For Release April 24, 2005

Grazing Contract Considerations

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

April is rapidly coming to an end, the pasture burning season is wrapping up and cattle will be going to grass very soon. With roughly two thirds of all pasture being rented, there are a lot of pasture leases out there. And if you think that crop leases can be confusing, just wait!

A few years ago, the Kansas legislature did bring pasture leases into line with crop leases so that the same rules apply to both. Pasture leases run from March 1 to March 1 unless there is a signed written lease stating other beginning and termination dates. Technically, the law does not recognize an oral pasture lease that runs from May 1 to October 15th. If that is your intent, then you need to have it in writing and you need to do that thirty days prior to March 1st.

What we have to do now, is to separate the legal part of the lease from the management part of the lease. The law is quiet about the length of the grazing seasons and who pays for fences or brush/weed control or if there has to be water in the pasture and who hauls the water if there isn't. These are all items that must be negotiated between the landlord and the tenant. I receive a lot of calls asking these questions, and nobody ever likes the answers.

The established grazing season is far less flexible than the biological grazing season. Long term history in the northern Flint Hills has established May 1st as the average start date of the grazing season with an average ending date of October 15th. This creates a problem in many years, however. If you look at the recommended burning date, based on grass growth and stocker gains, then somewhere around April 25th to May 1st would be the date to burn. I think we can all agree that this year, like many years, most of the pastures will have been burned by April 25th.

It's going to take 2 to 3 weeks to obtain adequate grass growth for grazing following a good pasture burn. If you burn the end of April, it's going to be May 15th before you can have much livestock available forage. So pastures get burned earlier than that, anywhere from late March to early April. In these pastures, there will be forage available by the first of May. The problem is that the earlier you burn, the more invasion by undesirable cool season grasses, like bluegrass and bromegrass, you will have. These grasses start growing much earlier in the season but produce very little forage during June, July and August. The warm season native grasses produce most of their growth during these hot summer months.

If you consistently burn your pasture in late March and early April, you will change the composition of your pasture grasses. You will favor the cool season grasses at the expense of the warm season native grasses. You will have forage available sooner, but your overall productivity will go down. You create a vicious circle that takes a lot of intense management to reverse. The first step in fixing this problem is to postpone the start of the grazing season to May 15th, and extend it on the back side to October 31st.

As to the rest of the pasture lease issues, the answers aren't much simpler. Fences are often repaired with the landlord supplying the materials and the tenant the labor. But anything can be worked out between the two parties including adjustments to lease rates. The bottom line is that management of the pasture will dictate everything. If you burn early and overstock, you will eventually have a wreck. Learn to follow the lead of the grass and adjustment your management to the natural plant cycle, because it sure as heck isn't going to adjust to you!


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