How to determine pasture rental rates

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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.

Surveying the rental market

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.

  1. Go to the NASS Oregon Field Office website.
  2. Select the latest "Annual Statistical Bulletin."
  3. Look on the table of contents (page 2) under prices.
  4. 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 ($/animal/mo) by state and grazing region.
  • Cash rent expenses per acre by county for cropland and pasture ($/acre). This is an annual rate (yearly).

Rental rates listed in the survey are from cattle data, not sheep.

Most pasture forage will not be available year-round. Take this into account when comparing rates.

Defining animal units

General definition — AU (animal unit): An AU is equivalent to a 1,000-pound cow with or without a calf; five large sheep or seven smaller sheep; 500-pound feeder calves are 0.6 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.

USDA-NRCS definition (See Table 1) — Day, month, year data are estimated dry matter intake per time period for the animal unit equivalent listed.

Table 1. Animal Unit Equivalent Guide
Forage consumed (lbs.)
Kinds/classes of animals Animal unit equivalent per day per month per year
Cow, dry 0.92 24 727 8,730
Cow, with calf 1.00 26 790 9,490
Bull, mature 1.35 35 1,067 12,811
Cattle, 1 year old 0.60 15.6 474 5,694
Cattle, 2 years old 0.80 20.8 632 7,592
Horse, mature 1.25 32.5 988 11,862
Sheep, mature 0.20 5.2 158 1,898
Lamb, 1 year old 0.15 3.9 118 1,423
Goat, mature 0.15 3.9 118 1,423
Kid, 1 year old 0.10 2.6 79 949
Deer, white-tailed, mature 0.15 3.9 118 1,423
Deer, mule, mature 0.20 5.2 158 1,898
Elk, mature 0.60 15.6 474 5,694
Antelope, mature 0.20 52 158 1,898
Bison, mature 1.00 26 790 9,490
Sheep, bighorn, mature 0.20 5.2 158 1,898

Source: National Range and Pasture Handbook, Table 6-5

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 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.

Pasture quantity

Good forage quantity is a condition where there is a readily available amount of plant material of proper height and spacing for grazing:

  • 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 the 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 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.

Pasture quality

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 a 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.

Miscellaneous items

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.

These factors are some of the things you need to think about when you determine pasture rental rates.

  • Shallow-soiled, sloping, nonirrigated ground with native annual grasses would rent for a lower rental rate.
  • The lessee and lessor determine the final price.
  • Well-managed, deep-soiled, bottom-ground, irrigated pasture systems planted with cool-season perennial grasses and legumes would fetch higher rental rates.
Previously titled
Pasture Rental Rate (Revised)

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