COMMENT: From 2015 the new quota in Irish dairy farming will be the amount of milking platform hectares that cows can reasonably be walked to.

If youngstock are currently being reared on the milking platform, then having them reared under contract on a different farm is one way of liberating more hectares for milk production.

It involves finding an appropriate individual to take the dairy calves and/or heifers to their farm, returning them at an agreed age and liveweight.

In many cases, the calves leave the owners farm at three months of age and return 20 months later shortly before calving. Many variations of this arrangement exist and are also working very well.

Contract rearing does create another expense account and a monthly cash outflow. However farmer experience suggests that it is cash neutral, ie cost savings in areas such as feed, labour, animal health, contracting and so on can in many cases cover the cost of paying someone else to rear your heifers for you. 

If currently your heifers are underweight (either at bulling or calving) or less than 70 per cent of heifers calve in a three-week period at the start of calving then you should seriously consider contracting out the job to someone who can achieve these targets for you. In such a scenario, the long-term benefits to your herd and business will significantly surpass the contract rearer’s fees.

In addition, with no youngstock to manage, dairy farms become simpler to operate. The entire focus can now be on the herd of cows as they are the only group to manage. Simple farming systems will be vital post 2015 if increases in new dairy units and overall cow numbers materialise as forecast.

Previous stocking rate can be maintained by replacing the youngstock with extra milking cows that ought to – but doesn’t always – increase overall farm profit.

As many dairy farms are currently overstocked (ie carrying more stock than the tonnage of grass grown can feed), removing the youngstock without adding more cows may correct this.

The success or otherwise of a contract rearing arrangement depends on three things:

  • The quality of the individual you choose to rear the heifers. Can he/she deliver?
  • Payments should be clearly linked to agreed targets both in terms of weight gain and fertility performance. Will the rearer be suitably motivated to achieve your targets?
  • The simplicity and transparency of the rearing agreement drawn up. Consider an independent referee but ensure you never need to use him/her. Regular communication between owner and rearer is vital.

Brian Costello has expanded his own dairy farm near Boyle, Co Roscommon from 80 to 200 cows. He also works part-time as a dairy consultant/discussion group facilitator, specialising in dairy expansion. Brian can be contacted via e mail on [email protected] or on Twitter @BrianCostello_

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