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Management

Grazing leases bring a variety of considerations for producers to analyze

Not all the time do producers have enough pasture and grass for their livestock, which leads them to look for alternative pastures to lease to accommodate the overflow of their animals. 

Leasing pastures is often the only way to provide adequate feed to a cattle herd throughout the year. 

Basics

When leasing grazing pastures, some basic considerations to keep in mind are good fences, a sufficient water supply and an ample amount of forage production from the pasture that will be adequate for the number of animals a producer has to feed.

“Some of those things are pretty obvious, and some of them are not so obvious,” says Mike Smith, grazing management and behavior professor at University of Wyoming. “Annual precipitation, especially in the spring, has a lot to do with what affects forage production.” 

Pasture productivity

Smith adds, “It would be a good idea for a person who is looking for a pasture lease to have an arrangement with the owner of the land with respect to the forage availability or some way of determining compensation for failure of a pasture not providing what it was advertised for.”

Smith further explains that if a producer is considering leasing a pasture before they know what kind of forage supply the pasture will have, they are taking more of a risk than someone who is willing to wait to lease a pasture after they know what the pasture is capable of. 

Poisonous plants

Smith advises that lessees of grazing pastures need to be leery and on the lookout for poisonous plants that may potentially grow in the pasture and surrounding area. 

Some of the more common poisonous plants producers should be aware of that grow in Wyoming are locoweed and larkspur. 

“Locoweed is pretty common on the foothill ranges around the state of Wyoming,” comments Smith. “Locoweed probably won’t cause a great deal of damage to cattle that consume it, but they probably won’t gain very well.”

“Horses eating locoweed tend to end up with brain lesions, are then considered ‘locoed’ and are not fit to use after that,” continues Smith. “They become unpredictable, and in the worst case, the horse may die.”

Locoweed is more predominant in pastures mid-summer and is poisonous at all stages of growth and throughout the year. The flowers of locoweed resemble sweet peas, and the blossoms vary in color from blue to purple, yellow or white. 

Larkspur

Larkspur toxicity is a significant cause of cattle poisoning on rangelands, which can result in death. The flower of larkspur varies in color from purple to a dark blue, and the flower petals grow together to form a hollow pocket that looks like a spur at the end of the flower. 

The flower predominately grows in May and June, but on mountain turnouts, it can become prevalent a later in the summer months. 

Extension resources

Smith mentions for producers who are new to an area and want to lease some grazing pasture to go visit their local Extension office. 

“It’s always a good idea if someone is new to the country to go visit with the people who are relatively impartial about what is available out there,” describes Smith. “Extension folks usually have some general ideas about carrying capacity, which could be very useful, and sometimes they have some knowledge about the standard leasing rates for the area.”

“Typically leases go for between $20 to $30 an animal unit per month (AUM),” comments Smith. “It can vary quite a bit though depending on where someone is located to facilities and services that are offered with the property.”

An AUM is a standard measurement for the carrying capacity of a pasture and is the amount of feed that is consumed by one animal unit in a month. An animal unit is generally considered to be one mature, cow with or without an unweaned calf at their side, that consumes approximately 27 pounds of forage per day.

“In general, what producers want to make clear in a lease agreement is what services and facilities are being offered with the lease,” says Smith. “They should focus on making it clear on who’s going to provide the water, fence maintenance and supervision of the animals.”

Leases 

Smith also mentions there are two ways of pricing foraging resources for grazing leases.

One method is to charge a specific amount per animal per month, and the other method is to charge on an amount of gain per animal. 

“Sometimes there is also a clause in a contract about who is going to supply salt or a mineral supplement to the animals,” says Smith. “If it’s during the winter, then there could be some other stipulations about what kind of supplements would be provided.”

Lengths of leases depend on particular situations, but Smith says it’s more common to have seasonal grazing leases. 

Grass availability

“Right now, there are probably a low number of cattle relative to the potential forage supply this summer because we have been in a drought for so long. On the other hand, the price of cattle is really good,” says Smith.

The amount of grass that will be available to livestock this summer will depend on the amount of rain pastures receive in the next two months, predicts Smith. 

“Everybody seems to think it’s going to be a great year for grazing, but I’m here to tell producers that what we get in precipitation in the next two months is what will really determine what the range forages are going to be like,” notes Smith. 

Madeline Robinson is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..