The issue of contract dairy heifer rearing is always topical as some farmers don't fancy trusting someone else with their heifers. But for those who decide on outsource rearing, the benefits are many.
In a high-payout year, as at present, contract rearing can easily deliver a return.
However, if the payout were only $6kg/MS, would it be worthwhile?
Contract rearing allows you to divert labour. This extra labour could be used for checking cows during the breeding season and every extra cow your employees detect during the first three weeks of breeding is $200 more in your pocket the following season.
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Having extra time during calving to spend on managing the cows and grass would be welcomed by any farmer. This would yield a better-performing spring, too, as there would be more time to complete jobs. There is another benefit in paying someone to hit target weights on your heifers: heifers can calve down at the right weight, getting back in calf sooner.
So, how do you choose a top grazier? Reputation is everything and word of mouth is invaluable. Ask around and see if they have reared for other farmers and if they deliver results. Ensure you have a written contract, which will include plans and targets for health, breeding season, feed quality and heifer weight gains. Are they going to have other stock on the property and, if so, will how will that affect your heifers?
Have a contingency plan for droughts and flooding - a clear understanding between both parties will help solve any issues should they arise. Some grazing arrangements appear to have no formal contracts, which can lead to possible misunderstandings of what is and what isn't expected. Contract dairy heifer rearing may not be for everyone, especially if you have a run-off. You might not be able to finance the extra cows needed on the milking platform to replace the heifers.
You might find it hard to find a grazier you can trust with your stock. However, contract rearing allows you time to focus on other areas that need attention, resulting in more profit.
John Tobin is a tutor at Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre, where he teaches farm skills in Northland in partnership with NorthTec.