ICSA suckler chairman Dermot Kelleher has expressed concern that farmers may leave the suckling business.

“Many suckler farmers are considering leaving the sector, but in some cases, their land is not suitable for other options. These farmers should consider cutting numbers if it’s costing too much, but if you’re good at breeding and calving, don’t abandon the land,” he said.

Cattle rearing family farm incomes declined by 22% in 2013 due to higher costs of production, according to the Teagasc National Farm Survey. It also showed that on cattle rearing farms direct payments still accounted for significantly more than family farm incomes. This overwhelming dependence of incomes on direct payments highlights the fact that on many Irish farms costs of production far exceeded returns from the market in 2013.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to suckler farming,” he said. “Farmers have had to deal with a variety of conflicting advice and the simple reality is that no two farms are the same. For example, farmers are currently being advised to breed half-Holstein cows but this limits their options for the sale of weanlings. Food conversion in Friesian breeds is much lower than in Continentals, and the European market has little interest in such animals.”

“Your cows must have enough milk to feed a calf, without the need to turn to dairy stock. If you have cows that won’t rear a calf, there is no point in keeping them. There are plenty good beef bulls out there that have enough milk. Breeding good cattle, U grade or better, allows you the option of selling your bull calves for the live export market, or alternatively castrating them and getting a reasonable price here at home.”