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Grazing

Probably one of the most frequent requests I receive is for information on leasing arrangements for grass. Ranchers and landowners often call to inquire on the going price as well as example contracts and information on who pays for what. 

In this article I will cover some of the most common questions, but realize that these are individual arrangements and the price also changes with the year.

Price of grass

Just as a ton of hay has a value, so does the grass that a cow grazes. 

The rate for grazing on private land is reported each year as part of the Wyoming Agriculture Statistics annual bulletin. The bulletin that came out in 2012 reports the 2011 rate as $20.50 for a cow-calf pair month in Wyoming. 2012 would have certainly been higher given the short supply of forage. 

I’ve also noticed that the rate seems to be higher in the east and decrease as one travels west. Around Wheatland, I know that some received as much as $35 per cow-calf month in 2012, but I would guess the average to be closer to $30 per cow-per month in Southeast Wyoming. 

There are also a lot of “son-in-law” deals that provide a leasee an opportunity at less than market value for a variety of reasons. It is however safe to say that, at this point, the landowner with grass to lease is certainly in the driver’s seat when it comes to price. 

Who does what

The price certainly depends somewhat on the individual situation. 

A landowner who provides full care for cattle will be able to demand a higher price than the landowner who just points to the gate lets the cattle owner do the care. 

It is critically important to agree prior to cattle arriving exactly who will do what and who will pay for what in writing. Many will wisely consult lawyers and have a formal contract drawn up that details in legal jargon who does what. 

However, in my opinion, many people just choose to operate by a verbal agreement. I would strongly encourage these folks to sit down together and at least sketch out an agreement in writing that is clear to both parties. This can be a “T” chart with one side “landowner’s responsibilities” and the other side “cattle owner’s responsibilities.” Things to consider include:

Fence materials

Fence repair

Water development materials/labor, who checks water

Utilities

Corrals – repairs, materials

Supplemental feed – who buys, who delivers, how often

Death loss – including poisonous plants, predators, etc.

Pasture rotation decisions

Turn in and out dates

Hunting rights

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. Each ranch will be a bit different.

Types of leases

There are two primary types of lease agreements for grass – flat cash lease and lease by the animal month. 

In the flat cash lease the leasee would agree to pay a certain amount for the pasture for the grazing season. In this arrangement the leasee is assuming all the drought risk but is also positioned to benefit in the wet years. Everyone who has been here very long knows we more frequently have dry years then we have wet years. Usually, with the assumption of risk comes a decrease in price, so when compared straight across the flat cash lease would be less than the per month lease.

In the per month lease agreement, most are for a specific type of animal for a range of months (i.e. cow-calf pairs or yearlings). I encourage you to consider moving to an Animal Unit Month (AUM) rate where one AUM is equal to 1,000 pounds of animal. This provides the livestock owner with additional flexibility in stocking the ranch with the type and kind of animal they choose and compensates the landowner more accurately for the forage being consumed. For example a continental type cow that calved in January will certainly eat more than the small June calving cow.

Other considerations

If the lease agreement is by the month, it is wise to have some minimal number of AUMs or cow-months that will be included and paid for up front. For example, if a ranch is going to lease grass for 250 cow-calf pairs for five months, they may agree that the cattle owner will pay for 2.5 months up front, and even if it is a bad year, there will be enough grass for that time period. The landowner is then guaranteed some income and the cattle owner is guaranteed some grass. 

Both landowners and responsible cattle owners will be concerned with the condition of the rangeland and making sure it is not being overgrazed. It is wise to put some monitoring in place that makes an annual assessment of the pasture condition in multiple locations so that the health of the pasture can be tracked over time. It is often wise to involve a third party in this assessment. 

Deciding on when grazing should cease on the pasture can be a touchy subject at times. Again, a third party can often be helpful here but livestock owners wanting to maintain a longer term lease will generally err on the side of caution.

There are many resources available to help such as example contracts and other guides. I’ve assembled a list of these under the ag section at plattecountyextension.com.

Please contact me if I can answer questions for you. 

Dallas Mount can be reached at 307-322-3667 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Farmers can now quickly monitor changes in pasture nutrients and adapt their animals’ grazing methods accordingly, using a new, real-time method to check nutrient levels in grassland. This relatively cheap and easy approach will greatly improve the sustainable management of pasture for sheep and cattle. 

