threads of which I was thinking - not sure it has any concrete references:

          1. re: MMRuth

            Not sure how the prices compare, but you might want to look at this site. They are a family owned farm (as opposed to Niman Ranch products) raising grass fed organic beef. I can't eat steaks anymore but sent some as a gift to my brother who claimed it was "amazing", "tasted like real beef" and "so tender". They were very nice to work with as well.

            1. re: MMRuth

              The certified humane label is much stricter than the organic label. I do look for it when I'm shopping but it's a time consuming certification to get. Unless the farm has that time, or is devoted to getting the label, it could follow the practices but not be certified. Searching around, I've found some farms that do follow the standards, but are not certified and they're not more than buying Niman Ranch at Whole Foods, and often less. You probably already know this but, for general information, is a pretty good source.

        2. Try the USDA web site for the standards: is the final organic standards rule, all 554 pages of it. For an overview of links relating to USDA organic standards go to the site map:

          This is certainly overkill for most people but is definitive even if somewhat controversial in some ways.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Eldon Kreider

            So, the way I read it (not all 554 pages) it sums up to be: organic livestock needs to be fed organic feed but can be given vitamin and mineral supplements and preventive vaccines. They have to have access to pasture (though this sounds criminally vague) but aren't required to provide a minimum amount of space per animal.

            Thanks everyone for your help.

            1. re: gourmanda

              That's what I understand. If your personal standards are different or more strict, as mine are, you'll have to do more research to sort out which companies actually pasture their cows, etc.

              1. re: gourmanda

                Some vagueness on access to pasture is necessary. Putting dairy cows on frozen, snow-covered pasture in February would be inhumane and pointless in northern Illinois let alone northern Wisconsin or Minnesota or the thumb of New York.

                There have been squabbles about abuse of the pasture requirement in Colorado.

                The organic feed requirement is a problem in drought years as even a farmer who normally produces enough feed may have trouble finding good quality organic hay and so may have to liquidate part of the herd. I pity anyone trying to run an organic dairy farm in much of the southeastern United States where a multi-year drought has produced severe hay shortages for all cattle growers. The widespread drought in Texas, Oklahoma and parts of Kansas that ended in 2007 caused many dairy and beef cows to be sold for slaughter because there was little pasture or hay in the region while much of the plains states also had forage supply problems keeping growers from adding breeding stock. The herd reductions were great for consumer hamburger and sausage beef supplies then but also are a factor in high milk prices now.

                1. re: Eldon Kreider

                  I remember the film of hay being airlifted to the cows in western KS during last winter's snow and ice. Trucks couldn't get through, and farmers were worried about their herds starving. It was all over the local news stations.

                  There was a good article today in the NYT food and dining about dairy farmers and their adaptations to the niche market in order to survive.

                2. re: gourmanda

                  Keep in mind USDA is by now the lowest common denominator of organic standards. Actually, many farmers consider them so low that they keep their own and don't even bother paying for the USDA certification fees. The trick is to look around (in cyber- or real- space) until you find a farmer that meets YOUR standards, price points and tastes.

              2. Depends on which country you're living in. There's no international standard.

                The main certificating body where I am is