As a very rough estimate, it’s possible to raise two cows on a five acre pasture, although the exact number depends on several variables including the breed of cattle, the type of pasture, and the length of the grazing season.
In this article, we’ll be looking at what variables affect the required acreage for each cow, and how to maximize the efficiency of grazing land to fit the most possible cows on the least amount of land.
How Many Cows Can You Raise Per Acre?
The number of livestock you can raise per acre varies according to the location of the farmland, the type of crop planted, and the breed of cow.
In an interview with news leader, livestock specialist Andy McCorkill said 2 cows per 5 acres of land, roughly 0.8 cows per acre. Slightly differing figures from USDA and Texas State Govt estimates of 1.8 acres and between 3-6 acres per cow respectively.
How Many Acres of Pasture Does One Cow Need?
The amount of land each cow needs depends on where you live, what food you’re growing for your cattle, what type of cattle you’re raising, and how long your cattle graze.
As a very rough estimate, we can assume that each cow needs at least two acres of pasture land to sustain themselves with foraging.
Let’s look at some estimates from farming experts:
Texas has more cattle than any other state in the US, although this may be in part due to the large land area and not necessarily the climate.
Texas parks and wildlife department estimates that each cow needs between three and six acres of grazing land each. Keep in mind that much of Texas has a desert climate, so high efficiency crops aren’t always an option.
In contrast to Texas parks and wildlife dept, the US Department of Agriculture suggests that as a very rough rule of thumb, each cow needs between 1.5 and 2 acres each.
The USDA has more complete data than any state government, however these conflicting estimates make it clear that there are multiple factors which impact land requirements and a single estimate isn’t possible without knowing more details.
What Factors Affect How Much Land Each Cow Needs?
1. Fertility of Soil / Climate
Fertile soil with plenty of irrigation can grow more effective crops like bermudagrass and ryegrass, which can then in turn sustain more livestock.
Poor quality soil or soil in desert conditions where water is scarce can not support such crops, and cattle have to make do with poorer quality crops which can grow in those conditions.
The trade off is that this type of poor quality pasture is usually much cheaper land to buy, so it can be easier for the farmer to earn a living.
2. Type of Cow
Larger cattle breeds like Black Angus are prized for their beef, but they need to consume much more grass per day than a smaller breed like Dexter or Ayrshire cattle would.
Cows need to consume approximately 2.5% of their body mass in grass every day, and a further 2.5% is lost due to trampling in a typical pasture, so using a smaller breed of cow will result in more cows being able to graze in the same acreage.
3. Grazing Season / Supplemental Feed
In some climates, grazing is not possible through the winter, and cows’ diets are instead topped up with supplemental feed like grains or hay.
The more grains the farmer feeds the cows, the less pasture land they will need because part of their dietary needs are being met from grains.
How to Maximize the Number of Cows Per Acre
1. Plant Cover Crops to Maintain Soil Quality
Common grass crops planted for foraging include Bermudagrass and Ryegrass.
Both Bermudagrass and Ryegrass are cheap and energy rich, which is perfect for foraging cattle, however this type of grass is shallow rooted, doesn’t bind the soil together effectively, and doesn’t regulate nitrogen levels in the soil to keep it fertile.
The effect is that after a few seasons of grazing, the quality of the soil and the ability to grow this type of high-yield grass is decreased.
Cover crops are crops which are planted to restore the quality of the soil, so that grass can be planted once again next season.
Common cover crops are legumes, and grains such as wheat or barley.
2. Rotate Other Animals Between Cattle Grazing
Similar to cover crops, some farmers have figured out that allowing different animals to inhabit land during the off season can revitalize the soil and make it suitable for planting again.
As an example, chickens are sometimes used for this, because they peck and scratch at the ground, which decompacts it allowing for new growth.
3. Keep Pastures Hydrated
Adequate irrigation is a huge factor in efficient grazing. In California where droughts have been common over the last decade, beef production is decreasing by around 50,000 cattle per year, in part because the lack of water means farmers have to plant less energy rich grazing crops which can grow in the dry conditions.
4. Plant High Energy Grass
Common high energy nutrient dense grasses include Alfalfa, Rye Grass, and Bermudagrass.
These high energy grasses are great for feeding cattle since they grow quickly and provide more energy than unmaintained pastures.
How Many Acres does a Dairy Cow Need?
Like beef cattle farms, there’s no simple answer for the required land for dairy cows, however the land required is roughly two acres per dairy cow, depending on a number of factors like type of grass, weight of cow, and supplemental feeding.
Although if left out to forage dairy cows take just as much land as beef cows, in practice dairy herds can usually be kept on much smaller farms than beef cattle.
This is because dairy cows are often fed high energy grains and dried food, since they spend so much time in the milking parlor they don’t have enough time to forage all day like beef herds. Malnourished dairy cows are also sometimes fed colostrum or cow milk to quickly get them healthy again if they become malnourished.
In conclusion, it’s definitely possible to raise a few cows on five acres of land, although the exact amount will depend on what type of cow you have and how heavy they are, and what type of crop you plant.
A good rough estimate for grazing land is two acres per cow, meaning you could raise roughly two cows in a five acre plot.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.