Using a new method, the researchers show that overgrazing pasture to below seven centimeters significantly reduces the amount protein and digestibility of the grassland.

“Real-time nutrient monitoring can provide a more timely and adaptive pasture management than is currently feasible for farmers and should lead to productivity gain,” says Matt Bell, lead author of this study and Assistant Professor at the School of Biosciences at the University of Nottingham in the UK. “Using this new method of checking nutrient levels, we show that over-grazing or over-harvesting pastures will significantly reduce protein levels and its digestibility, which will be detrimental to the productivity of the land.”

This process involved the comparison of pasture nutrient levels obtained by traditional laboratory methods, which require the use of large specialized equipment, to the readings given by the relatively quick and simple hand-held near-infrared spectrum (NIRS) device. The NIRS technique measures the spectrum of energy reflected from a sample illuminated by white light, providing information on different nutrient levels. It reduces the time taken for analysis from around 16 hours to less than a minute.

U.S. Forest Service officials are slated to spend two days behind closed doors during the week of June 2 in settlement discussions with anti-grazing activists. 

Other parties to the lawsuit over the reauthorization of grazing permits, including the grazing permittees whose allotments are at issue, have been denied the right to participate in the talks, according to three sources affiliated with the case.

Lawsuit

The multi-state lawsuit was filed in federal court in Idaho by anti-grazing activists Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Utah Environmental Congress and Grand Canyon Trust. These groups challenge the Forest Service use of categorical exclusions (CEs) to reauthorize grazing permits instead of going through a much more detailed and time consuming environmental analysis process for each permit through creation of either Environmental Assessments or Environmental Impact Statements. 

The use of CEs has been authorized by Congress, but these groups allege that the Forest Service is using CEs improperly and that extensive analysis should be done on grazing permits since livestock grazing “causes so many adverse environmental impacts.” 

Intervening in this case are Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Wyoming Wool Growers Association, Public Lands Council, Peter R. Arambel, Wyoming County Commissioners Association and the state of Wyoming.

Categorical exclusions

This case challenges the use of CEs to authorize grazing on national forests in Wyoming, Idaho and Utah. 

A CE may be used by the agency to authorize grazing only under certain conditions. Under these conditions, the decision must continue current grazing management of the allotment; monitoring indicates that current grazing management is meeting, or satisfactorily moving toward, objectives in the land and resource management plan, as determined by the Secretary; and the decision is consistent with agency policy concerning extraordinary circumstances.

If these three conditions are met, the decision to allow grazing upon an allotment can be excluded from full review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

When the court looked at how CEs had been used in this administrative region of the Forest Service, it examined 43 allotments in four national forests, finding, “The great majority of the analyses done and decisions made by the Forest Service in connection with the categorical exclusion decisions at issue in this case, withstand judicial scrutiny. However, there are some issues raised by the decisions from each forest that call into question the propriety of using the categorical exclusion for these grazing permit decisions.”

Court findings

For the 14-allotment Southern Wind River Allotment Complex along the western front of the Wind Rivers in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the court found that the Forest Service range report on the conditions of the allotments was lacking in several ways. 

The range report was relied upon for issuing the CE for continued livestock grazing. The court noted that although the relevant data to support the agency’s findings may exist, the range report used to justify the CE decision was lacking in its explanation and analysis. 

The court noted, “Forest Service must support its conclusions with reliable studies and data and adequately explain why the underlying evidence is reliable.”

The agency’s attempt to provide such an explanation and analysis in court proceedings was rejected by the court, which must base its decision on the existing administrative record already before it, not by additional records generated in response to issues that arise while in court.

Review

Because of the complexity and scale of the issues before the court, a federal Magistrate Judge conducted a detailed review of the record before the court and, in a February 2013 report to the court, issued recommendations to the federal judge overseeing the case. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush concluded, “The Court recommends that the Forest Service be ordered to make its decision as to whether to initiate a NEPA compliance process, or issue a new CE decision, pertaining to each of the allotments at issue in this case, according to the following timetable. 

