Inadequacy of 160 Acres in the West
As discussed in Cattle in the Cold Desert, by James A Young and B. Abbott Sparks, published by Utah State University Press in 1985, the limitation on homesteads of 160 acres was inadequate for a Western ranching operation of the day:
"For example, a hypothetical ranch providing 1,250 pounds per acre of annual herbage shows why 160 acres is inadequate. This herbage is produced from April through August with 80 percent usable by grazing animals. Each cow needs twelve acres per year (1,250 lb. herbage production X ,8 forage utilization = 1 Animal Unit Month or "AUM" per acre x 12 months = 12 acres.) This gives the stocking capacity of thirteen cows per homestead, but a ranch could not run just thirteen cows. The herd must have a bull, and two replacement heifers; and, steers are not marketable until three years of age. With a 100 percent calf crop, the herd would consist of 4 cows (4 AUMs), 1 bull (1.5 AUMs), 2 replacement heifers (2 AUMs), and 2 three-year-old steers (2 AUMs), for a total of 13 animals. The two marketable steers have a value of $20.00 each after three years. So for the first three years of the five-year (homestead) requirement, there would be a return of $13.33 per year. This hypothetical homestead collapses, because the sagebrush/grasslands communities were not available for yearlong grazing. The 160-acre homestead was an economic and biological impossibility."
It was not until 1877 that the Desert Land Acts (Stat, 377 43 U.S.C. 321 et seq.) allowed settlers of arid western lands, such as California, to claim 640 acres of land. In other areas, the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 doubled the size of homesteads to 320 acres and in 1916, the Stockraising Homestead Act, (Statutes at Large, vol. 39, p.864,) increased the size of homesteads to 640 acres.