Envisioning 5,000 Cows

My recent post about our vision has sparked some interesting discussions with friends and family. Among them is just the pure logistics involved in managing a herd of that size. It has been a fun discussion but we have come up with few answers. Just guesses. Estimations. You should play the exciting copy of our home game! All the fun of farming in the comfort of your dining room…no manure required!

Let’s say we have 5,000 cows. Wouldn’t that be nice? We would need between 250 and 400 bulls to keep things moving but we would only need those bulls for 2 months. I guess the rest of the year they are being pastured off-site. Or maybe we keep the bulls in with the cows over the winter and separate them at spring greenup, selling pregnant cows that don’t calve by a certain date. Maybe we AI a selected group of cows and heifers but the bulls are still out there for cleanup.


5,000 cows would require 5,000-ish acres where we live. Nearly 1,700 acres would be stockpiled in rotation each year. Each day I would open up a 20-50 acre pasture for grazing, even if a little at a time to increase herd pressure and movement. There would be no housing. No shelter. If the soil gets wet we’ll just have to move them faster and deal with the pugging.

Each summer we would cull 10% of our cows because they were open or bred late in the season. That would leave us with 4,500 calves. Now we have 2,250 steers to fatten over two years and 2,250 heifers to raise for two years. Let’s go back to the steers. We would have 2,250 bull calves to castrate. That sounds like a long day of working cattle. And it’s a mere 24 semi-loads of calves if we sell the calves or raise them on another farm.

And we might want to raise the heifers on another farm. Or raise them on another farm with the steers. Good heavens! Another farm! Maybe we should back off on our cow numbers and raise everything together in one mob. But for sake of discussion, stick with me on the idea of 5,000 cows.

All of that indicates I need to reserve a portion of my 5,000 acre cow/calf land for handling facilities.

Back to the heifers. I need to reserve 500 heifers as replacements each year as well as…what? 50? bull calves? So that lowers my sale numbers…except those are replacements. I’ll have 50 bulls to sell, most of which would still be viable bulls, just not as good as the replacements I raised. Oh, sure, some will be lame, injured or sterile but over time I should be selecting increasingly hardy animals. So. 5,000 cows. 5,000 calves. 500 heifers. 50 bull calves. That’s a lot of beef.

I know a lot of operations work at this scale but the numbers involved are far beyond my own comprehension. When we talk I can see the wheels turning in dad’s mind. 5,000 cows. What would it look like? It’s fun to talk about but I want to see it. I mean, if this is a mere 1,000 cows…

Now, let’s really have some fun with this. Jim Elizondo says you should have equal weights of sheep and cows…meaning 4-6 sheep per cow. So that would back us off to 2,500 cows and include 10,000+ hair sheep (cause we ain’t shearing!). Good golly the fencing we would need for that! And the dogs!

Then we want to clean up after the cows with a flock of birds. A flock of birds that can cover 20-50 acres. What is that? 10,000 chickens? 20,000 chickens? How much feed would I go through each day? How would I deliver it? How would I sell that many eggs? Could I even get a license to keep that many birds? Who is going to collect all those eggs?!?!?

gathering eggs

I have no idea.

I also can’t tell you what I would do with 20,000 -40,000 lambs each year. And I can’t tell you how I would sell that many cows.

Those are problems we would have to grow into. Thank goodness I can’t just go out and buy the land and livestock tomorrow. It is too big of a problem for me to solve at once. This is a problem for generations of us to solve together over the span of several decades.

8 thoughts on “Envisioning 5,000 Cows

  1. Yes, interesting exercise. 93.75 cows per semi load?

    And you get to it toward the end but, I think equally or more interesting is envisioning 5,000 people that would like to eat beef from our farm, in fact, preferentially to anything else – because they see the farm, they know us, they live next to us, and they like us…

    Perhaps this is a more difficult exercise because we live in the sticks and most people aren’t well heeled, they’re going for the lowest price.

    • Pretty much. If we can haul 48,000 pounds of beef in a truck and the calves wean around 500 pounds.

      Right. We discussed that too but I really didn’t include it. If I raise 5,000 calves to market each year that provides…you know…basically the beef for a family for a year. How many families are in the greater St. Louis area? 5,000 is just a drop in the bucket. The numbers involved here are far beyond my level of comprehension.

      But that’s the market. And that’s how it should be. We have a lot of land out here. Cows have legs. We should, from a sustainable perspective, be raising the beef, walking it to town and hauling out biosolids and waste from the city to fertilize our pastures. Check out the book Just Enough by Azby Brown for a historical model of this idea.

  2. What an adorable little angel collecting the eggs. Your what if’s are staggering. I am trying to figure out how to pasture and care for 6 sheep and 50 chickens……. And sometimes that seems daunting. Perhaps if I was younger, smarter, stronger and male it would be an easy task.

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