Farming Series – Flying Herds

Herd replacements are valuable assets on a dairy farm, but heifer rearing is not for everyone, especially if labour, housing and grassland are limited. Running a flying herd, (which means herd replacements are bought in) can free up farmers to devote more attention to their milking herd, allowing some flexibility for other jobs on the farm instead of rearing stock and all the jobs that go with that. There are distinct advantages with operating a flying herd policy; a major benefit is that every animal purchased is fit to milk. An alternative for farms that have been operating a flying herd for years and are not set up for rearing their own could be contracting out this job, this isn’t something we were interested or wanted to do.

But purchasing new stock does come with health risks and there is also the temptation to retain less productive animals instead of buying fresh stock when cashflow is tight. Rearing stock also has a huge cost implication and you don’t see anything back from that animal until it gives birth (approx. 2 years of age). Our animals are vaccinated for IBR on the day they arrive and then BVD and leptospirosis vaccinations are given as soon as possible after the IBR dose.

There is a definite skill to buying stock in and I’ve noticed it’s not what you know, it’s who you know when it comes to the crux. Buying in, does however allow farmers to select the type of cow required at that point in time, working with the economic climate at that time. For example if the heifer market has high prices, being able to change to buying cows in calf can help. There are 3 routes to sourcing replacements – local markets, private sales or importing. Sourcing from abroad has been attractive in the past (before brexit) because these animals undergo rigorous health checks but the pressure on sterling is making their price less competitive currently.

I must admit switching from a herd that reared it’s own replacements to a flying herd is dramatic and I certainly wouldn’t like to make the change back currently with the current market, it just wouldn’t be affordable. But I do miss seeing young stock on the farm and would love to look at something in the future. But that’s WELL into the future!

We are a 300 acre farm. Currently milking 170 Holstein Friesians. Herd expansion was the principal reason why we made the switch to buying replacements approximately 2 years ago. We are wanting to increase cow numbers, converting the farm buildings all into cubicles for cows, whilst trying to run cost-effectively and with as little staff as possible. We tried importing cows from eastern Europe but didn’t feel that suited our farm so now try to buy as and when we need to keep a constant calving number for each month.

Much love Rebecca

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