Why transport regulations could have a negative impact on the Irish calf trade

With the calving season kicking into gear, the export trade is focusing keenly on markets for Irish calves.

The Irish dairy herd has grown considerably over the past three years, according to Bord Bia, with cow numbers up by 200,000 head.

And despite the increase in Hereford and Angus calf registrations, some 60% of the calves registered to these cows and heifers will be pure dairy.

This will inevitably lead to an increase in the number of Holstein Friesian bulls becoming available for export to markets such as Spain and the Netherlands.

The majority of which are aged between 15-35 days, with the younger lighter types destined for veal production in the Netherlands while the slightly older, stronger animals go to Spain for finishing as bulls.

A change to transport regulations

However, the increasing availability of Irish Holstein Friesian bull calves along with regulation changes could have a negative impact on prices this spring.

Bord Bia says Dutch authorities implemented a new directive in spring 2016 which requires Irish transporters to make an additional feeding stop within nine hours of departing the resting station in France.

This stop has impacted negatively on Ireland’s competitiveness in the market that imports animals for its highly integrated veal sector, it says.

Last year, the Netherlands imported 750,000 calves, it says, with 27,000 coming from Ireland.

And given that the Netherlands imports a large number of calves from Ireland, any changes in terms of competitiveness may have a negative impact on Irish calf prices.

Calf exports to Spain

According to Bord Bia, Spain is highly reliant on live imports and it is estimated that 450,000 head were imported last year.

Spain was previously an important destination for Irish weanlings, it says, but over the years the market has moved to importing calves, with 32,500 Irish calves being exported to Spain last year.

Calves are reared in a conventional manner, before weaning onto a concentrate-based diet. On many farms, average carcass weights of 250kg are achieved at less than 12 months of age.

Recently, Spanish finishers have enjoyed relatively stable prices, especially for ‘O’ grade young bulls, which averaged €3.47/kg at the year-end.