How to Determine Stock Density 

How do you determine the density your livestock should be grazing at? This question was also asked by Craig, thanks again for all your good questions! Craig’s question is a valid one, and like most things, there is no silver bullet or “right” answer.

You might hear of people grazing their livestock at 800,000 pounds per acre! How many pounds per acre should you have? 200,000? 1,000,000? Don’t let these numbers that other people are throwing out confuse you. We need to figure out what works for you and we will.

  • What is Stock Density? Stock density refers to the amount of animals on a given piece of land at one time. For example if you have 100 steers that weigh 1,000 pounds each on one acre of land, you would have a stock density of 100,000 pounds per acre.

There is something I should cover before we discuss this topic. Generally speaking, when people graze livestock at high densities they are moving them frequently. High density = frequent moves. Having a stock density of 1,000,000 pounds per acre is stupid when you don’t have the time or inclination to move livestock frequently (every hour). Instead, we need to find out what your trying to achieve.

If your goal is to heal the land as quickly as possible, graze your livestock at high densities as often as possible. In this case, you would probably be moving them every hour because they are so densely bunched, as we just learned. Unless you have the desire to move your livestock every hour, this solution is not very practical. I have personally moved cattle every 20 minutes and it’s not very fun. Frantically zipping up and down pastures on a 4 wheeler to setup the next fence is not enjoyable. I was stressed!

However, there are creative solutions that we can use to incorporate high density grazing into our everyday lives. One of them is to put your livestock into a small area at night using temporary electric fencing. You don’t want this area to be so dense that the cattle can’t lay down. Can you sleep standing up? Give them an area where they will be close together, but comfortable. They don’t need water during the night. In the morning you let them out into a new grazing paddock. I cover this technique called “inclusion zones” in my free eBook but I just told you how to do it.

Let’s move onto practical, high density grazing management. How much time do you have to manage your livestock? If you move them once a day, then stick with moving them once a day. If you want to have fun and experiment, do some hourly moves on the weekends, if it fits your schedule. If you have an open schedule, try moving them two or three times a day and see how it works for you. I want to emphasize that we need to be happy and take care of ourselves before we can take care of others (including livestock). If moving your livestock 3 times a day makes your miserable, then scale back and move them as often as your feel comfortable. I think livestock should be moved to a new paddock every 3 days at minimum.

You might be asking yourself why I’m not covering the why and how of high density grazing. I feel that it was important to consider your quality of life first.

As I’ve previously stated, if you are trying to heal land rapidly, graze livestock at high densities as often as possible. Please remember that your first priority when grazing livestock should be their health and well being. Your second priority can be looking at the land. Don’t get caught up in the “how many pounds per acre” craze unless you want to. You don’t need to do calculations on this. And if you start focusing too much on the land, you will lose sight of your animals, which is how you earn money.

So I’d like to go back to a continuing theme I’ve had here at Ag Insights lately. What are your goals? If you are trying to improve the land, graze only 20% of the grass and leave the other 80%. You can achieve this 20-80% ratio by moving your cattle as often as needed. For example let’s say that I have 100 steers. Over the last three weeks I have been moving them once a day and each day I give them 3 acres for grazing. If I wanted to increase my density and move them three times a day I would give them 1 acre at a time for that 24 hour period. The difference between grazing and overgrazing is time, not animal numbers.

In conclusion you need to graze your livestock at densities that work for you. Sure, it would be ideal to live with your livestock and move them every hour during the day. But, most of us can’t or are unwilling to do that (you should be unwilling!). Do what works for you and focus on animal performance.

What can I clarify for any of you guys/gals out there? As always, thanks for stopping by!

Chris Stelzer

Chris Stelzer is a published Author, founder of Agricultural Insights and creator of many resources that help family farmers and ranchers grow their businesses. His flagship courses are the Grazing Mastery Program and The Farm Marketing Mastery Program. 

Chris Stelzer

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