“The Forest Service shall take one of the following actions. The Forest Service withdraws its CE decision, sets the earliest possible timeframe for complying with NEPA as part of its ultimate decision as to whether grazing should be authorized, and completes the NEPA process by July 31, 2013, to be followed by a new decision on the grazing permit no later than Sept. 30, 2013; or by July 31, 2013, the Forest Service issues a new CE decision, to include specific and appropriate response to the areas of the prior CE decision found to have fallen short of the 2005 Rider requirements. In the intervening time period, the current status quo shall be maintained – that is, grazing can continue under the terms of the currently existing permit.”

Settlement conference

That’s where the case remained until the environmental groups and Forest Service scheduled a two-day settlement conference for the week of June 3. 

The other parties to the case – the livestock associations, permittees and state and county officials – were not invited to the settlement conference. When they objected to being excluded, the environmental groups agreed that they could attend the settlement conference, but would not be allowed to speak or materially participate. Yet the Forest Service agreed to participate, knowing that the other parties had been excluded.

At the conclusion of the settlement conference on June 6, the public will learn whether the federal agencies caved to anti-grazing concerns or held its own with the court report behind it, to uphold the use of Congressionally authorized Categorical Exclusions in place.
This article was originally printed in Pinedale Online! on June 5, 2013 and was written by Cat Urbigkit.

Kearney, Neb. – As Jim Faulstich looked over the grazing and cropland between his home in South Dakota and Kearney, Neb., it only reconfirmed his fears that producers haven’t learned enough from previous generations. 

“I think we are headed for another trying time in agriculture, and grassland is one thing that is sustainable,” he told a group of nearly 300 people during the Nebraska Grazing Conference. 

Faulstich said he would be the first to admit that he fears we are heading for a time like the “dirty 30s” because not all producers have learned enough from that generation to be good stewards of the land. He showed pictures of areas near his home in South Dakota where the topsoil was gone, and flooding was occurring because producers hadn’t properly managed their land. Moisture was running off instead of infiltrating fields. Other photos showed grazing land so short that most native species had died, and every time the wind blew, the soil went with it. 

“We have all seen pictures like this,” he told the crowd. 

Multiple use lands

Faulstich talked to producers about managing grassland for multiple uses. 

In his own operation, he focuses on the power of water infiltration and soil health. 

After working through last year’s drought, he also pointed out, “A drought plan is a survival plan.” 

“It is the most important thing we have in our sustainability plan,” he said. 

Faulstich also noted the importance of paying attention to how much moisture is received at critical times and how that impacts his grazing scheme. 

“A South Dakota State University (SDSU) study of our area found that April is the most critical month for moisture. It determines how much grass we will produce that year and how many head we can graze,” he said.

Management

Grazing management is a constant focus. 

Spring grasses, like brome grass, have become key species. In the summer, he relies on varieties like big blue stem. 

“The key is to graze areas just enough to keep the pressure off,” he said. “If I see major trails cropping up or the cattle are killing out corners of a paddock, they’ve been there too long. Early in the season, we move the cattle every three days, and later in the summer, we move every week.” 

Like most producers, feed costs are the biggest expense in his operation. 

“I realized that to keep this ranch sustainable, I needed to reduce cow size and figure out how to graze more,” he explained. “On some pastures, that meant adjusting the stocking rate. I had to determine how to operate in tune with nature. The landscape and environment helps me determine how to set up my grazing management program, whether its mob, mig or rotational.”

Faulstich went with a year-around grazing program, but in order to do that he had to take pressure off his grass by reducing numbers. He also tries to utilize every ounce of feed on his operation. 

“Have you ever noticed how much forage is going unused in the U.S.?” he asked the producers. “A friend of mine commented that the way to start feeding the world is to start building some fences again. We waste a lot of feed in this country. There are pieces of grass, cover crops, aftermath and just waste areas in a field that go unused for one reason or another.” 

Making changes

The change in Faulstich’s own operation started back in the 80s, when he started to notice he was losing biodiversity on his own operation. 

“I was losing some key species of forbes, and I began to notice how important those are to my grazing program. Some are important for pollination, and some are part of the mineral program for livestock and wildlife,” he said. “Have you ever noticed when you are moving cows how they will crop off a sunflower on the way through? Some species of forbes and weeds hold snow; others have a real nutritional benefit in the plant cycle.”

