Proper Stocking Rate

The most important consideration in pasture management is understanding how much forage a particular animal needs for maintenance, growth, and meat and milk production. Sometimes new livestock producers are unaware of the intricate balance of available pasture and animal requirements. This may lead to overstocking animals on a particular piece of land. Pasture carrying capacity depends on many variables, which may include: forage, soil, rainfall, and type of management system used.

To help determine how many animals can be placed in an available area, stocking rate must be determined. Stocking rate is defined as the land area allocated to each grazing animal for a specific length of time. This is influenced by how easily plants can recover form grazing, quality of forage available, and animal performance.

To determine a stocking rate a producer will need to know how much forage a particular animal will consume and how much forage that is available. Determining a stocking rate is something that every livestock producer should do.

Calculating the proper stocking rate:
Stocking Rate = Available forage
Pounds eaten/month

(Total available forage = Total production x 0.5 x Allotment size)
1200 lbs/acre x 0.5 x 1000acre

(Pounds eaten/month = animal weight x 80% of bodyweight)

Animal Unit Months for Animal = Stocking Rate
Animal Unit Equivalent
(Sheep AUE = 0.2)  
Determine # of animals you can keep over time needed:
# of animals = Animal Unit Months for your animal
# of months on pasture

It is important to calculate a proper rate because a high stocking rate will decrease an animal performance because an animal will have to compete for forage and the animal will be more stressed. Too low of a stocking rate will not let a producer utilize the forages to their highest potential. Special attention needs to be given to the stocking rate of growing animals because their nutritional rate will be higher than a mature animal at maintenance.

Maintaining a correct stocking rate is very important to maximize animal health and productivity. By choosing the best stocking rate for an enterprise the maximum profitability of the operation will be achieved. Pastures will be utilized to their maximum capacity and livestock will produce optimally.

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