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Stocking density for outdoor cow areas

Quick facts

  • Physical space, bunk space and water space are all important factors for stocking density.
  • Overstocking can result in decreased cow comfort and productivity.
  • A windbreak is one of the most important things you can provide your cattle to help them stay comfortable.
  • Ideally, a bedded pack area should provide 100 square feet of space per cow.
  • Provide two linear feet of bunk space per cow for the best results.
  • Provide one to two linear inches of water space per cow.
  • Producers should use the most limited resource to determine the appropriate cow numbers.

What is stocking density?

Stocking density refers to the number of animals placed in a pen or other space compared to the calculated number of animals for the given environment.

  • For example, if a pen can hold 100 animals based on the space available and you fill that pen with 100 animals, the stocking density is 100%.
  • If you were to place 150 animals in that same space, now the pen is overstocked, and the stocking density is 150%.

Producers should strive for 100% stocking density in most situations as this balances cow comfort, productivity and economic stability.

Why is stocking density important?

When cattle are stocked appropriately in their living space, they are more comfortable and more productive. Appropriate stocking density:

  • Reduces stress.
  • Improves health and decreases illness.
  • Creates uniform body condition allowing for better nutritional decisions and control.
  • Decreases competition for resources among cattle.
  • Increases productivity, including average daily gain, milk yield, reproduction efficiency and feed efficiency.

What happens if stocking density is too high?

When cattle are overstocked, cow comfort and productivity could suffer. Overstocking can lead to:

  • Increased stress.
  • Increased competition for resources among cattle.
  • Increased health issues.
  • A wide range of body conditions making nutritional decisions for the group difficult.
  • Decreased productivity, including lower average daily gain, milk yield, reproduction efficiency and feed efficiency.

What factors influence cattle stocking density in an outdoor area?


How to determine stocking density

Appropriate stocking density is determined by three main factors - physical space, bunk space, and water space.

To provide the most comfortable and productive environment for cattle, producers have two options:

  1. Build facilities to match their desired cattle numbers, or
  2. Match the number of cattle to their most limiting factor.

Author: Joe Armstrong, DVM, Extension cattle specialist

Reviewed in 2021

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