How many animals can this property support?

By Julie Zimmerman Morris

I would need a REALLY fat piggy bank, if I had a dime for each time I’ve been asked “how many _______(insert random animal here) can I run on this place?”…sometimes they asked about sheep/goats, sometimes about cattle, even had one ask about an alpaca stocking rate.  Short answer…there is no short answer!  There will always be follow-up questions about types of forage available and percentage of ground covered by trees/brush versus forage.  No fear, I’m going to teach you how to obtain all that info!

Stocking rate is best defined by North Dakota State University’s Miranda Meehan, Extension Livestock Environmental Stewardship Specialist: “stocking rate is the number of specific kinds and classes of animals grazing or using a unit of land for a specific time period”.  Meehan goes on to write “stocking rate has the largest impact on the health of the grassland resource and on animal performance of all management tools available”[1].

A standard animal unit is 1000 pounds of grazing animal.  The following estimations are generic in use.  There are extremes to any situation…as a Miniature Hereford herd (a notoriously small cattle breed) will not have the same stocking rate as a Chianina herd (considered one of the largest cattle breeds).  The table below is adapted information from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) National Range and Pasture Handbook.

Animal
Animal Unit Equivalent

Antelope, mature 0.20

Bovine (including Bison & Domestic Cattle)

Bull, mature male 1.35

Cow, mature female w/o calf 0.92

Cow, mature female w/ calf         1.00

Deer, mature – White Tail 0.15

Deer, mature – Mule 0.20

Elk, mature 0.60

Goat, mature 0.15

Kid, 1 year old 0.10 

Horse, mature 1.25

Sheep, mature 0.20

Lamb, 1 year old 0.15

[1] Miranda Meehan, “Determining Carrying Capacity and Stocking Rates for Range and Pasture in North Dakota,” North Dakota State University – Publications, Nov. 2018, https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/livestock/determining-carrying-capacity-and-stocking-rates-for-range-and-pasture-in-north-dakota.

How dare I not list the Alpaca animal unit for stocking rate, after that clear teaser in paragraph one? All one must do is simply utilize the average bodyweight of an animal and compare it with 1000 pounds.  Alpaca’s weight aligns with the average mature sheep…boom 5 alpacas equal one animal unit. Now you’re officially ready for trivia night!  

For the full animal unit equivalent chart for Texas, check out the Animal Unit Equivalent Chart on the www.nrcs.usda.gov website or scan the QR code.

Now, before I get phone calls from my animal science friends, know there have been many efforts to change this “1940s way of viewing stocking rates” by considering forage intake instead of weight, but I’ve found this is the easiest way to start the process of finding a stocking rate. 

The next step to finding a stocking rate…figure out what percentage of your pasture/property is covered in grazing land versus “the rest”.  The easiest way to do this is by going to your favorite satellite image site/app (example google earth or apple maps) and type in the closest address you have to your ranch.  Once you’ve got the outline, you can more easily spot the various zones you must identify……

1) dense brush locations, 2) any “no go zones” for livestock – rivers, roads, cliffs, 3) open fields, ideal for grazing (breaking those down later into tame pastures and native pastures).  Yes, there will be speculation involved, but thanks to satellite maps, most people can estimate the percentage of their property covered in the previously listed zones.  

Tame pastures (typically non-native and high maintenance…thriving with herbicide and fertilizer annually) that are well-maintained can handle one animal unit per 3-6 acres. The native pasture (generally bunch grass types) that has spotty tree coverage will support one animal unit per 8-15 acres. Finally, the areas of dense brush…1 animal unit per 60-75 acres. Now that you’ve fallen out of your chair and realized your property may only support two cows, you see quickly how we can deplete the grasses on our range and pasture. After those grasses are overgrazed, soil erosion issues begin, and before we know it, we’ve basically paid the light bill at the feed store! Don’t be “that guy”.  

I’ve given you a good place to start utilizing these basic standards. However, the great state of Texas is large with a rainfall spread running from single digits in the western areas to what may feel like rain forest conditions on the far eastern portion.  No matter what, once you’ve got your plan, always give your local county extension agent with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service or your local conservationist with USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)-NRCS a call to “bless” your plan…it’s free to visit with them and they are the professionals! Remember if you ate today to thank a farmer or rancher.

Julie Zimmerman Morris

Julie Zimmerman Morris

Texas Ranch Sales Associate

Julie has a life and love of working in agriculture and the ranching industry. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Services and Development from Tarleton State University. Here, she also went on to earn a Master of Science in Agriculture. She spent over 13 years working under the AgriLife umbrella as a County Extension Agent – Agriculture/Natural Resources and Program Coordinator. Her career and life paved the road and inspiration for her to enter the world of Farm and Ranch Sales. Her experience and knowledge from working the land and working in Agricultural Consulting brings a unique perspective to meeting her client’s goals when buying or selling a ranch property.