Our Organisation Search
Quick Links
Toggle: Topics
Placeholder image

Contract-Rearing Replacement Dairy Heifers – Is this an Option on my Farm?

09 September 2022
Type Media Article

By Aoife Forde, B&T Drystock Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare

Over the past number of years contract-rearing of heifers from the dairy herd by drystock farmers has become popular. Contract-rearing involves the movement of replacement heifers from the dairy farm to another farm for rearing on the basis of a contract agreement.

What are the benefits for a farmer who contract-rears heifers?

Contract-heifer rearing has many benefits for drystock farmers. It can provide them with cash-flow stability as the contract-rearer is generally paid by the dairy farmer on a monthly basis by direct debit. It is also possible to run the enterprise on a part-time basis making it suitable for many drystock farmers. Contract-rearing also gives farmers the opportunity to use their own land and buildings while continuing to farm without having the risk or expense of investing in stock.

What are the costs of contract-rearing heifers?

Every agreement is different and therefore the fee-per-head per day will vary. Different factors must be considered when agreeing the cost. Periods when costs are highest will be during calf-rearing (if that is included in the agreement) and winter housing. Questions that must be asked include: What age are the calves when they are moved to the contract rearer’s farm? Will they be young calves or will they be weaned? Are heifers being kept on the rearer’s farm for the first and second winter or just the first? Is it the owner or the rearer of the heifers who pays vet costs and breeding costs?

Heifer Rearing Contract Agreements – What is involved?

It is important that there is a written legal agreement between both parties and that it is signed by both the heifer owner (dairy farmer) and the heifer rearer and that it is also witnessed by an independent person. Details which should be included in the contract are:

  • The date heifers are moved onto and off the rearer’s farm.
  • The fee agreed for the rearing of the heifers and the payment procedure that will be used.
  • The breeding policy – who is responsible for breeding? How many weeks will it be carried out for and who covers the cost?
  • The tag numbers of heifers moved and weight targets to be achieved at different stages of development.
  • A plan to address what happens if there is a disease outbreak.

These are all important issues which should be included in an agreement.

What happens if there is a TB outbreak on either farm?

Firstly it is important that both the heifer owner and contract-rearer reduce the risk of disease outbreak. This can be done by ensuring that good biosecurity protocols are in place on both farms. Fencing between neighbours should be well-maintained to avoid nose-to-nose contact. Animals should be fed on raised troughs and not along the ground.

If a TB outbreak does occur it is important that there is a plan in place. Ideally, the rearer should have facilities to manage calving, feeding and milking of replacement heifers. In many situations, it is not practically possible to carry out these tasks. An application for a licence to move animals can be made to the Department of Agriculture if there is a concern in relation to animal welfare.

How do I find out more information?

Teagasc are holding a contract-heifer rearing farm-walk on the farm of Billy Gilmore in Cortoon, Tuam on Thursday 29th September   at 11.00am. Billy has been involved in contract-rearing heifers on behalf of dairy farmers for a number of years.  Billy has a wealth of knowledge and expertise which he is more than happy to share.  

Topics to be covered on the day include:

  • Why consider contract heifer rearing?
  • Requirements of a successful agreement.
  • Health/TB concerns.
  • How many heifers can I take in?
  • Costs associated with heifer rearing.

Speakers on the day will include senior veterinary personnel from DAFM, Teagasc advisors, contract-rearer Billy Gilmore and a dairy farmer who supplies replacement contract heifers. If you are interested in finding out more information about contract-heifer rearing this is a must-attend event!

Contract-Rearing Heifer Walk on the farm of Billy Gilmore, Cortoon, Tuam, Co. Galway, H54 AP28 on Thursday, 29th September at 11.00am.