This is a very common question and the answer depends on a few things. Most people like the idea of having enough land to graze animals, so that will be the focus of this post.
When discussing how much land an animal needs, you would first calculate the production of the pasture and the intake of the animals. That calculation will tell you the “animal units” your pasture can support. For the sake of this post, we will simplify this equation a little bit. A steer is a little less than one animal unit. A horse is a little more. Sheep and goats are about half an animal unit. So what does that mean? Again, without getting into the technical calculations, if your pasture consistently grows mostly grass that your animals will eat, it can support a certain number of animals units. The average usually ends up being about an acre per horse and cow and about half an acre per sheep or goat. The number of animals you have per acre is called the stocking rate. When looking at farm and ranch real estate to purchase, take not if a certain stocking rate is mentioned. This can give you some clues about the productivity of the property.
Summer Feed From Pasture Grazing
Now let’s talk about the major “if” of the previous paragraph. If your pasture grows grass. A pasture that is going to support animals must be mostly grass. If it is weeds, they won’t have adequate feed. If it is partially weeds, you need to have a plan to get them under control or they will eventually overtake your pasture.
If it is dirt then it isn’t a pasture. You will need to plant an appropriate seed mix and wait at least a year before putting animals on your pasture. If it is a legume, like alfalfa or clover, you’ll need to replant to a grass-mix or inter-seed grass into the land to avoid bloat issues.
Effective Grazing Strategies Maximize Land Use
Having a grazing strategy is important for a couple reasons: It will make the pasture you have more efficient and, if needed, it can allow you to increase your stocking rate slightly. A grazing strategy simply means the way you allow animals to graze your land. You could give them free run of all of it, or you could divide it into parcels that you rotate through. Dividing your pasture encourages animals to graze more evenly and it’s also a great way to rest part of your pasture and allow it to grow back so you constantly have a supply of fresh feed for your animals. The most effective division is 4-6 parcels, but if you only have a couple acres you can get away with 2 parcels if you have an appropriate stocking rate. This source shows a great way to divide a pasture for rotational grazing and additionally outlines some great pasture grasses to use.
Water Access on Your Land
In Utah and Idaho, it is very important that you understand the water rights or shares that are associated with your property. Water will determine what thrives on your property, what you can plant, and how many animal units you can support.
Not having access to water isn’t always a deal breaker for farm and ranch real estate your interested in. No water access will just change how you would manage your property and what your expectations should be for your land. Water importance and access will also change depending on what state and county you live in, for example, water on Cache County farmland is going to be different than water on Southern Idaho farmland. Even water within a certain county is going to vary greatly.
If you are planning to graze animals in the summer, about 4 months out of the year in Cache County and Southern Idaho, you’ll need a plan to feed them in the winter. Your land may have enough acres to allow you to harvest hay along with grazing your animals, but if it doesn’t, you’ll need to plan on purchasing feed.
Knowing how much land you need to purchase can take a little time to figure out, but will be worth it when you do end up purchasing. Making sure you understand how your ideas and plans need to align with what farm and ranch land is available in the real estate market for your area will make sure you’re happy with your land for years to come. Farm and ranch land is a great real estate investment when you understand how much you need and how you can use the property you end up purchasing.