Ranch Terms and Definitions

Getting serious about buying a ranch or farm? The explanations of terms and definitions below will help you better evaluate large ranch real estate so you know you’re buying the right ranch property for you.

DRYLAND FARMING:             Dryland farming is a type of farming that is used in arid and semi-arid areas without irrigation.   The planting of drought-resistant crops and by utilizing moisture-enhancing techniques allows crops to grow without an additional water source.   Planting seeds deep in the ground, using mulch to delay evaporation and crop rotation are just a few methods that are practiced.  Different areas are better suited than others to grow certain crops.  According to the Washington State University publication Dryland Farming in the Northwestern United States:  A Nontechnical Overview, “The northwestern states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming, wheat and other drought-tolerant crops are raised on over 10 million acres of land using dryland farming techniques.”   With the climate continually changing, dryland farming will become increasingly important.  

PHASE ONE REPORT:     A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment is utilized to gather information regarding the environmental condition of a property and to identify actual or potential environmental contamination.  This process protects both the buyer and the seller. The buyer will learn about any impact to the property value, and the seller will be protected from a possible claim which could occur after the sale has been finalized.  In a farm or ranch acquisition, this is a very important step as often there is the use and/or storage of many potentially hazardous materials such as fertilizers, fuel or propane, as well as agricultural runoff, landfills, etc.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION:     The physical description of a ranch, farm or recreational property describes the physical attributes of the land.  This can be a general description including rolling hillsides, crop land, timbered areas, forested areas, landscaped areas, rivers, streams, springs, lakes and ponds.  It can also include more specific details regarding exact acreage of each classification of land.

OPERATIONAL DESCRIPTION:     Operational description typically is more specific to agricultural operations of a farm or ranch.  It includes detailed descriptions of how the ranch or farm land is utilized, information regarding the cow-calf operation including pasture rotation, weight gain and shipping dates. Irrigation systems are discussed in depth to provide information about pivot ground, flood irrigation, gravity-fed systems, etc.


ANIMAL UNIT (AU):      A 1000 lb (455kg) cow, either dry or with a calf up to six months of age, or the equivalent based on a standardized amount of forage consumed. Large herbivores usually consume between 2.0 and 3.0% (dry weight) of their body weight per day.

ANIMAL UNIT MONTH (AUM):      The amount of forage consumed by an AU in 1 month. Equivalent to 915 lbs dry weight forage (30lbs/day *30.5 days/month = 915 lbs). You use AUMs to determine how many animals can graze the allotment for how many months (or weeks or days).

ANIMAL UNIT EQUIVALENT (AUE):      The energy requirements of a particular kind or class of animal relative to one au: Cow with calf= 1 AU, yearling calf= 0.6 AU, Elk = 0.7 AU, Bull, Horse = 1.25 AU, Sheep, mule deer, pronghorn = 0.2 AU.

CARRYING CAPACITY:      The maximum stocking rate possible without causing damage to vegetation or related resources (i.e. consistent with maintaining or improving range condition or related resources); Used synonymously with GRAZING CAPACITY.

PROPER USE:      A degree of utilization of current year's growth which, if continued, will maintain or improve the long-term productivity of the site or achieve specific management objectives ( e.g. improve range condition).

PROPER USE FACTOR (PUF, %):      An index to the grazing use that may be made on a specific forage species; sometime referred to as allowable use. (aka allowable use, safe use factor, Harvest coefficient) (e.g. a PUF=35% means that 35% of the current season's growth can be consumed by livestock and wildlife without damaging the grazing resource, while 65% of the current season's growth is left untouched).

STOCKING DENSITY:      The number of animals per unit area of land at any instant of time.

STOCKING RATE:      The number of animals grazing or utilizing a unit area of land for a specified time period; e.g. AU/ac, AUM/ac, AUM/ha or reciprocal.



Click Here To Learn More About Types of Water Rights

ADJUDICATION:      An adjudication is a court action for establishing all existing water rights which results in a decree that confirms and defines each water right and provides protection to water users.   It establishes the priority date and the amount of water claimed by users for beneficial use.

BASIS:     Documentation establishing the priority date of a historical water right.

BENEFICIAL USE:     Amount of water reasonably needed to accomplish the purpose or purpose of use.

ELEMENTS:     Parameters of water use that define purpose, amount, when, and where water can be used.

EXEMPT:      Exempt from filing a claim and from adjudication. Or, exempt from permitting. 

EXISTING WATER RIGHT:      Water right in use prior to July 1, 1973. Aka pre-73 or historical right.

LIMITS OR EXTENT OF A WATER RIGHT: The maximum amount of water that can be diverted and used. Or, the maximum use of water, e.g. size of a reservoir or number of acres irrigated, livestock watered or homes supplied by a water right.

NOIA – Notice of Intent to Appear in the adjudication of a water right.

PLSS – Public Land Survey System subdivides land into Townships, Ranges, and Sections.







































–       ACRE-FOOT (AF):      A measurement of volume of a flow of water over time.                 1 AF = 325,851 gallons

–       CUBIC FEET PER SECOND (cfs):      A measurement of water flow equal to 7.48 gallons per second.

–       MINER'S INCHES:      Historical term for the rate of flow in a miner's sluice. Found in old court decrees. 40 MI = 1 cfs

–       GALLONS PER MINUTE (gpm):      Unit of measurement used to quantify flow rates below 1 cfs.


Farm, Ranch and Recreational Properties for Sale