Leasing pastures for grazing beef cattle

submitted by Sara Berges, Allamakee SWCD

It can be difficult for landowners to determine a pasture rental rate and lease terms.  The most basic pasture arrangement is a conventional rental agreement which establishes either a price per acre or a monthly rate based on the number of grazing units.  It is important to establish which party is responsible for specific input costs such as fertilizer and fence repair and who will determine when the cattle need to be removed based on stubble height.  Other considerations include access to water, length of the grazing season, and the soil types.  Weed management greatly affects the quality of the pasture as many weed species (such as thistles and multiflora rose) proliferate if not managed and can quickly take over a pasture.  More management intensive systems like rotational grazing have greater input costs, but allow the producer to better utilize the pasture acres. 

Another consideration is the type of pasture seeding.  Is it an unimproved bluegrass pasture or has it been “improved” with different grass species and legumes?   A more diverse pasture seeding increases the likelihood that there will be something growing more days of the year and is usually more productive.  This also provides a more nutritionally balanced diet.  Legumes fix nitrogen, which helps to improve the overall pasture growth.

Other types of agreements include resource sharing, contract grazing, and animal performance-based.  These agreements are more complex than a basic grazing agreement.  Resource sharing agreements often involve young or beginning farmers who want to trade “sweat equity” for capital access and set up a cow-calf share agreement which identifies what the cow owner, landowner, and operator are contributing.

This system involves detailed record keeping.  In contract grazing arrangements, there is a livestock owner and caretaker (who may or may not also be the landowner).  In these arrangements, there is typically a rate per animal unit month (AUM) or per head per day.  Locally, this system may be used by caretakers who set up managed intensive rotational grazing (mob grazing) systems.  Lastly, rent can be based on animal performance, or rate of gain per day or per grazing season.

Information about setting pasture rental rates can be found on ISU Extensions Ag Decision Maker website in file C2-23 “Computing a Pasture Rental Rate” and File C2-10 “Cash Rental Rates for Iowa 2017 Survey” and the Iowa Beef Center publication IBC 0119 “Pasture and Grazing Arrangements for Beef Cattle”.