The changes announced by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney in September at the Ploughing effectively ended the requirement for pre-movement testing of animals.
The changes are of immediate benefit to farmers who usually sell animals in the mart or from farm to farm.
Up to 2013, heifers aged 18 months sold either through the mart or through farm to farm sales were required to undertake pre-movement brucellosis testing.
This age threshold was increased to two years from 2013 onwards, and thanks to successful national efforts to eradicate this disease, the requirement for pre-movement testing has now been abolished, albeit brucellosis remains a notifiable disease in the event of any suspected outbreaks. The abolition of mandatory testing both at pre-movement stage and at the annual herd test represents a real saving in herd testing costs, but as well as benefiting those farmers selling animals, the changes also benefit farmers who are looking to avail of contract rearing, B&B, or cow leasing.
These new-fangled approaches to managing stock are being adopted by more and more farmers, from a near zero base, just a short few years ago.
Contract rearing, as the name suggests, involves one farmer rearing animals under contract for another farmer. Contract rearing is perhaps the most innovative change in dairy farming over the last decade, and particularly since quotas have been abolished.
The increase in the demand for contracting rearing services, and an increase in the number of traditional beef and suckler farmers looking to get involved in contract rearing, are palpable.
This paradigm shift is unsurprising when you consider contract rearing can be a win-win for both parties.
There can be multiple benefits to the dairy farmer, from freeing up grazing blocks for dairy stock, to reducing the dairy farmer’s workload, so they can focus on their main activity.
For the contract rearer, the benefits include a cash windfall from disposal of existing stock.
Calves/cattle usually arrive fully weaned, and there is no exposure to volatility in beef prices, as sales are locked in through a daily rate contract.
Traditionally, the B&B option for cattle involved the movement of cattle to another holding, generally for a temporary purpose, such as for wintering.
This is an ideal solution for farmers who have insufficient livestock housing, or who are looking for alternatives that are cheaper than building extra accommodation.
Although the abolition of brucellosis testing removes one of the major costs and barriers to a freer approach to farming, farmers should continue to take special care when taking up contract rearing or B&B options, to avoid situations which may impair the future health of their animals or their herd.
In particular, farmers should avoid mixing of animals. Animals should not share access to feeding and watering, and grazing areas. Remember, there is a whole host of diseases which can be unwittingly imported when returning animals, which not only can affect their individual health but can leave a lasting impact on your herd.
Take precautions such as ensuring the other farmer’s herd and premises has been clean from IBR, BVD, Johne’s disease, tuberculosis, neospora etc.
For some diseases, it is possible to mitigate risk through careful vaccination programs, your veterinary practitioner can be a great source of advice when considering these options.