How Much Space Do Livestock Animals Need?
Many people who are just getting involved with keeping livestock, horses, or even backyard chickens, often raise the question “How much land do my animals need?”. This question is a lot harder to answer than it seems.
Factors to Consider in Required Space
Livestock animals need space for many reasons; grazing, manure issues, exercise, mental stimulation. Of the three, space requirements for mental stimulation are the ones most often ignored.
With concerns regarding how much land does a certain type of animal need for grazing reasons the quality of the pasture is highly important. More animals can graze a good pasture than can graze the same amount of scrub land. If pastures are being rotated and allowed to recover between periods of grazing, more animals can be kept on the same pasture. Animals that are fed hay will not require as much grazing land as those who are strictly kept on pasture alone with no other feed.
Manure control refers to the fact that in some areas there may be issues of manure run off damaging lakes and streams.
Some animals, such as horses, love to run, and benefit from having large open spaces, although many people keep horses stabled at night, and only offer them a small turn out pen in the day. Many race horses, particularly in the USA, and Canada, do not have pasture space at race tracks and are kept in the stall when not being exercised or walked.
Because of domestication it is generally considered that livestock animals do not require mental stimulation and that they can be produced in "factory farms" much like assembly lines for cars. Indeed they do not “need” it, but many suffer greatly without it as is evident in the case of battery hens.
Animal welfare suggests that even livestock animals have the five freedoms of movement: freedom to stretch all limbs, freedom to groom, freedom to turn around, freedom of access to adequate ventilation and light, and freedom of access to adequate food and water.
How many animals can be kept on a particular piece of land can be called the “carrying capacity” of that land.
Please note in many areas there may be laws, or by-laws, regulating how many head of a particular type of livestock animal you can keep per acre. This may be out of animal welfare concerns, odor concerns, or manure runoff issues.
How Much Land is Needed for Each Livestock Animal?
Often times, people refer to livestock in ratio to land as an “animal unit” to an acre of land, assigning each animal a certain amount of units, but that just gets confusing to people who are simply curious and want straight forward answers, as such I am not using the term “animal unit” here.
Figures will vary with pasture quality and other factors, such as laws in your area.
- Cattle, beefalo, and bison: at least 2 acres per adult animal.
- Horses: 1 acre per horse.
- Mules and Donkeys: .75 of an acre per animal.
- Sheep, Goats, Alpacas, and Pigs: 1 acre will be fine for 3 animals.
- Miniature Goats: 1 acre for 5 animals.
- Llamas 1 acre will fit 2 llamas.
Chickens should be given at least 4 sq feet of space per bird, ducks slightly more (with swimming space), and geese even more. Some game birds require 30 sq feet of space or more.
When you meet each animal's need for space you can save on feeding costs, they are mentally happier, and as a result, they often stay healthier.