Analysis of latest government figures indicate that 85% or 1,246,081 head of calves born to the Irish dairy herd in the first 25 weeks of this year were neither exported nor slaughtered as calves.

However, latest available figures from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) also detail that a total 29,756 calves have been slaughtered this year.

There was a total of 1,471,856 births of calves with dairy-breed dams registered this year, by the week ending Sunday, June 25 (week 25), according to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation’s (ICBF’s) live statistic database.

DAFM figures show that 195,360 calves were exported in the first 25 weeks of 2023, up 20% from the 162,300 calves exported in the same time period of 2022.

According to DAFM figures, 30,415 calves were slaughtered at DAFM-approved abattoirs in the first 25 weeks of this year, up 2,512 head of calves on the same time period last year.

The figures indicate that a combined total of 225,775 calves were removed from the system through live export and calf slaughter combined in the first six months of 2023.

This equates to 15% of all calves registered to the dairy herd in the first 25 weeks of this year.

Ban looming on early slaughter

In April of this year, Agriland reported that several new criteria were included in an interim update to Bord Bia’s Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS).

The updated producer declaration, seen by Agriland, 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.

A farmer will also be required to immediately inform Bord Bia if their herd receives an animal welfare enforcement action under the Animal Health and Welfare Act.

According to the document, it is the responsibility of the herd owner to take all reasonable steps to implement the provisions of the new criteria.

In the event of non-compliance, farmers will have to put a calf breeding and management plan in place.

This plan should be equivalent to the Bord Bia calf breeding and management template.

The measure aims to track metrics related to calf health and welfare, such as cows and heifers served using artificial insemination (AI) and natural breeding methods.

Policies and procedures on various aspects of calf management should also be outlined.

Dairy farmers

The breeding strategy requires dairy farmers to use the Dairy Breeding Index (DBI) and identify high-performing beef sires with desirable traits such as growth rate, feed efficiency, and carcass characteristics.

The plan must be acknowledged by the milk purchaser representative and completed on an annual basis until issues are resolved.

As previously reported, it is noted that farmers who are found to have a subsequent non-conformance could have their SDAS membership suspended.

The changes follow a series of discussions between Bord Bia; farming organisations; industry representatives; Teagasc; the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI); and DAFM.

Agriland understands that these criteria are likely to come into effect this year once the proposals have been formally signed off by Bord Bia’s Quality Assurance (QA) board.