How Many Cows Per Acre Do You Need?

How Many Cows Per Acre Do You Need?

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In purchasing land for cattle production, there are important specific characteristics to look out for. For instance, the terrain and slope of the land, type of soil and fertility, forage quality, and type are important characteristics that cannot be overlooked. But after you’ve signed the contract and got the land, how do you know the number of cows you should keep per acre of your land?

The number of cows required per acre is widely given by the ‘rule-of-thumb’. According to this rule, it takes 1.5 to 2 acres to feed a cow-calf pair for 12 months. There is also a mathematical calculation for determining the number of cows needed per acre.

Knowing how many cows you need per acre is a piece of the important information you should have because it has often been the stumbling block for a lot of aspiring farmers, including many of the experienced ones. While some people have a lot of land for their cows, others have only a limited amount of land, and for both sets of people, having the right information will determine the kind of result they get. Whether yours is one, five, ten, or hundred acres of land; or perhaps you want to know how many cows per acre you need with rotational and intensive grazing, this article is for you. Read on for information on these and more!

How many cows per acre do you need?

Getting the correct balance between the number of cows and the amount of land they need is an essential foundation for good grazing management. And in determining the number of cows you need per acre, there are some factors to consider. These factors include:

  • Whether the cows are reared strictly for business or for personal use
  • Whether there would be other animals grazing on the property
  • The number of cows you want to rear
  • What you will feed the cows, perhaps 100 percent grass, grain, or a combination
  • The intended use of the cows (for meat or milk)
  • The forage quality and type of forage on the land
  • The total number of acres available for grazing
  • The average weight of one of your animal
  • The average yield of the pasture per acre
  • The length of the grazing season in days
  • The daily utilization rate for cows ( which is always the same number, that is 4%, this is because livestock (e.g. cow) need to have 4% of their weight in forage each day)

For people that have a lot of lands and who want to keep a specific number of cows, the factor often takes the form of the question: what is the minimum amount of land I need for my cows per acre? However, for many of those with a limited amount of land with a sizable number of cows, the question is always: what is the maximum number of cows I need per acre?

Although considering these seeming many factors may appear exhausting, but finding the solution to them could be the difference between success and failure for the farmer. Furthermore, in determining the right balance between the number of cows and the amount of land you need, there is a rule-of-thumb. According to this rule, it takes between 1.5 to 2 acres to feed a cow-calf pair for 12 months. Using this rule, you can get a good idea of how many cows per acre you will need.

In a case where information is available on the total acreage, average yield per acre, average animal weight, and grazing days, you can calculate the number of cows you would need per acre using the formula below:

Total Number of    =         (Total acreage) x (Average yield per acre)

       Animals                       (0.04) x (average animal weight) x (grazing days)

This formula conforms with the rule-of-thumb. 

Can I raise a cow on 1 acre?

How Many Cows Per Acre Do You Need?

The rule-of-thumb says it takes between 1.5 to 2 acres to feed a cow-calf pair for 12 months. So, a one-acre land would not be enough to raise a cow-calf pair, but an acre may be able to support a single cow for some months, depending on the area. Some areas can have one cow graze one acre for a month, while other areas may require more than one acre to feed one cow for one month. After this period, it may not be enough. 

Your ability to raise a cow on one acre of land depends on several things. You may need to consider the growth pattern and rate of forage in the area where you are. Would you be grazing your cow year-round? Are you confining your cow to a specific place on the land? If you want to raise a cow on one acre of land, be mindful that one acre is often not enough land to support a cow for a long time. Be prepared to supplement your cow’s feed for an extended period, for instance, during winter.

How many cows can you put on 5 acres?

Of course, you can put as many cows as you want on a five-acre land, but that won’t be ideal. To get an estimate of the number of cows you can raise on a five-acre land, many variables, some of which have been highlighted above, have to be considered. According to the rule-of-thumb, a cow-calf pair would need 1.5 to 2 acres to feed for 12 months. This means you would need about three cow-calf pairs on five-acre land.

If, however, you have the data on the average yield per acre, the average cow’s weight, and the number of days you want to graze the cows for; you can calculate the number of cows you can put on your five-acre land by using:

Total Number of    =         (Total Acreage) x (Average Yield per Acre)

       Animals                       (0.04) x (Average Animal Weight) x (Grazing Days)

Remember that the daily utilization rate for livestock is 4% (0.04). This figure is always the same.

Let us assume that for your five-acre land: the average yield per acre is 10,600 lb/ac, the average weight of one cow-calf pair is 1200 lb, and you want to graze for a year, which is 365 days. We can calculate this by:

Total Number of    =         (Total Acreage 5 ac) x (Average Yield per Acre 10,600 lb/ac)

       Cows                       (0.04) x (Average Animal Weight 1,200 lb) x (Grazing Days 365)

                                 =       (5) x (10,600)                   

                                    (0.04) x (1200) x (365)

                                  = 3 cows

This shows that you can put three cows on your five-acre land. If we check this against the rule-of-thumb, three cows on a five-acre are approximately 1.7 acres per cow. This shows that the calculation conforms to the rule-of-thumb.

How many cows can you put on 10 acres?

Assuming all the other parameters above remain the same, using the calculation:

Total Number of    =         (Total Acreage) x (Average Yield per Acre)

       Animals                       (0.04) x (Average Animal Weight) x (Grazing Days)

You can calculate the number of cows you can put on a 10-acre land by:

Total Number of    =         (Total Acreage 10 ac) x (Average Yield per Acre 10,600 lb/ac)

       Cows                       (0.04) x (Average Cow Weight 1,200 lb) x (Grazing Days 365)

                                =   (10) x (10,600)                   

                                    (0.04) x (1200) x (365)

                                = 6 cows approx.

How many cows can you put on 100 acres?

How Many Cows Per Acre Do You Need?

Also, assuming all the other parameters above remain the same, using the calculation:

Total Number of    =         (Total Acreage) x (Average Yield per Acre)

       Animals                       (0.04) x (Average Animal Weight) x (Grazing Days)

You can calculate the number of cows you can put on a 100-acre land by:

Total Number of    =         (Total Acreage 100 ac) x (Average Yield per Acre 10,600 lb/ac)

       Cows                       (0.04) x (Average Cow Weight 1,200 lb) x (Grazing Days 365)

                                =   (100) x (10,600)                   

                                    (0.04) x (1200) x (365)

                                = 60 cows approx.

How many cows per acre with rotational grazing?

Rotational grazing is one of the best ways to raise more cows on less land. It runs well when you use it with a wide variety of other animals on a farm, in addition to cows. The number of cows per acre you need with rotational grazing depends a lot on the quality and how mature your pasture is.

The common practice with rotational grazing is to measure the ‘average cow-days per acre.’ If, for instance, the average cow days per acre is 50 cow days per acre in your land, it means you can graze one cow on one acre for 80 days, or you can graze 80 cows on one acre for 1 day.

How many cows per acre with intensive grazing?

Intensive grazing involves pasturing cows in very small paddocks for just a few days at a time, or even for just a few hours, in some cases. Intensive grazing gives pastures sufficient time to re-grow before being grazed again. The calculation to determine the number of cows you need with intensive grazing is based on Animal Units (AU), based on a mature 1000 lb cow. With intensive grazing, it is assumed you need 33AU (33,000 lb) per acre in a day. This translates to 33 cows per acre in a day with intensive grazing.