Helpful Components of Grazing Leases

July 2014

photo - participants in workshop examining field for pasture qualityFor over 30 years, Pat Reece has worked with land and cattle owners on pasture leases. A range ecologist and professor emeritus for UNL Extension, Pat now consults with rangeland owners and managers. Reece has some insight on helpful components of leases from his experience that are highlighted in a recent webinar "Helpful Components of Grazing Leases."

Helpful Components of Grazing Leases Highlights

  1. Start with clearly stated goals. For example: The goal is to improve the range condition of the pasture.
  2. Set baseline information. What is the initial condition of the rangeland, fences, and infrastructure? Use words like "poor, fair, good, excellent" and "low, mid, high" to describe them in your written lease.
  3. Define an Animal Unit. An Animal Unit is a set amount (780 lbs air dried forage) a 1,000 pound animal will eat. Reece encourages all leases to be based on Animal Units (AU).
  4. Discuss and specify the forage requirement of the livestock. Don't forget to count bulls and the average weight of the calves (once the calves are over 3 months old.)
  5. State when the grazing season begins and ends. Include delayed entry, if you want to be flexible in the spring and avoid grazing after late frosts.
  6. Adjust for grazing management enhancements practiced by the livestock owner. This could include rotational grazing, photo-monitoring, and keeping precipitation and grazing records.
  7. Always have a destocking clause. This is the most important clause of the lease and protects from overgrazing when various conditions lead to reduced forage production. These conditions could include drought, fire, hail, grasshoppers, or late and severe spring frosts. When these occur it is in the best interest of the livestock and land owners to destock.
  8. Decide on who will settle lease disagreements. Identify an "outside" rancher or expert. The arbitrator needs to look for compromise and offer a recommendation. Each party will pay for half of the arbitrator fee. This arbitrator may help settle disputes and keep the matter out of court.
  9. Long term leases need annual or periodic adjustments. Forage production can vary greatly from year to year and so should stocking rates. Landowner's may have to adjust the grazing fee price based on forage value trends, increases in taxes, or for good management practices by the livestock owner.


A written lease forces communication between the land and livestock owners. Talking over expectations between both parties allows them to take responsibility for certain areas. Compromise may be met by discussing both the land and livestock owners' needs.

Don't forget to consult an attorney so the lease agreement will be legal and binding.

Bethany Johnston
UNL Extension Educator
Central Sandhills
University of Nebraska