Apologies if this has been asked before, but I couldn't find a good answer.
I recently (finally!) purchased some acreage of my own to start homesteading on, which has a good amount of established hay field on it. I also have some slight zoning restrictions in number of animals per acre, or animal units per acre. Namely, it's about 1,000 lbs of live weight per acre here.
My question is, does this number factor in supplying hay as well as pasture to the animals? I live in a colder climate, so I will have to feed hay for cows/goats for at least 5 months of the year. Do I need to double my planned acreage per animal or does it already account for hay availability as well?
Mainly just looking for anyone's experience or knowledge of this topic. Thanks in advance!
Tons of hay per acre varies widely by region and even farm. Even poor hay ground will generally produce 1 1/2 to 2 tons an acre. If you have to have someone else cut and bale your hay be forewarned the cost is often about 60% of the hay harvested so that might put you as low as just over 1/2 a ton an acre if you went that route.
As for animals you have pasture grazing and then you have winter hay. With goats and sheep you figure 4% of body weight a day in hay not including waste, and there is always waste, I usually calculated 15% to 20% waste with my goats and sheep.
Cattle and horses are at about 2% of body weight a day in hay. ie a 1,200 pound horse needs about 24 pounds of hay a day or 720 pounds a month, I always calculated 1/2 ton per horse or cow a month. Here winter freezing and snow last about 5 to 6 months a year, best to always calculate on the worst case scenario so for me about 3 tons hay per horse or cow a winter.
You can allow your animals to graze hay fields after you hay them in June/July allowing you to use them as both hay and grazing.
If you fertilize hay (not a bad idea as it makes it much more saleable) you can potentially get harvests of up to 3 or 4 tons an acre dependent upon the quality of your land. Whether the animals per acre is based upon what you can get by with it is hard to say, the amount of animals per acre varies wildly between different areas and even between different properties within the same area.
One must also consider the potential damage that livestock do over time to a grazing area. My neighbors run 6,000 head of sheep on about 800 acres, the first few years went well, but as sheep eat the roots of the grass they have killed off all of the grass and now they get about 1/4 the amount of grazing form that land that they did originally. For me raising milk goats I found that goats are not really designed for "grazing" they are browsers and do not eat the plants into the roots and they do better on pastures, though they prefer bushes and forest eating over pastureland. Different livestock have different effects upon pastureland.
You really won't find a good answer unless someone has looked over your land and the animals you have on it. Because of that, I would be very conservative in my estimates until proven otherwise. It is part of the "Tyranny of Averages". If I say the average person lives to the age of 74, it has no meaning to the mother whose child died immediately after birth. Roy's post above has provided some good figures to make your initial estimate from. But as I said, be conservative, and pay close attention to waste.
Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions. Mark Twain
A couple of different things here I think. a legal restriction on animals per acre which will be a straight weight of animals and will not depend on any other factor such as extra feed quality of land etc. Over here you can rent out terrible land to give other farmers enough "land". Their animals will never see the land but their manure is sprayed on it.
As to how much land you need per animal, well that's as others have said very dependent on your land. here we can do around 0.6 Livestock units per acre 1 cow is 1 unit so roughly 1.5 acres per 500kg. That is including using some of the land for silage for winter feeding (6 months approx)
Just to reiterate the legal limit will have nothing to do with how much the animal eats, it is (here at least) a guesstimate on the lands ability to absorb effluent.
Ahh, okay, I think I confused myself somewhere along the line. That makes sense that it's a measure of space per animal/manure handling potential and not feed potential. Thanks for clearing that up for me!
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