Believe it or not we never considered the outcome of the dairy calves. This statement was made by Teagasc’s Dr. Pat Dillon – the Head of the Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Programme – during the IFA’s dairy discussion on managing dairy calves which took place today, October 22, in The Hotel Kilmore, Co. Cavan.

The discussion included industry representatives from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS), Teagasc and the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

Responding to the question: ‘Did we expand too quickly without thinking of the consequences?’ Pat said:

“Looking back when we were considering what issues would come with 50% expansion, believe it or not we never considered the outcome of the calves in the system – because it was all about how would we get the cow numbers increased, how would we get the milk processed and how would we get enough land for the dairy farmers.

“Fair enough we probably should have planned. And so, the expansion has resulted in a significant increase in the supply of male dairy calves, an increase in the slaughter of these calves and an increase in the export of these calves.”

Continuing, he said: “I think we need to alleviate our dependence on slaughter and I also think we need to reduce our dependence on calf exports.

However, the real critical thing is the welfare of the calves because as an industry we will never justify poor welfare of our dairy calves.

“This includes the welfare of the calves right through the supply chain – on the farm, in the marts, on the lorry and if being exported. On farm, that welfare responsibility lies with the farmer.”

Greater integration of beef and dairy

Finally, Pat stated that the long-term solution is through greater integration of beef and dairy.

He said: “Through the development of a viable dairy-to-beef system – as an option for the surplus male calves coming from the dairy industry – I think we can set up a profitable beef system in conjunction with a profitable dairy system.

“Most of the male calves coming from the dairy herd will be finished as beef in Ireland or exported as beef.

“I am confident, you may not say it today, the way the beef is, but long term I am confident that if we work together we can achieve that,” he concluded.