Growing concerns about calf-export capacity this season. A number of calf exporters have expressed concerns regarding the number of calves that vessels sailing from Ireland to mainland Europe will be able to transport this spring.
Ferry companies operating routes from Ireland to Cherbourg, France, have made changes to the vessels operating on these routes and the days they are sailing.
There are also growing concerns regarding the number of spaces for calf lorries on these vessels sailing from Ireland to Cherbourg, France.
One calf exporter told Agriland that there will be a clearer picture towards the end of the month (or start of February) on the number calf-transport lorries that can make the sailing from Ireland to mainland Europe.
However they added that this also depends on a number of factors in key markets such as the Netherlands and the sailing conditions in peak calf export months.
Another calf exporter told Agriland that unless something changes, they see less than 50% of last year’s peak export capacity being achieved this year.
Calf exporters are among the key customers for Irish dairy calves and with the peak spring calving season fast approaching, soundings of reduced export capacity from some of the country’s key exporters will be of concern to the many dairy farmers who depend on calf exporters to buy their calves.
Almost 208,000 calves (207,915) were exported in 2023, an increase of 36,253 head or 21.1% on the 171,662 head of calves exported in 2022.
According to figures from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), over 30,000 head (30,775) of calves under eight-months-of-age were slaughtered at DAFM-approved factories in 2023.
The practice of slaughtering calves has been phased out for this year and the updated producer declaration for Bord Bia’s Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) outlines that it will be prohibited to slaughter healthy calves within the first eight weeks of their life through on-farm slaughter, an approved slaughterhouse or any other intentional off-farm movement for the purpose of slaughter.
The move will bring at least an additional 30,000 calves onto an already hectic market this spring and every assurance will be needed to ensure buyer activity from calf exporters and calf to beef farms will be as strong or stronger than previous years.
The high attrition rate on the number of beef farmers willing to rear dairy calves is also a cause for concern.
Teagasc’s Alan Dillon outlined at a recent calf-rearing event at Teagasc, Grange, that of every 100 farmers that commence rearing dairy-beef calves, only 35-40 of these are still rearing calves after five years.
It is hoped that improvements in the beef genetic merits of dairy-beef calves will increase the numbers of farmers who are willing to rear calves from the dairy herd for beef production.