How much land do I need to raise sheep/goats?


Many factors determine the correct answer to this question. Not all land is the same. Not all soil is the same. Rainfall varies significantly across the country, as well as within a state, even within a county. There are year-to-year fluctuations in rain and snowfall. The climate determines the quality and quantity of forage that can be grown to feed sheep/goats.

Some land can support more sheep/goats than other land. For this land, we talk about how many sheep/goats we can graze per acre. Some land has asignifcantly lower carrying capacity. For this land, we talk about how many acres are needed per sheep/goat. Obviously, high rainfall areas produce more forage and can support more livestock, and low rainfall areas produce less forage and require more acres per animal, i.e., lower stocking rates.

In higher rainfall areas (e.g., Mid-Atlantic), a common rule of thumb is that one animal unit (1000 lbs) requires two acres of pasture. So that would mean one acre could support 2-3 sheep or 4-5 goats. Of course, it would also depend upon the size (weight) of the animals. Lambs/kids add to the weight. It would also be different if the forage were browse/woods, as goats utilize this kind of land more efficiently than cattle and sheep. In fact, it is recommended that you have some acres of browse/woods if you are going to graze goats. Goats are browsers and prefer woody plants.

In contrast, a sheep/goat in West Texas may need ten or more acres of pasture/range. But even in Texas, stocking rates vary considerably, depending on the part of the state you're in and the amount of rainfall.

The amount of forage that a unit of land produces also changes seasonally, as rainfall fluctuates within the year. Most places have wet and dry seasons. Temperature also plays a role in plant growth. Pasture plants either do most of their growing in the cool weather months (spring, fall) or warmer months (summer). Some plants even provide winter grazing opportunties. Obviously, the number of animals that a unit of land can support will change seasonally. The production cycle can be planned accordingly. For example, you can birth in the months that have the most forage, as this would be the ewe/doe's period of maximum nutritional requirements. Or you could make sure you had the best (most) forage for growing out lambs/kids.

How you manage your pastures will obviously affect their productivity, thus carrying capacity. Irrigation will improve pasture growth, as will fertilization. The cost of both have to be weighed against the benefits. Timing is critical for both. Both will be more beneficial with more productive plants.

If you want to graze year-round, you'll need additional land. You'll need to plant forages that fill all the gaps. One of the gaps is usually summer. You'll either need to have land devoted to perennial warm season plants or plant summer annuals. Adding legumes to cool season pastures will also help with the summer slump. If you plant annuals, you can usually plant more than one crop in a year's time. Stockpiled forage is another way to extend the grazing season. Tall fescue is the best forage for stockpiling. But, you have to stop grazing it in the summer in order to save it for late fall and winter grazing.

How you graze your pastures can significantly affect your land's carrying capacity. A well designed rotational grazing system can reduce the amount of land needed to raise sheep/goats or it can allow you to increase the size of your flock/herd. The more intensive the grazing system is (shorter rotations), the more animals you will be able to carry on your land. There are numerous advantages to rotational grazing. Short rotations (less than 4 days) ensure that sheep/goats don't get reinfected with worm parasites (so long as pasture rest periods are long enough).

How much land you need to raise sheep/goats also depends on how much grazing you plan to do and how much supplemental feed you will provide to your animals. If you want your pasture to provide year-round or near year-round grazing (not just exercise in some months), you'll need more acres of pasture to be able to graze at different times of the year. Some climates are more conducive to year-round grazing. If lambs/kids will be sold at heavier weights and/or finished on pasture diets, you'll need more land.

If you plan to grow all or some of your own feed, you'll need additional land, owned or rented. There are pros and cons to raising your own feed. You need to weigh the cost of growing crops against the cost savings in feed. It might pay to grow your own forages, but purchase supplements. It might make sense to buy all of your feed. Custom harvest is another option.

Solar grazing can reduce the need for land (for sheep). You could lamb in confinement, sell lambs at weaning (or finished them in confinement), then move the ewes to solar sites for "free" paid grazing. Goats aren't usually suitable for grazing at solar sites because they climb and like to chew on the wires.

You can raise sheep/goats in total confinement, in which case the only land you would need would be for the buildings (barns), similar to poultry or hog farming. There's nothing wrong with raising sheep/goats in confinement. There are many advantages.

Some residentual areas (not zoned agriculturally) allow sheep/goats, especially miniature goats. The amount of land required isn't about the animals' needs so much as keeping neighbors happy. Be sure to know your local laws. Sometimes, it's possible to get a zoning variance or get the regulations changed to that you don't need as much land to keep sheep/goats.