Many factors go into deciding the amount of acreage required per horse. In general, 1 to 3 acres per foraging horse is ideal, but the land must be well-maintained. If the horse lives in a stall barn and receives hey, feed and supplements, 1/10th of an acre per horse is minimal.
How Many Horses Can I Put Per Acre?
A general rule of thumb states that 1-1/2 to 2 acres of open land per horse is best and that 2 well-managed acres per horse will provide enough pasture. But this assumes you have access to good quality, well-maintained land.
The number of horses any given land will adequately support will depend on your location, the type of land you have, and how well you can manage that land.
The following chart will give you some idea of how much land you will require depending on the number of horses you wish to keep. These are estimates only based on recommendations from the Equine Science department of Iowa State University.
|No. of Horses||Excellent pastureland||Average Pastureland||Poor Pastureland|
|1||1 – 2 acres||2 – 2.5 acres||3 + acres|
|2||2 – 4 acres||2 – 5 acres||6 + acres|
|5||5 – 10 acres||10 – 12.5 acres||15 + acres|
|10||10 – 20 acres||20 – 25 acres||30 + acres|
|20||20 – 40 acres||40 – 50 acres||60 + acres|
- ‘Excellent pastureland’ refers to well-managed land with dense sod and permanent year-round pasture production. This type of land will require 1 to 2 acres per horse.
- ‘Average pastureland’ refers to pasture that may be somewhat managed with decent spring growth and moderate summer growth. This type of land will require 2 to 2.5 acres per horse.
- ‘Poor pastureland’ refers to pastures with thin, poor quality sod that is not well-managed. Under these circumstances, the horse will most likely require supplemental forage. This type of land will need 3 or possibly more acres per horse.
Always make sure you check your local laws and livestock ordinances. There may be specific requirements regarding how many horses you can keep per acre and land type in your area.
What Is A ‘Stocking Rate’?
Stocking rate is a term used by owners of livestock to refer to the relationship between the size of available foraging resources and the number of animals. For horses, this means the number allowed to graze on a unite of land for a given amount of time.
There has been little official research done on the ideal acreage per horse. But optimizing the stocking rate will allow you to make the most of your pastures and provide the most amount of nutrition to your horses.
One important rule is clear, however: a smaller acreage of well-maintained pasture will provide more forage than a more extensive, weed-filled, overgrazed pasture.
Deciding on how many horses per acre you can keep depends on many factors, including the following:
- The use of the horses
- Grazing behavior
- The lands ability to support each horse
- Pasture management
- Seasonal weather patterns and climate
- Stormwater regulations
- Local zoning laws
Horses are known to be ‘problematic grazers.’ They are notorious for being destructive to pastures.
A horse’s grazing habits mean they will develop preferences for certain plants and selectively graze on what they like before moving on to other plants. This not only causes depletion of those species, but it can cause bare spots and soil erosion. This is one reason barns that rely on turnout for a large portion of their horses’ nutritional needs will need more acreage than barns that do not.
How you manage your pasture is an essential part of determining the stocking rate. As we learned above, horses are ‘problematic grazers,’ so overgrazing is often the number one problem.
Periodically resting your pasture from gazing will allow it to recuperate and the plants to re-establish. This is called rotational grazing. Weed control, fertilization, and mowing will also help reduce the spread of weeds and eliminate roughs and lawns.
The pasture forage you choose should easily thrive in your region. No single plant species will meet all of the criteria needed to take care of high stocking rates, so if you have many horses, a combination of multiple grass species and legumes is best.
Climate And Weather
Climate, weather, and land irrigation have a lot to do with the availability of forage and impact your horse’s acreage requirements.
For example, in the U.S.’s eastern regions, a horse would be served well by 2 well-managed acres.
But in the South, Midwest, and Western regions of the U.S., anywhere between 2 to 10 acres will be required to support a horse’s forage needs.
In dryland regions with no irrigation, you might be looking at 30 to 40 acres per horse just to meet its total foraging needs.
Non-grazing lots, such as paddocks used for exercise, dry lots, stress lots, or sacrifice lots, can be smaller and allow for a higher stocking rate. Horses will not be foraging in these areas, so the above rules do not apply here.
Per horse, about 400 square feet is minimal for a dry lot, but more is desirable.
Horses That Live In Stall Barns
Some barns keep their horses stalled unless the horse is out exercising. These horses can fit into a land area a fraction of the size required by those that require foraging. However, their nutritional needs will need to be provided primarily through feed, hay, and supplements.
The minimal amount of land needed for an exercise lot per horse is approximately one-tenth of an acre. That’s about 4,500 feet square.
The Equine Land Conservation Resource recommends that stable owners consider a few things when deciding how much land your horse or horses might need.
What the owners plan on doing with the horses is the number one consideration. A second consideration is pasture management. That means what the pasture rotation system will look like, how manure will be managed, and whether or not buffer zones are needed to protect ponds and streams.
As you can see, deciding on the appropriate acreage per horse is a complicated business. Not only is it determined by the horse and its eating habits, but you’ll have to consider the horse’s impact on the land itself. How you will manage that land to produce the most optimized pastureland for your horses is a delicate balance that will require a lot of research and work.