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, it runs higher.
It is difficult to get exact prices on rental rates, but the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service conducts annual surveys of livestock producers by state, region, and county to get data on what they pay for pasture.
- Go to the NASS Oregon Field Office website
- Select the latest "Annual Statistical Bulletin"
- Look on the Table of Contents (page 2) under PRICES
- Data are usually, but not always, listed two ways
- Grazing Fee Rates for Cattle (Animal Unit, Cow-calf pair, or per head) are on a monthly basis ($/animal/mo) by State and Grazing Region
- Cash Rent Expenses per Acre by County is on an annual basis for Cropland and Pasture ($/acre/year)
Remember, in most pastures 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.
Cattle & Sheep Defined
AU (animal unit) - An AU is equivalent to a 1,000-lb cow or 5 large sheep or 7 smaller sheep; A larger cow would be more (1,200 lb cow = 1.2 AU); 500 lb feeder calves are 0.5 AU; 750 lb feeder calves are 0.75 AU. Weaned lambs are 7 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.
Adjusting Rates for Your Situation
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 part 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 described as a condition where there is readily available amount material for grazing (proper plant height and plant spacing). The height of the forage is maintained between 3 and 10 inches during the pasture season. Cattle are let in at the 10-inch height and moved out of the pasture at the 3-inch height so that animal performance is not limited by amount of feed available. That is, they do not have to work hard to graze the forage. Plants fill in all the space of the field, without lots of bare spots or weeds. Low quantity forage conditions are when over grazing has plant height very short (<2") and forage plants are sparse in the field because of bare ground without plants or because weeds are prevalent.
High quality forage is described as being high in protein and energy, and is easily digested by the animals. High quality forage is actively growing, lush forage (that is, it is in a vegetative phase of growth and has lot of green, leafy material). Low quality forage is slow growing, dry forage (that is, 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 forge limits animal performance (calving rate or weight gains).
Compared to the expense of purchasing and feeding hay of similar quality, renting pastures for grazing the forage should be a much lower price.
Other items that influence rental rates include things like the amount of work each party does. Work includes fence repair, moving irrigation lines, fertilizing fields, rotating animals about the different pastures, and such. Another item is the length of 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. Additionally items to consider could include things like 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 compared to the situation where cattle would have to be trucked in to the new pasture.
These factors are some of the things you need to think about when you determine pasture rental rates. Well-managed, deep soiled, bottom-ground, irrigated pasture systems planted to improved, cool season perennial grasses and legumes would fetch the higher rental rate. Shallow soiled, hillside pasture, non-irrigated ground with native annual grasses would be at the lower rental rate. Which party does what work also affects rental rate. Also, if the lease is short-term, the rental rate is at the high end. If there is a long-term lease agreement, the rental rate is lower.
Lastly, the final price is between the lessee and lessor. Hopefully, you can work together to the benefit of both the pasture renter and the owner.