Landscaping for Livestock - Chickens, Cows, and Goats, OH MY!

Do you want to keep livestock on your property? You may be surprised how much land you need to support different types of animals. There are a variety of factors that will influence how you landscape for livestock.

What to Know to Balance Animals and Land

If you want to have a small flock of backyard chickens, you’ll need less land for them than you need for a herd of cows. Here’s what you need to know to provide enough space to have happy animals on your property.

How Much Space Do Chickens Need?

Chickens will be happy with as much space as you can give them, but plan for at least 10 square feet of space per chicken in the yard. Also, your chickens should have at least a foot of roosting space in the coop so they can comfortably retire when the sun goes down.


Your coop should not only provide adequate roosting space, but indoor space to roam if the hens want to stay sheltered from inclement weather. The inside of your coop should offer at least three square feet of space per chicken. Keep in mind that this minimum is only if your chickens also have regular access to more space outside the coop.


FACTORS TO CONSIDER

Before you erect a coop and fence off outdoor space for your chickens, consider the following factors:


  • Size of chickens

  • Ratio of indoor to outdoor space

  • Ratio of warm days to cold


Once you’ve determined how much space to give your chickens, be sure you provide them with the right environment to be happy in their designated run.


What Kind of Yard You Need for Chickens

Chickens need to be able to peck and dig at the ground. You can give them bare dirt in their run, or sprinkle a loose layer of wood chips, grass clippings, or straw for them to scratch through. Chickens love a good dust bath, so providing them with easy access to the dirt is important. 


Your pastures should also have permanent fencing - if you're needing access to the field on a regular basis, consider cattle guards to prevent them from moving outside a desired area. These can also be useful if you're moving them between pastures frequently, covering over the cattle guards when they need to move but using them as normal when they need to stay put. Within their enclosed space it is important to provide the cows with some form of mental stimulation. Cows like to play with balls and piles of hay, and they love a good scratching post. When it comes to drinking water, access to a stream is okay, but it’s not ideal. The cows can disrupt the ecosystem by depleting the stream of water if it’s their only source of refreshment. Be sure you're providing water troughs to your herd.

Your chicks also need fresh water, which will need to be heated in the winter to keep it from freezing. 


Plants That Are Toxic to Chickens

Keep your hens healthy by keeping them away from toxic plants. Since chickens are foragers, their runs should be free from anything potentially harmful. The following list isn’t comprehensive; be sure to identify all the plants near your coop to check whether or not they’re toxic to chickens.


  • Amaryllis

  • Azaleas

  • Daffodils

  • Castor Bean

  • Foxglove

  • Jimsonweed

  • Lily of the Valley

  • Monkshood

  • Morning Glory

  • Mountain Laurel

  • Nicotiana

  • Nightshade

  • Rhododendron

  • Tansy

  • Tulip

  • Yew

How Much Space Do Cows Need?

Like chickens, cows need access to both indoor and outdoor spaces to be happy and healthy. They need shelter from inclement weather, so your barn should be able to accommodate your herd with at least 80 square feet per cow. Outside, aim for about two acres of land per cow, depending on its size. If you have a cow with a calf, the duo will need at least two acres to themselves to be happily fed.


FACTORS TO CONSIDER

You’ll need to rotate where your cows graze to keep them from completely mowing down a pasture. A good rule of thumb is to keep your cow on a single acre for no longer than 50 days at a time. After that, she should be moved to a new pasture. If you have 50 cows, however, that single acre is only good for a single day before all 50 need to be moved elsewhere to graze.


Essentially, the more cows you have, the more acreage you need. If you can’t provide two acres per cow, you’ll need to supplement their diet with hay and grain. Bear Lake Beef in Northern Utah feeds their herd grain to enhance its marbling, so if you’re raising cattle for beef, it’s a good way to go for better flavor.


What Kind of Yard You Need for Cows

To ensure your cows are getting the nutrients they need from grazing, it’s important to take a soil sample. This will help you determine what fertilizer if any, you need to add to your pastures. You can also add nutrients to your cows’ diet with the following plants in your fields:


  • Cowpeas

  • Crimson Clover

  • Hairy Vetch


Your pastures should also have permanent fencing and mental stimulation. Cows like to play with balls and piles of hay, and they love a good scratching post. When it comes to drinking water, access to a stream is okay, but it’s not ideal. The cows can disrupt the ecosystem by depleting the stream of water if it’s their only source of refreshment. Be sure you're providing water troughs to your herd.


Plants That Are Toxic to Cows

Before you let the cows roam, be sure there aren’t any toxic plants in the pasture. Some plants that are toxic to cattle include:


  • Black Cherry

  • Bracken Fern

  • Buttercups

  • Death Camas

  • Hemlock

  • Jimsonweed

  • Larkspur

  • Lupine

  • Milkweed

  • Mustard

  • Nightshade

  • Pokeweed

  • Soapwort


Familiarize yourself with your landscape so you can properly clear it if need be.

How Much Space Do Goats Need?

Goats are great not only for milking but for mowing down weeds and overgrowth in your yard. Each goat needs about 250 square feet of space outside, but goats do better in pairs, so double that to keep them happy. Goats also need shelter from the elements, so give each goat about 20 square feet inside a barn or lean-to.


FACTORS TO CONSIDER

Goats don’t graze the same way cows do; instead, they investigate and browse their pastures for things to eat. Don’t expect goats to methodically eat grass in your yard to keep it level. They’re more prone to meandering and they prefer alfalfa hay to grass. Since they love variety, if the pasture they’re in has a good mix of grass and other vegetation (weeds) you may not need to provide them with as much alfalfa.


What Kind of Yard You Need for Goats

Variety is the spice of life for people as well as goats. They want a variety of vegetation to nibble, as well as things to keep them entertained. Goats love to play, and need structures for jumping, climbing, and hiding. You could have a landscaping company haul in and place boulders for you, or you could use household items such as barrels, tires, and plywood to create obstacles for your herd.


Goats are clever, so they’re prone to escaping their pens. A sturdy fence with locked gates is imperative for keeping them safely contained. However, you also want a fence that can be moved around your property so the goats have access to fresh vegetation with the alfalfa you supply to them.


Like cows, your goats need plenty of free water. Provide troughs even if there is water running through your property.


Plants That Are Toxic to Goats

Thankfully, goats are naturally wary of toxic plants. However, it’s not a guarantee that they’ll avoid potentially poisonous plants. Keep the following out of reach of your goats:


  • Azalea

  • Bracken Fern

  • China Berries

  • Curly Doc

  • Dog Fennel

  • Eastern Baccharis

  • Honeysuckle

  • Nightshade

  • Pokeweed

  • Virginia Creeper


Whether you’re just getting started with a hobby farm, or are looking to expand, you probably need more space than you think you need. Always err on the side of caution and provide your livestock with as much room to roam as possible. This will ensure they’re happy and healthy.

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