How Much Land Do I Need For One Dairy Cow?

Sustaining 1 dairy cow typically requires 2 to 5 acres of land, but it does depend on location and what kind of pasture you have. Mild climates require more space as cows are on pasture year-round, while cold conditions will see them heading inside to eat hay and require just 1 acre.

This article will help you discover if you have enough space to raise a family dairy cow.

How Much Land Is Optimal

Outdoor Space

Cows need access to grazing land or pasture and an indoor area like a barn. To feed your cows hay or silage is fine, but to be genuinely contented and at ease, they need to be outside in the open air, eating grass and lying down, chewing the cud.

Opinions are widely divided on how much land a single dairy cow requires. Some say 1 acre should be enough to allow one to two cows to thrive, while others claim one cow should have access to at least 2 acres.

Acres AvailableMaximum Number of Cows
21
2010
5025
10050
These are bare minimums. 50 cows on 100 acres is considered quite dense!

2 acres may seem a little excessive, but a grass-eating machine like a cow can quickly chew its way through an acre of pasture with little or no effort! This voracious appetite means you’ll need supplementary feed, such as hay or grain, to keep them well-fed.

Feed requirements will increase if your cow is with-calf, and the necessary space will be an absolute minimum of 2 acres.

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Indoor Space

Although the cow should spend the vast majority of its life outside, having the option to take shelter is vital. Cattle are naturally pretty hardy, but they are still susceptible to illness and decreased physical condition when exposed to the cold, wind, and rain. Extreme heat can also have detrimental effects, as can blazing sunshine as lighter-colored cows do suffer from sunburn.

Trees can provide some temporary shelter, but cows will need access to a covered building that is draft-free and dry.

A simple barn would be the best option for your animal. Cows don’t need much more than four walls, a wide open door and a roof, with space for laying and loafing. Aim for least 80 square feet per animal.

A cow’s indoor needs are basic, with a feed bin, a water trough, and an area with something comfortable to lie on being generally enough to keep them satisfied. A recently calved mother and her offspring should be kept inside away from the elements for a while.

Multiple Pastures

If you are lucky enough to own over 2 acres of grazing land, consider rotational grazing on your farm. Rotational grazing uses 2 or more areas of pasture in an alternate cycle, allowing one to be used for feeding and the others to lay unused. The unused fields can recover and the grass regrows.

You measure rotational grazing in cow-days-per-acre, meaning how many days the cow is on the acre of land before you move them.

Most people calculate a cow should spend 50 days on a single acre of land before transfer:

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# CowsLand SizeDays on Pasture
11 Acre50
51 Acre10
251 Acre2
110 Acres500
510 Acres100
2510 Acres20*
*Figures are not absolute. With some cattle, 25 head may finish off 10 acres in just 1 week!

Is a Large Property Necessary to Raise Cows?

While a minimum of 2 acres is, in theory, necessary to raise a cow, plenty of dairy farmers keep small herds (4 to 5 cows) on under 10 acres of land. That acreage does not contain enough grass to sustain a group of that size, and the farmers must provide supplementary food like hay or grain to compensate for the reduced grazing area.

For 1-cow farms, 2 acres is more than enough to keep them happy, but keep an eye on the grass in the pasture. Some cows will eat less than others, so if you’ve got one with a large appetite and the grass disappears more quickly than it’s replaced, you will need to consider supplementary feed.

While your barn should be functional yet comfortable with a soft bedding area hay for the cow to lie on when necessary, it should never be a direct replacement for open pasture. Cows thrive eating grass in the open air, which should always be their primary environment.

Extra Supplies You’ll Need

Water Supply

Cows will drink a staggering 17 to 26 gallons of water a day:

# CowsGal/DayGallons NeededLiters/DayLiters Needed
117177777
5178577385
2517425771925
12626118188
526130118590
25266501183068
That’s 10x more than us humans drink!

If your farm does not contain a lake or pond, you will need one of the following:

  • Bore water with pipe, pump, and trough system
  • Rainwater tanks with trough
  • Access to a river or creek
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If you are relying on a groundwater source, ensure there is a flow of water in and out of the pond to prevent stagnation and the consequent attraction of mosquitoes.

A cow consumes most of its daily water requirement within 90 minutes of being milked, so your trough needs to be capable of providing these incredible volumes.

The Correct Pump and Pipe Size

Choose the correct pump and pipe size to satisfy a cow’s water demands by looping the pipes so the water doesn’t just travel in one direction. This increases the flow of water by up to 50 percent through an increase in pressure and a much steadier flow rate.

Troughs should sit on concrete or gravel, placed along the boundary of two fields if you have them, so you’ll only need 1 trough to service 2 pastures. Choose fast-flow valves rather than the ball cock variety as they maintain the same flow rate when filling the trough.

Gates and Fences

Fields should have two gateways or cattle grids if possible to avoid the overuse of one in wet weather. Gravel or concrete may be advisable around the gates in areas with poor drainage.

Tailor your fence capabilities to the characteristics of the cow in the field. Overestimate rather than underestimate the fencing, always allowing for the worst-case scenario such as storms and high winds.

Adam

Adam has always had a fascination with farmyard animals, no doubt sparked by the farm in Devon he used to visit every summer when he was a young pup. He became close friends with the farmer’s children, two of which were about his age, and they allowed him to help out with cattle milking, herding and tagging. Being a fondly magical experience, he recently jumped at the opportunity to help the team at Cow Care Taker.

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