If you’re going to raise livestock, knowing how you’re going to feed them is a critically important factor in design of your farm. Are you going to grow crops to feed your animals, are you going to grow crops to feed other animals? Can you graze your livestock, or do you need to buy feed? Many farms have enough acreage to grow field crops or to use as pasture. Whether to grow field crops or to use the land as pasture should depend on soil type as well as your farm goals.
Pasture for Horses or Livestock
Putting too many animals on too little land causes reduced productivity to both and can damage the health of the land in the long-term. As a general rule, if you’re in the Northeast, allow for about one acre of pasture for each 1000 lb. (or one “animal unit”) of cows, sheep, or goats for the growing season. If you would like to provide hay for your livestock’s winter feed needs also, include another acre of pasture per 1000 lbs. of animals. Because horses graze over a longer period each day (up to 20 hours), and because they trample a lot of forage in the process, it’s a very good idea to provide 2.5 acres per horse of grazing land during the growing season. To get help establishing a successful grazing system, contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District.
In combination with your soil type (which describes potential productivity of your soil as well as suitable crops) you can evaluate the type of forages/pasture you’d like to grow.
Cornell has developed a Forages Tool Selector, which allows you to input your soil type and your potential use (stored feed, pasture- with livestock type, or conservation). This tool can help you determine if you will be able to harvest the type and quantity of forage you need off of your land.
If you have time the whole Forages site has a lot of great forage crop information and links (including info on biofuels).
Small grains, soybeans, and corn growing information can be found at the Cornell Field Crops Guidelines web site. Each section starts out with a description of the soils suitable for the crop and basic prep information.
For more information about forages, pasture and small grains, contact your local Cooperative Extension office or your Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) or Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) office. Depending on where you’re located, one or more of these offices may have field staff who are able to come walk your land with you for free to help you evaluate your pasture and fields.
Knowing your soil type is very important, as there is a direct link between soil health, nutrition, drainage, and conditions and the quantity of a crop that is growing on it. If you don’t yet know the soil type for the land you’re considering farming, visit the section on Soil Types.