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What is involved in raising dairy heifers organically? Specifically, how long do they have to be on the organic system to be sold as organic heifers?

The key here is the certifier. This is one of the gray areas of the standards, so different certifiers treat it differently. Some will demand that the animal be organic from 3 months prior to birth. Others will allow transition of the animal with one year of being treated as organic. I knew a retired extension person who had his farm certified organic and then received permission from NOFA to buy one group of heifers and then transition them for one year. He bred the heifers so they were springing at the end of the year. He was only able to do this once since the certifier looked at it as a one-time conversion of an existing herd. This was before the 80/20 rule change so now if you received permission from a certifier to do this, the heifers would need to be fed 100% organic feed and pasture for one year.

Always check with your potential certifier to see whether they would view these animals as organic.

The reason the standards make this so difficult is that one of the indicators of a well managed dairy is the ability to produce all their replacements. Generally it isn’t a good sign if a dairy needs to buy replacements.

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