Ask the Expert: Horses per Acre of Pastures

Question: We’ve finally purchased a horse property! It’s 7 acres with about 5 acres in pasture. We have 2 horses, but are looking to expand our herd. However, we do not want more horses than what our pasture can hold since we do not want to feed hay (or much hay) during the summer. How many horses can our pasture support? 

Response: Congratulations on purchasing a horse property! The answer to your question is, “it depends”. In general, 2 acres per one 1,000-pound horse is recommended if owners expect the pastures to provide most of the horse’s nutrition during the growing season. However, this is highly variable and depends on several factors including geographical location, soil type, rainfall, and management. Although location, soil type, and rainfall are mostly out of an owners control, management can be controlled and includes mowing, fertilizing, controlling weeds, resting (e.g. avoiding over-grazing), and dragging; all recommended best practices for horse pasture management.

Your 5 acres of pasture should be able to feed 2.5 1,000-pound horses during the summer grazing season. If your farm is on sandy soil, there is a drought, or you choose not to do any pasture management (e.g. mowing, fertilizing, weed control, resting, and dragging), then 5 acres might not be enough for your two horses and hay supplementation would be needed. On the other hand, if your farm has heavier soil, there is good rainfall, and you practice good pasture management, then your pasture should be able to support your two horses, and maybe one more, during the summer grazing season. For more information on pasture management, click here

Author: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. Photo credit: Michelle DeBoer, PhD, UW-River Falls.