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Grazing lease agreements and management assistance available

By Shaan Bliss
Special to The SUN

Grazing lease agreements can often be a handshake, but can hold little weight when conflicts arise. What about drought? What about seasonal fencing repairs or changes in ownership? Should your lease incorporate a paid lease agreement or in-kind labor/maintenance? How many animals exactly can you stock on your property? Who will manage and rotate animals through fields? These are things that are liable to be issues that will come up and need to be addressed. Being a good steward of your property will require some work on your part, if you haven’t already started.

In theory, a grazing lease is a good exchange of services. The land owner has forage readily available for someone wanting to fatten up his cows for specific period of time. The land owner may get the benefits of fence and ranch building maintenance, a tax break, plant maintenance and nostalgia of western lifestyle. The lessee benefits from lower feeding costs than bringing these animals hay or grazing on his own property.

The lease agreement should state when the grazing periods should be and what kind of drought contingency plan will be used if summer precipitation is scarce. On dry landscapes, we typically recommend you have 2-4 acres per head per month for cows with calves weighing around 1,000 pounds. If you have more productive areas like some irrigated or wet meadows, that changes to 1-2 acres per head per month also for cows with calves. This obviously adjusts based on the weight of animal and feeding demands.

A good plan should incorporate some grazing rotation to alleviate the excessive pressure of season-long grazing. Also, we recommend not starting grazing on pastures in this county until early June or until grasses are around 5 inches tall. This delayed grazing helps those grasses get their solar panels out and get a start to building new growth before grazing occurs.

Leased pasture prices vary, but are typically priced per head per month. Price obviously should be adjusted based on the weight and type of grazing animal, as well as forage quality. As mentioned earlier, the labor and equipment in-kind work may outweigh any cash exchange agreement detailed in the lease.

Lastly, gather all the necessary documents for the lease agreement and have an attorney review them prior to setting things in motion.

Another easy grazing principles you can use is to encourage grazing movement in less used areas by putting those salt/mineral blocks away from watering areas. Block placement is an active way to get those animals to move away from the water holes and encourage less loafing, especially if you have only a few big pastures with cross fencing.

Having a grazing plan is critical to properly managing your property. There is a limit to how many animals should be stocked on a piece of property for a period of time. Without a proper grazing plan, these areas can become denuded of the vegetation you want and are liable to become susceptible to plants you don’t want, such as noxious, invasive weeds.

Being a good steward to the environment begins with having an interest in maintaining or improving your property. You won’t know what you’ve lost if you never knew what you had.

As a rangeland management specialist working for you as a federal employee, I can assist you with developing a grazing management plan and there are financial assistance programs for eligible applicants to implement grazing improvements.

Please give me a call or email if you would like to have a grazing plan and environmental assessment developed for your property. Shaan Bliss, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rangeland Management Specialist, 731-3615, shaan.bliss@co.usda.gov.

Our office is located at 505A County Road 600 (Piedra Road).

This story was posted on May 29, 2014.