Abstract: In 2010, the National Organic Program implemented a rule for the US stating that pasture must be a significant source of feed in organic ruminant systems. This article will focus on how the pasture rule has impacted the management, economics and nutritional value of products derived from organic ruminant systems and the interactions of grazing cattle with pasture forages and soils. The use of synthetic fertilizers is prohibited in organic systems; therefore, producers must rely on animal manures, compost and cover crops to increase and maintain soil nitrogen content. Rotational and strip grazing are two of the most common grazing management practices utilized in grazing ruminant production systems; however, these practices are not exclusive to organic livestock producers. For dairy cattle, grazing reduces foot and leg problems common in confinement systems, but lowers milk production and exposes cows to parasites that can be difficult to treat without pharmaceuticals. Organic beef cattle may still be finished in feedlots for no more than 120 days in the US, but without growth hormones and antibiotics, gains may be reduced and illnesses increased. Grazing reduces the use of environmentally and economically costly concentrate feeds and recycles nutrients back to the soil efficiently, but lowers the rate of beef liveweight gain. Increased use of pasture can be economically, environmentally and socially sustainable if forage use efficiency is high and US consumers continue to pay a premium for organic beef and dairy products.
Reference: Hafla, Aimee N., et al. (2013). Sustainability of US Organic Beef and Dairy Production Systems: Soil, Plant and Cattle Interactions. Sustainability 5(7): 3009-3034. Available online at http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/su5073009