Having the correct number of livestock on a given area of land is critical to sustainable land management.
Too many animals on a small area of land can expose the soil to wind erosion, water erosion, pugging and compaction; all of which reduce the soil’s ability to produce vigorous, healthy and resilient pastures.
The optimum number of livestock that can be grazed during a season varies depending on on-farm and external factors. These must be regularly assessed so livestock feed requirements are met.
A standard method has been developed as a guide to help property owners to calculate current grazing pressure, and approximately how many animals a property can support.
A Dry Sheep Equivalent (DSE) is the unit against which other farm animals are compared.
Calculating your total DSEs
Divide your animals into their class, assign a DSE value and calculate the total DSEs.
The table below compares different classes of livestock to a standard DSE. For example, it shows that a fallow dry female deer will consume 1.5 times more feed than a dry sheep.
Type of livestock
Alpacas (based on 65 kg animal)
|Fallow dry female or castrate||1.5||67|
|Fallow breeding deer and fawn||2.2||45|
|Red dry female or castrate||2.1||48|
|Red breeding female hind||3.0||33|
|Dry milk or meat goat||1.5||67|
|Milk or meat goat - lactating||3.0||33|
Dry sheep - wether, ewe, hogget score - condition 2
Dry sheep - wether, ewe, hogget - fattening
|Dry cow steer 350-450 kg||8-10|
|Fattening cattle 20-32 months||9-12|
|Cow with calf at foot - up to 8 months||13-16|
|Bulls - 100 kg||16|
|Mare with foal||16|
Calculating current stocking rate
Stocking rate OR DSE / hectare = Total DSE’s ÷ Total grazing hectares
Example: 365.5 DSE ÷ 40 hectares = 9.0 DSE/ha
The stocking rate in the example property is 9.0 DSE/ha
Calculating property carrying capacity
Once you have calculated the current stocking rate in DSE, the next step is to determine the stock carrying capacity for your property. This is a measure of how many stock the property can sustainably support.
When calculating the carrying capacity of a property, you need to consider a range of on-farm and external factors, including:
- Location, topography, and size of the property
- Type of stock and stage of life
- Pasture mix, annual or perennial based
- Pasture health and composition
- Supplementary feeding volumes and quality
- Agistment of stock to other properties
- The nutrient status, physical condition and biological health of the soil
- Rainfall, temperature, frost and evapotranspiration rates
- Seasonal conditions and weather trends.
Seek specialist advice from a qualified local agronomist or farm management consultant to determine the correct carrying capacity for your property. You will also need to be mindful that carrying capacity can change depending on the time of year.
We have developed a range of factsheets about grazing livestock in the Mount Lofty Ranges to assist you with good land management. See the related links below.
- Grazing livestock in the Mount Lofty Ranges – overview (fact sheet)
- Grazing livestock in the MLR - preventing soil erosion (fact sheet)
- Grazing livestock in the MLR – property planning (fact sheet)
- Grazing livestock in the MLR – water (fact sheet)
- Grazing livestock in the MLR – pasture and grazing management (fact sheet)