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Understanding the livestock carrying capacity for your Property


How many Dexter cattle can I run on my place?  This is one of those “how long is apiece of string” questions that pop up regularly when manning the stand at field days and farming Expos. It is not generally a question that can be answered on the spot without some information about the property.


The way in which stocking rates are determined is by using an industry standard measure known as DSE or Dry Sheep Equivalent. This works by assessing what type of pasture you have and determining what the DSE stocking rate is for that particular area and pasture type. Your local Department of Primary Industries or Livestock Agent will be able to assist you in determining the DSE rate for your property.



So what has a dry sheep got to do with cows? Well nothing really, it is simply a unit of feed requirement. To give you an idea, a British bred cow such as an Angus,  that weighs 400kg, is not feeding a calf and is not being fattened has a DSE of between seven (7) and eight (8). What that means is that cow needs the equivalent amount of feed per day as seven (7) or eight (8) dry sheep.


If your land has been assessed at having a DSE of eight (8) that means you can run eight (8) dry sheep per acre or one 400kg dry Angus store cow or steer. But if that cow has a three month old calf at foot she will need up to 18 DSE so you could then only run one cow and calf for every 2.2 acres or one per hectare in rough figures. Using those weights as a rough guide you can run 100kg of lactating cow for every 4.5 DSE.


Dexter cattle generally weigh less than an Angus and a fair estimate, to be on the safe side, would be to say a Dexter needs around 75 percent of what the average Angus cow would need.  That of course is in rough terms and many Dexters would weigh even less. Dexter Cattle are known to be exceptional feed converters so their requirements may be less again.


In the absence of an official DSE for Dexter cattle, and to err on the side of caution, working on a Dexter requiring 65-75 percent of the requirements of an Angus will help you work out what your property can feed over the course of a year.


So in answer to the question, you need to find out what the DSE is for your land. Use a safe rule of thumb by estimating your Dexter cattle would require 75 percent of that which is recommended for standard British bred cattle. Remember there is a big difference between the requirements of dry cows or steers, pregnant cows and cows feeding calves.


Always stock for the worst time of year and allow room for growth. There will be time when you may be running three times the number of breeding cows with weaned yearlings and new calves at foot. Check with your local government department or stock agent for advice on stocking rates and feed requirements in your area.


Dexter cattle are renowned for being good doers that thrive well on a range of pastures and are talented foragers.


That having been said, it does not mean they will just do well in overstocked, over grazed paddocks.  Understanding the needs of cattle in general is a good starting point when setting up your property for livestock.


The type and volume of pasture you have on your place will determine the stocking rates for Dexter cattle or any other livestock.


Small holdings generally have a limited number of paddocks which are often in use constantly. This may alter the productivity of the land and subsequently, the stocking rates. Calculations for stocking rates need to take into account any other animals sharing the space including the kids’ pony and any wild visitors such as kangaroos.


Knowing the DSE of your property and the DSE requirements for the different types of livestock will assist you in managing your property.


Information about DSE stocking rates and the requirements of different breeds is available through most government agricultural departments. These differ in each state so contact links to relevant departments and agencies in each state have been provided to help you find the information you need.


Ref: Weights and DSE for Angus cattle used in this article were obtained from

Photo: (top) By Gill King - Granite Ridge -Vic. (Bottom) By Gillian Vernon - Damolock Dexters. WA

Written by: Roz Michelini


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