Heifer raising is costly to a farm. On average, heifer raising is about 20% of the total operating costs on a farm. Heifer raising is an investment for the future of the herd; it doesn’t create return until the heifer has calved and is producing milk.
However, heifers may not prove an investment for the future of the herd if they are not cared for and fed properly. They may be more costly and time consuming for a farm if they do not reach desired production numbers, have health problems, etc.
Custom heifer raising seems to be a popular trend lately. While farmers are looking to replace their cows and/or even expand their herd with growthy, high-performing heifers, they are seeking out custom heifers to take care of their calves. By contracting with a custom heifer raiser, farmers have the opportunity to focus their time and energy on other areas where they are more skilled or need more close managerial attention.
By specializing in the care of heifers, custom heifer raisers provide a service for farmers. Custom heifer raisers have the ability to be efficient with their feed costs while reaching benchmarks sooner. They focus all of their time on the heifers they care for so they have the ability to monitor illness and lack of growth each in calf.
Before making the decision to send your calves to a custom heifer raiser, however, it is important to do the following:
- Assess facilities: Could my current facilities be used to expand the milking herd? Are these facilities working well for raising calves? Could we store more feed in this area?
- Potential to grow: Would we like to expand the milking herd? Would this area allow for more calves?
- Assess labor: Could we use our current calf labor elsewhere? If we expand the milking herd, will we have enough people to milk and care for the calves? Will we be able to afford hiring more people to expand the herd?
- Current issues: Are there current issues with the way we care for our calves? Could we care for our calves better?
Once you have thought about all these areas, it is important to look at the advantages and disadvantages of custom heifer raising, and assess where your heifer raising operation may be lacking or thriving.
Advantages of custom heifer raisers
- Less labor
- Concentrate on the milking herd
- Free up housing space to expand
- Less feed inventory
- Growthier and healthier replacement calves
Disadvantages of custom heifer raisers
- Loss of management control
- Potentially unused facilities
- More cash flow
- Potential exposure to biosecurity risks
- Owner/grower conflicts
- Non-growthy replacement heifers
If you choose to send your calves to a custom heifer raising operation, make sure that you agree with the raiser on a fair contract that outlines the following important items:
- Expected growth performance
- Responsibilities of both owner and grower
- Fee arrangements
- Designated pick up times and schedule
- Health protocols
- Death rates
By creating a contract, the owner and raiser can have a much better relationship and both parties win when the contract is abided by. The owner brings quality animals back to the herd, and the raiser earns a profit. Refer to this resource from the University of Minnesota Extension for more information about creating custom heifer raising contracts.