Goats are a great addition to any homestead, but how much land do you need to raise them? This guide explores the goats per acre ratio and offers practical advice for raising happy, healthy goats.
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How Big is an Acre?
A commonly used method to measure land in the United States is acres. An acre is defined as 43,560 square feet of land. In other forms of measurement, it is 4,840 square yards, 4,046.86 square meters, 0.405 square hectares, 0.00156 square miles, or 0.00404 square kilometers.
To put this into terms that are easier to visualize, an acre is equivalent to 16 tennis courts, 9 NBA Basketball courts, or 1 football field.
Understanding Goat Per Acre Ratio
The generally accepted guideline is that one acre can sustain 6 to 8 goats. By the same ratio, this means 3 to 4 goats on half an acre, and up to 12 to 16 goats for two acres.
While this is a good place to start, there are several key factors that impact how many goats your property can sustain.
Factors That Affect Goat Per Acre Ratio
There are a lot of complex factors that go into determining how many goats your pasture can maintain. Have no fear, if you have more goats than recommended there are ways to supplement with feed and hay to ensure your goats remain happy and healthy.
Size of Goat
The body weight of a goat dramatically impacts how much food they require. A 110-pound goat will need more than twice as much food as a smaller goat of 50 pounds such as a Nigerian Dwarf.
Daily Feed Requirements
On average goats need to eat 3.5% of their body weight in food per day. This is comprised of both dry and wet matter. Note does with kids will require even more food (closer to 4.5%) as they need to produce milk.
Based on this calculation, a 50-pound goat needs 1.75 pounds of food per day, and a 110-pound goat needs 3.85 pounds.
Grazing Area: Climate, Weather, Type of Plants
While the size of the grazing area is often the main focus of how many goats you can have per acre, there are several factors that can impact this such as climate, landscape, plants, and weather.
Goats are browsers, not grazers. What this means is that they will not eat anything and everything, despite their reputation. Rather they will eat what seems appealing and at their leisure. For more information about what goats will eat see is covered and using goats for weed control.
The climate and weather impact the growth rate of plants as well as the type of plants available for your goats to eat. In areas with an abundance of rain will grow plants and grass quicker than areas that are consistently cold and cloudy, or hot and dry.
The types and density of plants in your area also matter as goats will avoid certain plants including many that are poisonous and eat food that is palatable. A list of poisonous plants can be found here.
One consideration is that when grass is too low, goats become more prone to getting parasites. Note parasites are common on grass less than 4 inches tall. Due to this it is important to rotate pastures or ensure they have enough supplementary food to let the grass grow in height.
Supplementing Grazing With Hay and Feed
Pellets and hay are often required to meet the nutritional needs of any goat. While goats can survive on grass alone, hay and pellets can be used to supplement their diet if there is not enough grass available due to pasture size or season.
Based on the same calculation above, goats need between 3.5 and 4.5% of their body weight in food a day. If a goat is getting a majority of their daily dose from pasture, then minimal hay and pellets are needed to supplement.
Other key supplements to ensure their dietary needs are met include minerals and baking soda. Mineral ensures that goats do not develop any deficiencies, while baking soda keeps their rumen balanced.
It is also important to consider the plants that they are eating as too much of one type of plant can cause an imbalance leading to illness. For example, too much alfalfa or clover can lead to bloat, a life-threatening illness. Luckily bloat can be treated at home easily and affordably.
How Many Goats to Start With
As social animals it is important to have more than 1 goat. They are prone to extreme loneliness and require a large amount of attention from their caretaker. Without companions they also are very noisy as they are constantly asking for attention.
The recommendation is to have a minimum of two goats, but personally we recommend three. This is how many goats we started with, and we found it is a manageable number and they all receive an abundance of social interaction from each other.
What If I have More Goats Than My Acreage Can Support?
A common question, and one we faced ourselves was what if I had more goats than recommended for the size of my pasture?
In this situation supplements become increasingly important. The less area you have for them to graze, the more hay and pellets are needed to meet their daily food requirements. See below how we have handled this on our own farm.
How Much Do We Feed Our Goats?
After talking to other goat owners and doing research ourselves it became clear that feeding your goats is not an exact science and something you need to figure out based on your specific set of circumstances. Here is the thought process and approach we take to feeding our goats.
We have three goats that are about 50 pounds each, for a total of 150 pounds of total body weight. Since none of them are milking, we need to ensure they eat 3.5% of their body weight a day. This comes to 5.25 pounds of food a day.
We provide our goats with 1 pound of pellets in the morning and evening, for a total of 2 pounds of pellets per day. Our pasture is small (about 0.13 acres), so we provide a flake of hay a day which weighs about 3 pounds. This means that collectively our goats need to eat 0.25 pounds of grass to sustain themselves.
We have found that this combination has kept our goats at a healthy weight and has allowed the grass in their pasture to grow at a sustainable weight.
Of course, during the winter months, we provide more pellets, and in the spring when grass is growing at its fastest, we can reduce the amount of hay.
Understanding how many goats an acre of pasture can sustain is a good starting point. However, the size of goat, whether they are milking, the time of year, weather, and climate all play a large role in this calculation.
It is often important and required to supplement your goat's diet with hay, feed, and minerals to ensure their diet remains balanced. Especially if you have more goats that your pasture can support on its own. As a guideline, we have provided how we have fed our goats in this situation.
For any feedback or questions please leave a comment below.
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