How Much Land Do You Need To Start A Dairy Farm?

By Dairy Farming Hut

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Are you planning on starting a dairy farm and wondering how much land is required to sustain your cows? We will explore this and more in this post.

To start a dairy farm, you need about 2 acres per cow and calf combination. This is the minimum amount required for the cattle to graze. Starting a dairy farm requires some calculations to ensure your cattle will have enough food throughout the year.

How much land do you really need? What other factors do you need to consider? Together we will explore these issues.

How Much Land do You Need to Become a Dairy Farmer?

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Though the minimum recommendation is 1.5 to 2 acres per dairy cow and calf combination, there are other factors to consider. The 1.5 to 2-acre minimum is just for grazing and food production for a cow and her calf in a 365 day year.

When planning your dairy farm, you need to consider these other components:

  • The number of cows you will have
  • The climate of your farm
  • How much fodder one acre of the land can yield in a year
  • How much land you will need for structures
  • Land for proper storage of animal waste

Climate Plays a Role

Climate plays a role in how much land you will require for your dairy farm. Some climates are better suited for growing fodder. Knowing how much food your land is capable of growing is an important aspect in determining how much land you will need.

According to Dairy Net, a high producing "dairy cow will eat 110 to 120 pounds of wet feed… or 50 to 55 pounds of dry matter(DM) daily."  Where your dairy farm is located will influence how much food you can grow per acre.

For example, Texas ranks highest in hay production, whereas California ranks 8th, Statista. This could be due to the human population as well as climate. Some areas of California may be better producing regions, such as coastal areas, but they are heavily populated.

This USDA hardiness zone map is interactive and can help you determine how much feed you will be able to grow per acre. In some places, you are able to make multiple cuttings per year; others may only get one or two cuttings per year.

How Many Cows Do You Plan on Having?

According to Agriculture, you will want half an acre of corn silage and one acre of hay per cow. These crops should be tested for nutrient content and nitrogen content when harvesting to ensure they are optimum for your animals. Healthy crops mean higher quality milk production.

Maintaining the quality of your soil is important too. You do not want to run too many cattle in an area to prevent overgrazing and soil degradation. Make sure enough acreage for your cattle to graze on wet feed throughout the year with crop rotation. Your other choice is to feed the animals dry matter for longer stretches of time.

You will lose some of the wet feed to trampling when allowing the cows to graze. Having extra space or fields where you can grow the feed for machine harvesting is essential.

Land for Buildings

Now that we have discussed the amount of land needed to feed the cows let's take a look at the land space required for structures. You will also need to decide how much land you will set aside for these buildings.

Covered Outdoor Areas and Freestall Barns

When in a stall, each cow will require enough space for them to

  • lay down
  • stretch 
  • rise

The floor areas should also be at an incline since cows like to lay with their head uphill. For cows weighing 1,300 to 1,500 pounds, they need a stall that is at least nine feet long by four feet wide. These stalls will be open on one end for the cows to come and go as they please. 

In the free stall barns, the cows must go to another area to eat.

Dairy Farm Guide recommends adult cows have

  • 11 feet of covered floor space
  • 7 feet of open floor space
  • 2.5 feet of feeding area
  • 2 feet area for watering

The Milking Barn

For the milking barn, you should plan on having 20 square feet per cow. This space should be increased if you will be rotating groups of cows within the building. Enough space is essential to prevent the cattle from overheating, especially during warmer months. It would be best if you also kept in mind space for expansion.

Hay storage

Hay and Forage recommend 10 square feet of space for each ton of square hay bales and up to 24 square feet for round hay bales. Another thing to keep in mind with the hay barn is how you will be storing the hay. You may need to keep stacks separate to allow it to breathe. If you are stacking round bales in pyramid stacks, you lose space as well.

Silage storage

Silage should be appropriately stored, wrapped, and tightly stored in silos to prevent rot and reduce waste. The size of your silo is based on dry matter. "Bins should not exceed half of the total volume of operation." A silo can be a tower or a horizontal structure. The tower-style silos can be up to 30 feet in diameter and 80 feet high, so you would need up to 706 square feet of land to build an upright silo. 

Equipment Storage

There is a lot of equipment you will require on your farm. You will want a storage area capable of holding and protecting this equipment from the elements. Here is the list of mechanical equipment needed on small to large dairy farms:

  • Tractor
  • Trailer
  • Loader
  • Green fodder cutter
  • Grinder for feed
  • Cooling system
  • Semen container and accessories
  • 40-liter milk cans
  • Generator
  • Ropes and Chains
  • Tagging equipment and more.

Measuring the actual equipment to be stored in the area is important in determining your equipment building size. Perdue shows example footprints of farm equipment stored to help figure out how much space you may need.

For example, you may need a floor space of 16 feet wide by 40 feet long for a tractor and trailer parked lengthwise. You could also store the tractor and trailer next to each other, and the required floor space would be 27 feet wide and 20 feet long.

Manure and Urine Bi-product Storage Area

The land will need to be set aside for bi-product management. According to NRCS, a 1,000-pound cow can generate 80 pounds of manure daily.  All of this manure and urine will need to be

  • Collected
  • Processed in a treatment area
  • Stored in solid and liquid storage areas
  • Transferred to land applications

There are different choices for the storage and processing of manure. It will depend on how many cows you have and the climate you are in as to what style you use. For Small dairy farms, daily collection and spreading the manure on the crops can be an easy way to deal with it. Larger operations use:

  • Dry pits
  • Slurry
  • Wet pits

They will need to be made in capacities to contain these by-products. Care in design should also be a significant factor in preventing groundwater contamination while reducing smell and health issues.

Housing for Farm Hands and You

Housing is a necessity for your family and any full-time workers you may employ on your farm. These buildings also require space and must be calculated into your plans.

An average three-bedroom two bath home is around 1400 square feet to almost 2,300 square feet, and a 1 bedroom apartment is just under 900 square feet. Depending on how many people you will have living on the property, human residence's footprint can also be quite large.

How Much Land You Need to Start a Dairy Farm

How much land you will need is subject to how large your operation will be. Just for feeding a single cow, you need at least 2 acres of land. Her shelter space must be at least 36 square feet. Milking parlors, equipment storage, and more take up ground space as well.

You will need different sized areas for cows that are:

  • Dry
  • Calving
  • Producing

There will be space taken up by living quarters for people and storage areas for food. If you have a small dairy farm of 40 cattle, plan on needing 80 acres in food. Determine the space needed for structures and other units and roads, then add this to your producing acreage

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