Contract rearing: ‘Move the animals, not the fodder’

“It’s a very simple idea. Instead of moving vast amounts of fodder out of the west, we are currently looking at the idea of moving the animals to the feed,” a farm lobby group representative has stated.

The suggestion was posed by Des Morrison, the livestock chair of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), after his attendance at a contract rearing information evening at The Bush Hotel in Carrick-on-Shannon last Thursday (September 27).

An estimated 170 farmers from the north-west catchment area attended the event organised by Sligo and Leitrim Teagasc advisor Tom Coll.

“The figures and the logistics have to be examined closely; but the initial analysis supports the idea that this is going to be a viable option for bigger dairy farmers in fodder-stressed areas of the midlands and south east,” said Morrison.

Although Morrison acknowledged that the reversal of the traditional “west-to-east” movement pattern might appear “radical”, he contends that once figures are factored in and the quality of host contractors is established “the idea has huge merit”.

Fixed Income

Commenting on the benefits of contract rearing, Morrison says it would be of huge advantage to both drystock farmers and dairy farmers.

Apart from the obvious attraction of having your weanling heifers fed to an agreed weight at a time of scarce fodder, you also have the advantages of farming out your nitrates and reducing your workload.

He also outlined that the attractions for the host farm are “equally as beneficial”.

“Host farmers will get a fixed-regular income with payment by monthly standing order. That is something that would be welcomed by most drystock farmers,” Morrison said.

He also outlined that farmers in the western host area got up to 80% of a farm nitrates development grant about 10 years ago, which, he said, means these farms have “high-spec winter facilities”.

Disease concerns

Commenting on concerns relating to disease, Morrison said: “Departmental regulations appear to grant some concessions in the event of a Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) outbreak on either the farm of origin, or temporary the host farm, as regards movement.

ICMSA is not saying this is the whole answer; but this kind of ‘B&B’ or contract rearing already works very well across the south and into the midlands.

“It should also work further north where the fodder situation is not as severe and where the idea has already been developed into a ready-to-go stage by Teagasc’s Tom Coll,” concluded Morrison.

Coll recently met with the ICMSA in Limerick and the dairy-orientated organisation is understood to be keen on moving the idea forward with the co-operation of Teagasc.