While nationally a major goal of most families is homeownership in Texas, ever increasingly that goal also included a little bit of rural land along with it. Certainly, the quiet “country life” and recreational opportunities of rural land are the driving factors for this. But once the goal of acquiring a few acres in the country is realized the challenge of what to do with it needs to be addressed. Rural landowners almost always want to maintain or obtain an ad valorem tax exemption, which is most often granted for agriculture use of the land.

AgriLife Extension’s state forage specialist, Larry Redmon, once described landownership in an article he wrote as a game of Five Card Stud; you have to play what you got. When you by a parcel of land you are acquiring a specific set of resources: soil, water, location, and climate. Your unique combination of these lends your land to be best suited to a particular production system.

The challenge is determining what that system is. After all, the most important concern of any landowner is good stewardship of the land. Finding that system that fits the land, rather than trying to manipulate the land to fit the system is the best way to achieve this.

However, for most the quiet “country life” and rural land ownership is paired with livestock ownership. Generally, there are three types of livestock enterprises that are suited for rural land tract sizes between 5 and 100 acres: Stocker Calves, Hair Sheep and Meat Goats. For livestock owners the highest priority has to be on forage production, and all three of these enterprises give the landowner more flexibility to manage his/her resources than cow/calf enterprise.

Because the priority has to be on forage production for a livestock operation, the most critical decision you may make is the appropriate stocking rate for your land. If grazing destroys forage growth, it is hard for an operation to be economically viable and an ad valorem tax exemption you may receive is literally eaten up in feed bills. Therefore, critically assessing your land production potential and the forage demand for the class and species of livestock you wish to stock is essential.

An animal unit (1-1,000 pound cow) consumes 26 pounds of forage daily. Therefore, we need to determine how much forage we can produce on the parcel in question. Resources like Web Soil Survey, which can be found through a quick internet search, can help determine the potential rangeland productivity of your track of land. Once we have an idea of production potential for a given area, we can adjust that amount of forage by multiplying it by 25%, which is the harvest efficiency required to leave adequate stubble in the pastures for forage regrowth. This number divided by 26 will give us an idea of the carrying capacity in animal units of a particular parcel of land. Carrying capacity is the maximum long-term, sustainable stocking rate that will not have detrimental effect on the land resource. Animal units can then be adjusted to the class and species of livestock a landowner wishes to stock the land with. Periodic evaluation of your land over time will allow you to adjust stocking rates according to conditions and keep them in line with your lands carrying capacity.

It is not likely that a landowner will enjoy huge profits on acreage of this size, these practices should allow the landowner to be engaged in a sustainable agriculture enterprise that meets the goals of a quiet “country lifestyle” and an ad valorem tax exemption while maintaining and/or improving the land resources they are stewards of.