How many animals can I / should I have per acre?

homestead helpers and guardians
A Anatolian and Akbash cross watching his livestock.

Hi all,

I wanted to share an important article written by George McLaughlin, one of our Homesteadingedu instructors:

How many animals can I / should I have per acre?

“This is a loaded question. That varies depending on where you live, how much pasture or woods you have, if things are fenced correctly for the animals and what types of animals you are considering getting among other things. Probably the first principle when you are starting out is to start small when you are getting to know a new animal. For instance, we have been raising bottle calves for years and just took the step to raise a heifer for breeding her. Why not just start with some heifers? Well, the care of a pregnant animal is a steeper learning curve than just the care in general. Then, there is the giving birth part. If a calf gets stuck, you need to be able to pull it. That often takes a full grown very strong man to do that, and sometimes you need to use a tractor and a calf puller. Then, you need to consider that when a cow gives birth sometimes her calcium can dip really low and you need to be able to give her a whole tube of potassium, calcium. magnesium. That’s fine. However, when you do that and they suddenly recover, some cows will get up and come after you! A normally gentle cow, giving birth, going down with milk fever and suddenly coming out of it can turn furious without warning. So with little warning, it possible to have a 1400 lb animal out to get you. Are you ready to deal with those possibilities? It takes a year or two of getting to know all the ins and outs of different types and breeds of animals. It is inevitable that one will make mistakes that will cost you money. It is better to cost you less money than a whole lot of money. You can always mow your acreage. For that matter, here in Oklahoma, you should mow in late May or the first part of June, and again in August. This keeps the bad weeds down.

The second principle is to learn about the nutritional requirements of each type of animal and compare that to what you have available on your land. Grazing more than one type of animal is often beneficial because different species often prefer different things. For example, goats like brush and weeds, but sheep like grass. Cattle not only have slightly different preferences their either goats or sheep.

Thirdly, do you have a dry pasture or a wet pasture? What is your ratio of woods to grass? Each of these variants affects how many livestock you can keep on your acreage. Some people will put 10 to 15 head of cattle on 10 acres for a couple of weeks, and then move them to a different place. They rotate the grazing.

Yet another consideration is how much time and money you have to invest in the animals. Before you purchase, think about the price per animal and your budget. Don’t spend every penny you have on a whole bunch of animals, and then end up stressed because you can’t afford to deparasitize, vaccinate or take animals to the vet. It is better to buy fewer and have extra money than to over spend and be stressed. We’ve seen people lose thousands of dollars by buying a whole bunch of something that they don’t know anything about and then having everything die.

Muscovy ducks

Some people decide they want to make the perfect pasture, so they plant tons of clover….and make it way too rich. We know someone who did that and now they have 50 acres that anytime livestock get on it, they get really sick. The best plan is to go to your agricultural home extension office and have someone come out and evaluate things for your area. Many things are fixed by fertilizing or putting a variety of livestock on that eat things so that the pasture is evenly grazed. When the home extension people come out, they will be able to tell you how many animals you might be able to put on your property. Also, the number of animals land can support varies according to the season.

It is critical to have enough water at all times as well as someplace for the animals to get out of the sun. I have heard of ranchers who cattle because all of their ponds dried up and they couldn’t provide enough water.

In short, you can’t go wrong starting small and increasing slowly. As you get to know your livestock, you will see how much space they need and how much they consume on your place. Each homestead and climate varies.”

Until next time,

Homestead in Health Ya’ll!

Emily

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