By Debbie James

Heifer rearing is a specialist job and one that can be neglected on dairy farms because of the demands from other areas of the business.

John Crimes, a dairy consultant at CARA Wales, says a dedicated rearer with the time and skills should therefore get better results.

Costs can be controlled too as these are set out in the agreement.

“The heifer owner will know precisely how much it will cost to get a heifer into the herd,’’ says Mr Crimes.

If rearing is outsourced, facilities that would be taken up by heifer rearing at the owner’s farm can be used more efficiently for other purposes, such as increasing cow numbers, Mr Crimes suggests.

Removing rearing from the day-to-day jobs also frees up time, although for some owners the loss of control on rearing can be an issue.

“For some it frees up a labour unit or removes the need for someone to be employed on the farm for this job,’’ says Mr Crimes.

The arrangement is also beneficial for cashflow for both parties as payment for the service is usually monthly.

But if the job of rearing is outsourced to someone who isn’t up to it the farmer could be counting the cost for years to come, Mr Crimes warns.

“I have plenty of clients who would never have heifers reared again by someone else because of a bad experience.’’

TB movement restrictions can be a major barrier to contract rearing, particularly if rearers have their own stock.

Check the health status of the rearing farm for other diseases too to prevent importing costly disease back with the heifers.

Two former dairy farmers say the monthly income they receive for rearing 160 heifers on contract is good for managing cashflow.

Brothers Iwan and Huw Davies rear 160 heifers on contract at Blaenwaun Farm near Cardigan.

Their parents were producing milk until they sold the herd 20 years ago to concentrate on developing their on-farm caravan park.

They initially bought organic store cattle to fatten but the cashflow from this enterprise was challenging.

The opportunity then came to rear heifers for a friend who runs a large-scale dairy enterprise with spring and autumn calving herds.

The heifers arrive at Blaenwaun Farm when they are between four and six months old and leave up to two months before they calve at two years old.

The Davieses can accommodate up to 200.

They receive a flat-rate daily payment per head which is paid monthly.

“It is like having a small milk cheque every month,’’ says Iwan.

To maximise financial return from the agreement, the aim is to get as much weight gain as possible from grass.

“If we can get them up to target weight on grass and don’t have to put in any concentrates it makes the job better financially,’’ says Iwan.

As the rearers, the cost of feed, parasite treatments and emergency vet treatment and medications are the Davieses' responsibility while the owner pays for all other costs including insemination.

Target bulling weight is 280kg but having two groups of heifers is beneficial for the very small number of animals that don’t achieve that as they can join the other group.

Iwan says the heifer rearing enterprise is a good balance with the family’s other business commitments.

“When they are housed in the winter and need more attention we have more time but when they are at grass in the summer it is mostly a case of checking them every morning.’’

There isn’t a written agreement with the owner, everything is done on trust, says Iwan.

“We are friends who have known each other for years but we have reared for others in the past and had written agreements with them.’’