HOW CONTRACT REARING PAYS
When a dairy herd expands the replacement enterprise can all too easily be neglected.
Jessica Buss reports on an alternative approach
CONTRACT-rearing heifers provides healthy, well grown replacements which perform well in the dairy herd.
That is the belief of Randle and David Carr. They rear 170 heifers for two local dairy herds owned by the Appleby family, on their 154ha (380-acre) mainly arable rented farm, Shewsbury, Shropshire.
Contract rearing allows dairy farmers who have to operate within tight stocking rates, and are short of labour or buildings, to expand without having to take the risk of buying in disease, says David Carr.
"The risk of incoming diseases is minimal when heifers come from one or two herds," he says. "If animals are reared from more herds the risks are higher, but still below purchasing stock at the market."
According to Mr Carr, having heifers contract-reared costs about £300 a head a year. "This amounts to the same as buying average quality heifers at market. Benefits are knowing the breeding lines and disease status of animals."
He claims that in some cases stock benefit in being reared away from the dairy unit. "On many farms heifers come second in line for quality forage and time, whereas a contract-rearer gives the stock first cut silage and attention."
The livestock enterprise on the Carrs farm creates an opportunity for a grass break crop. "Continuous cereals do not work well on this type of land, where a typical wheat yield, even with a rotation, is 7.5t/ha (3t/acre)," he says. The contract-rearing business also provides work during the winter, justifying one full-time employee on the farm.
The Carrs originally had a dairy herd, but it was sold in the 1960s because the milking parlour was too far from cow housing and grazing when land near their farmhouse was sold for development.
"An alternative livestock enterprise was sought to use redundant buildings and grass and to secure a margin as good as cereals," he says. "The margin from suckler cows would be too low to cover the rent. So we decided to contract-rear heifers for a neighbour."
The Applebys, who farm about 10 miles away, were expanding their dairy herd. The family decided its farms stocking rate and building space for young stock was limited. A mutual contact put the two parties together and they drew up a contract.
In the contract the responsibilities of each party is laid out. The Applebys transport the animals to and from the Carrs unit, and pay a monthly fee depending on the number of heifers at the farm. They also pay for freeze- branding.
"By paying monthly we have regular income, which is good for cash flow," says Mr Carr.
The contract states that if prices of commodities such as feed and oil increase, the price paid to the rearer rises.
In return the Carrs feed and manage the heifers, ensuring they are put to the bull at the correct size and are pregnant. They also pay for veterinary and medicines, including wormers which are used regularly.
Trust plays an important role in the relationship between owner and rearer, says Mr Carr.
To end the contract either party has to give a full years notice, giving security to both owner and rearer.
Heifers come to the farm at between 12 and 16 weeks and stay for about two years. They return to the dairy unit six weeks before calving.
Managed in groups of about 35 the young heifers are offered clamped silage, fed using a forage box with up to 2.7kg (6lb) of a 16% crude protein coarse calf concentrate in their first winter.
In summer all cattle graze pasture and are only fed concentrates when grass growth is poor.
Heifers in their second winter are fed on a diet of restricted silage and ad-lib straw. "If a group of 35 eats more than one bale of straw in two days, they need more silage," says Mr Carr.
Heifers are served using the Applebys Aberdeen-Angus bull. The Applebys dairy herd has two calving periods starting in February and July. "If any heifers in a group are not big enough they are moved to a younger group," says Mr Carr.
The stocking rate is tight on his farm, so cattle are grazed on set-aside ground, beet tops and barley stubble in the autumn.
First-cut silage is made from 18ha (44 acres) by contractor. Mr Carr feels the acreage doesnt justify investment in machinery. The contractor can do the whole job in a day. Silage is cut in early June, as quantity and palatability are more important than quality.
A second cut of bales is usually made, but this year none will be taken due to the pressure on grazing. "With only one main cut, the contractors bill is kept to a minimum," he says.
The winter yards are bedded with 10 big round straw bales every other day. The stock are taken out of the building so bales can be unrolled in the yards.