What it takes for a successful contract rearing relationship to work

Joseph Dunphy, Teagasc’s Tom Coll and Kieran Henry
Joseph Dunphy, Teagasc’s Tom Coll and Kieran Henry
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

An increasing number of drystock farmers are looking to the expanding dairy herd as a source of potential regular income.

"It is all about trust," said Teagasc advisor Tom Coll, who set up a contract rearing group in the north-west. "You must build up a relationship and that can take a couple of years."

He explained the interest in contract rearing has increased strongly in the last few months after the busy spring on many dairy farms.

"It is expanding now. There are about another six or seven farmers that are looking for stock for 2018," said Tom, adding many farmers have been coming along to their meetings to learn about it.

"They can achieve a €1,000-plus gross margin - there is a lot of potential there provided they keep the cost down, use minimum concentrates, use good quality silage and operate a paddock system."

Tom said many dairy farmers were worried about handing over their valuable dairy heifers to another farmer to raise but the scan rates obtained by their group showed they were on top of their game.

"They have the fear that they are letting go of a very valuable heifer and putting that trust in someone else to get them in-calf but the farmers are clear on what it takes to hit the targets and they have built it up over the years," he said.

"They were aiming to get 95pc of the heifers in-calf in the first six weeks," he said. "They are very good results. The critical thing is if they can get them in-calf in the first three weeks of the breeding season it has an overall lifetime effect on the herd profitability," he said.

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The advisor stressed they were achieving rates ahead of the targets of many dairy farmers. He pointed out that it was also in the contract rearers interest to ensure they delivered the best service possible as they wanted to continue to get the contract year after year.

'It's more responsibility as you're trying to get a good in-calf rate'

For Kieran Henry it was all about finding the right dairy farmer to work with.

"We had talked about it for about six months beforehand and we'd gotten to know each other a bit. It is a little bit more responsibility as you are trying to get a very good in-calf rate," said Kieran, who along with his wife Caroline took over her father Henry Carr's farm in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo in 2011.

The pedigree Limousin breeder who currently has a herd of 30 cows feels that his work as an AI technician does give him an added edge as it is the most important point of the season.

"We were seeing the heifers around three times a day and I'd urge people not to be in a hurry. Watch them and you'll build up a picture," he said. "We carried out AI for six days and anything not seen in heat was given estrumate and all 56 had AI carried out within 14-15 days."

He explains that it was the stability of income that drew them to it a couple of years ago.

"It is a regular cheque each month whereas the pedigree enterprise is only one or two pay days a year. Will it provide more for me than the pedigree herd? We'll be seriously considering that in the future we might concentrate more on the contract rearing," he said.

Currently, their first batch from the Dunphy's landed in April and are all going back in-calf next month.

"We are working on a contract at the moment to take the next batch through from October to the following October," he said, with work already underway under TAMS II on a five bay slatted shed with creep area to house the stock.

"We'd be on medium-heavy type soil so we are struggling at the minute but we have nothing housed. Most of the stock are on 12-hour breaks. There is a good bit of work in moving the wires and keeping ahead of them," he said.

Kieran advises anyone considering going down the route to brush up on their grassland management. "Find a farmer that you can work with, after that have good record keeping and good heat detection records in the weeks prior to breeding. Keeping a diary of records is crucial," he said.

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