Thinking of contract rearing? Here’s everything you need to know before you make the leap

Here’s some things to consider when deciding to opt for contract rearing your heifers this year or not.
Here’s some things to consider when deciding to opt for contract rearing your heifers this year or not.
Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

With dairy cows ready to start calving any day now, if they haven’t started already, farmers may be weighing up their options on how best to go about heifer rearing this season. Here’s some things to consider when deciding to opt for contract rearing your heifers this year or not.

Written agreement between a heifer rearer and a dairy farmer

A written commitment to the arrangement between the dairy farmer and the heifer rearer is essential for any successful heifer rearing agreement, according to Teagasc Farm Management Specialist, Thomas Curran.

The arrangement is only as good as the other person's word, according to Thomas. Honesty, trust and some flexibility and regular communication is essential for a successful arrangement for both parties, says the Moorepark-based Specialist.

All arrangements should include the following according to Thomas;

-        Start and end date – rearing period

-        Number of animals

-        How breeding is to be managed

Get the latest news from the Farming Independent team 3 times a week.

-        Who covers veterinary costs

-        How vaccinations etc are to be managed and payed for

-        How often weighing is to be carried out and specific targets for age

-        Grazing system – leader/follower system

-        Payment rate and procedure

He also said that the agreement may be required by the DVO in cases of a disease outbreak.

Weigh up the finances

Budgeting for heifer rearers is essential and a way to ensure profit, which is vital says Thomas. In order to make out an estimation of profit, rearers should first set the parameters, including the number of animals that will be kept, how long for and costs of keeping the animals including all vet bills and meal if it’s part of the agreement.

Knowing where the highest costs is vital for the business to see a return, according to the Advisor. The three highest costs of rearing a replacement heifer is the first 12 weeks of life, and the first and second wintering period.

Hitting target weights

Achieving target weights is often the most crucial part to the heifer rearing programme. He says that there needs to be a clear understanding between the farmer and the heifer rearer that these targets need to be met, including the target weight of when the heifer arrives on the heifer rearer’s farm first day.

Veterinary issues

Discussing a vaccination protocol with your vet and having a clear understanding of what vaccines need to be covered and how costs are to be covered is necessary, he says.

The District Veterinary Officer (DVO) also needs to be contacted and both parties need to adhere to their requirements;

-        NBAS 31A form for the transfer of animals

-        Passports need to move with the animals

-        Normal TB testing procedures applies

-        Timing of annual TB testing is critical

-        Multiple herds are often undesirable but can be unavoidable


Achieving weight targets are often synonymous with achieving breeding targets, says Thomas.  Both parties should communicate exactly what is planned/required for the breeding season and who will be paying for tail paint, scratch cards, teaser bulls etc, he advises.

Potential gain for heifer rearers

He said that there is a potential for heifer rearers to make more profit if technical performance at farm level is good. This involves grassland management, weight targets and breeding targets according to Thomas.

It can also provide monthly cashflow for rearers, where the payments are set-up as a monthly direct debit, he said. Another benefit for rearers is the elimination of the risk of market fluctuations, and that the rearer no longer has money tied up in livestock to provide an income.

Potential gain for dairy farmers

There is now an opportunity for dairy farmers to increase the milking herd when heifers are replaced with cows on the grazing platform, he said, while opting for a heifer-rearing programme allows farmers to focus on one group of animals and frees up labour time spent on small jobs involved with heifers.

This could also be a good option for dairy farmers that are a little tight on space for heifers as well, he said.

Online Editors

For Stories Like This and More
Download the Free Farming Independent App