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Rental rates for pasturing cattle and sheep vary depending on animal size or weight, condition of pasture, work done by each party and lease length. On years when forage is plentiful, rates run lower than average. Some years, when forage is short, they run higher.
It is difficult to get exact prices on rental rates, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service conducts annual surveys of livestock producers by state, region and county to get data on what they pay for pasture.
Most pasture forage will not be available year-round. Take this into account when comparing rates (dollars per acre on an annual basis or dollars per month per animal) among these tables.
AU (animal unit): An AU is equivalent to a 1,000-pound cow, five large sheep or seven smaller sheep; 500-pound feeder calves are 0.5 AU; and 750-pound feeder calves are 0.75 AU. Weaned lambs are seven lambs per AU.
Cow-calf pair: A cow-calf pair is charged only for the cow if the calf is less than 3 months old. Calves over 3 months old start eating a significant amount of forage. Lambs are not charged extra as long as they are with their dams.
Rental rates listed in the survey are from cattle data, not sheep.
Once you determine the average rental rate for your area, you can adjust your pasture rent on factors that either increase or decrease the actual rate for your pasture. Pasture conditions can vary, and forage quantity and quality are both parts of the condition. Good pasture conditions are where water is readily available to the animals, and there is a good system of cross-fencing so pastures can be rotationally grazed.
Good forage quantity is a condition where there is a readily available amount of plant material of proper height and spacing for grazing:
Low-quantity forage conditions occur when overgrazing has led to short plant height (less than 2 inches) and forage plants are sparse in the field because of bare ground, or because weeds are prevalent.
High-quality forage is high in protein and energy and is easily digested by the animals. High-quality forage is actively growing, lush forage. Forage is in a vegetative phase of growth and has lot of green, leafy material.
Low-quality forage is slow-growing, dry forage. It is in a reproductive phase of growth, has mature seed heads, and contains a lot of stems compared with leaves. It is low in protein and energy, and is not very digestible — like straw. Low-quality forage limits animal performance (calving rate or weight gains).
It should cost less to rent pastures for grazing than to purchase and feed hay of similar quality.
Other factors that influence rental rates include the amount of work each party does. Work includes fence repair, moving irrigation lines, fertilizing fields and rotating animals about the different pastures.
Another factor is the length of the lease. Short-term leases are for one, or part of one, grazing season and are on a monthly basis. Long-term leases are two or more years.
You need to figure out the stocking rate on the pastures and the number of animal units you would have for that time period.
An additional factor to consider is ease of pasture use. For example, if the gate to the pasture where the animals are now were adjacent to the pasture for rent, it would be easy to get the cattle back and forth. You wouldn't have to truck cattle into the new pasture.