“I started evaluating my grazing management system including plants and animals and trying to create a nice variety of warm and cool season species,” he explained.

One species Faulstich attempted to re-establish in his grazing program was blue stem grass. 

“I started the blue stem by spreading it by hand,” he explained. “For years, I thought I had failed. It took seven years for it to re-establish where I could see individual plants in the pasture.”

From his experience, Faulstich has found that with management and timing of grazing, it is possible to start, reestablish and change grasses in his grazing system. 

“I want to improve the health of the landscape and its inhabitants,” he explained. 

It’s a management decision Faulstich feels more producers need to make. 

“The health of the human population is directly correlated to where they live,” he said. “To have a healthy riparian area, we need healthy water. One of our goals is to not let any water runoff and leave the ranch. It’s not always possible, but it is still a goal.” 

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

FeedPail.com was launched in April 2012 with the goal of connecting feed ingredient suppliers with the producers looking for feed options for their animals. 

“It started as a listing service for feed ingredient suppliers of all types,” explains Ryan Cooney, owner of FeedPail. “Now, we actually have two services in places – a supplier listing and reverse auction service.”

Beginning a business

“Today in the market, there are different changes that people are going through,” says Cooney, “but there isn’t a centralized market that people can get information and prices for feed ingredients.”

Cooney notes that FeedPail strives to help producers address that challenge.

“We talk about matching,” he explains. “We want to find the right seller for the right buyer.”

FeedPail notes that the site can help producers source a wide variety of feed ingredients for producers.

Feedpail.com has reverse auctions and supplier listing for distillers’ grains, soybean meal, byproduct feeds, corn co-products, amino acids and other livestock feeds,” the site says.

Feed lists

FeedPail serves to make it easier for buyers to find bulk feed ingredients for their operations and has two different aspects.

The supplier listing aspect of the site allows suppliers to list bulk feedstuffs that are available for sale, as well as pricing and availability.

On the supplier listing site, producers are able to search for bulk feeds. Searches can be narrowed by product desired and even the region they are available. The service spans the entire U.S.

The service, which started as simply a list of available feedstuffs, evolved into a reverse auction service that also allowed buyers to list what they are looking for.

“In the listing section, producers can look at available feedstuffs and follow up on obtaining them,” says Cooney. “The other option is to list in the reverse auction.”

Reverse auction

In the reverse auction, buyers list a product they are looking for, and suppliers bid on the product if they have it available. 

“The auction is a reverse auction because the prices go down as suppliers place bids,” he explains. “If a producers gets an acceptable bid at the end of the auction, they can choose to contact that supplier.”

FeedPail charges $50 to the buyer in order to obtain contact information, but Cooney notes that the fee is not paid until after the auction is over and an acceptable price is received.

On paying the fee, the producer is locked into the auction price.

To view listings or place a listing in the reverse auction, producers must register for a FeedPail account. Joining the FeedPail website is free of charge for users.

Moving forward

“The supplier listing is more active than the reverse auction service,” comments Cooney. “We continue to make updates and new iterations of the website to add features that customers are looking for and also changing formats to make it more useable to suppliers.”

In the first year, he mentions a number of improvements and four versions of the site that have optimized the function of the site.

“The site has really changed based on the amount of information we make available to both sides,” says Cooney, who notes the additional information is important for decision making. “We are trying to make it easier for producers to buy bulk ingredients and to get good prices.”

In asking what information the producer needs before contacting suppliers and what information suppliers need before bidding in the reverse auction, Cooney has further developed the service to best fit consumer needs. He has also utilized user-input to improve the site’s function.

The site currently has several thousand users and is continually expanding.

Cooney also mentions that they have begun to expand the web-based sales platform has begun to expand to other industries.

“The concept of facilitating the physical cash trading of commodities has lots of opportunities for expansion in the future,” he notes.

He has also recently launched a site called ePigFlow, which is an online market for weaner pigs, feeder pigs and swine facilities.

“There are lots of possibilities for the future,” Cooney says, “but we are doing things one step at a time.”

“We look at the markets where people are spending a lot of time and extra energy, and maybe even incurring extra costs,” Cooney comments. “Those are the markets that we see the most opportunities and where it makes the most sense to work in.”

Learn more or search FeedPail’s listings at feedpail.com

Saige Albert is managing 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..