Communication vital part of grazing contract

GERALD PIDDOCK
Last updated 06:16 19/03/2014

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Waikato farmers grazing heifers for dairy farmers are being urged to keep their clients informed of the condition of their stock in the wake of the current drought conditions.

This could stop disputes between the grazier and dairy farmer over who should pay if stock came back to the dairy farmer underweight, Federated Farmers Waikato president James Houghton said.

"If I was grazing someone's dairy heifers I would be telling them that I am feeding them to the best of my ability, but you need to help resource us."

If the owner declined to help, he recommended that the grazier note the date that the conversation took place if, at the end of the grazing period the dairy farmer was unhappy.

"If you're grazing someone's stock, or got stock grazing elsewhere, go in and inspect them have these conversations and talk to each other."

Graziers are farmers that are paid by dairy farmers to have their young heifers graze paddocks on their farms, usually for 12 months starting in May. The grazier is paid for this service on a weekly rate, ranging from $7 to $9 per head.

This issue was one of the main subjects at a recent Beef+Lamb field day near Te Akau.

Farm consultant Brendan Brier said it was fair to expect dairy farmers to have to help pay for some of the costs of feed supplements with dry Waikato summers becoming more common. Graziers should set a rate that took into consideration the possibility that supplements might be needed.

"We need to have an allowance for a year where there is not ideal growth such as what we are going through right now. We need to allow for the fact that at some point we're going to have to bring in some supplement."

Any contract had to allow for the dairy farmer agreeing to pay for some of that cost. If the dairy farmer did not agree then the grazier should increase their margin.

Brier said graziers needed to maintain a cordial relationship with their dairy farmer.

'They are your client and you need to make sure they are satisfied as the next time around you will get better grazing rates and more heifers."

Good communication ensured the dairy farmer was aware of how the heifer weights were tracking so any potential animal health issues could be tackled early.

Brier also warned against the dangers of overstocking.

"Don't try and put as many heifers as you can into the system as you're getting paid to deliver them to their final weight."

New Zealand Grazing Company systems manager Hugh Mills said his company had developed a fairer payment system for graziers called model dry matter (MDM). MDM changed the focus of grazing from kilograms of liveweight gained on the heifer to kilograms of dry matter eaten.

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"It's looking at the pasture on your farm and saying 'today that pasture is worth X amount of dollars'," Mills said.

While the amount varied according to the season, he was confident this system would result in optimum heifer growth and fair payment. In the current drought conditions, this payment system had a component in the contract that stipulated the owner would agree to an extra fee, if feed needed to be brought in. However, it required a drought to be formally declared by the government before that component came in. In the current situation, it would be the grower that would carry the feed costs. In the winter, the grazier was paid a flat rate.

LIC scientist Lorna McNaughton urged graziers to regularly weigh their heifers to prevent weight loss. Ideally they should be 60 per cent of their mature liveweight at first mating and 90 per cent of that weight at calving.

These targets were achievable, but were not easy, McNaughton said. One of the main influences on reaching those weights was the heifer's birth date. The earlier the heifer was born, the more chance it had of reaching the target weight and the later born calves had to grow 10 per cent faster to reach their target weight when they leave for grazing.

If the heifers reached their full weight target, it would gain 35kg of milk solids, calve four days earlier, was 5 per cent more likely to be successful in mating in the first three weeks and 4 per cent more likely to be in calf after six weeks, she said.

"Reaching targets is definitely worthwhile for the dairy farmer, ideally you will get graziers paid properly, you'll have happy graziers, happy dairy farmers and the ultimate benefit will be well grown heifers."

- Waikato Times

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