Thinking about getting some Dexters. I have had Beefmasters in the past. My question is how many acres of managed pasture per cow should I have in zone 8a to raise grass fed Dexters? I understand there are a lot of variables but would like an informed guesstimate so as to have a place to start. I have four 10 acre paddocks to rotate the cattle through.
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Eat what you can, and what you can't you can
I've read 0.3 cows/hectare (~2.5 acres) is a truly sustainable stocking rate, at least here in the UK. At this level you don't need to supplement feed provided there is enoughland for the animals to move across. That seems to be far lower than the one pair per 19 acres quoted above, though.
We have dexters and live in W KY. If you are ok feeding hay in the wintertime and have good quality pasture, you can have 1 dexter per acre. If you want to minimize feeding hay in the winter, shoot for 3 acres per cow.
We graze about 2 acres with 4 cows and 6 sheep and move the cows everyday to a new paddock. once we are done with the rotaion (usually about 20 days) then we have to put them in a sacrifice paddock and feed a lot of hay, which is really helping to build up our pasture. We live in an area with cheap hay, plus we milk one of the cows, which helps us to come out on top financially. We are trying to lease some land nearby next year so we don't have to feed as much hay in the future....
As with any time these questions come up, the stocking rate your land will sustain will depend heavily on quality and quantity of forage, rotational intensity, how fast your forage regrows, size of cattle, and other husbandry factors. Where one person can run 1 cow per acre, others need many acres per cow. Obviously bringing in outside feed (whether hay or grain) will reduce the acreage required. So unfortunately there's no really effective "rule of thumb" for stocking rates.
If it was me, I'd start with 2 cow/calf pairs and see how it goes. If you're having to mow to keep the pastures from getting out of hand, add more cow/calf pairs. If you're needing to bring in hay for a few months of the year, back it off by a pair. Most likely, knowing where you are in the growth patterns for the pastures, and seeing how much 2 pairs are eating, you'll get a good handle on whether you can add more within a month or two. If you do start adding pairs, do it conservatively. Better to be a little understocked than overstocked if you're wanting sustainability and minimal to no outside inputs. IOW, if you quickly realize you can add more cattle, and you think 6 pairs would be fine, go to 4 or 5 and see how that goes for a while before going all the way to 6.
It will take a while for your pasture to get to it's optimal condition with max productivity. So lets say that your pasture is now 4yrs old and you have the perfect blend of grasses, legumes, etc. For 6months you would only need 2acres per cow/calf pair. During the 6month off season, you would need to either feed the cows hay (bought or harvest). You could also have another 6acres of "winter" pasture with standing hay .
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