Dairy farmers urged to ‘rebuild relationship’ with beef farmers

With additional reporting by Emma Gilsenan in Killarney

The most important advice being offered to dairy farmers ahead of spring 2020 is to “rebuild their relationship with beef farmers”

So says Padraig French head of dairy research at Teagasc, who discussed outlets for the 1.5 million calves expected to be born of the Irish dairy herd early next year, during today’s Teagasc National Dairy Conference in Killarney, Co. Kerry.

Reflecting back on the routes to market for the 1.44 million dairy calves born in 2019, French said just over a quarter would be replacement heifers, another quarter are reared on dairy farms for some part of their life; and around a third got sold on to beef farms through marts and farm-to-farm sales.

He says dealing with the remaining 15% is where the challenge will be over the next few years.

Around 13% are live exported and there are serious political questions being asked around the world about live exports.

“It is a very important market for us at the moment and we have to try to protect that market as best we can,” he said.

Spain and the Netherlands are among the chief importers of Irish dairy bull calves in recent years.

The last part of the industry – and the one that is growing in the last number of years, according French – is that of veal processing.

“About 2% of our calves are processed for veal at less than three weeks-of-age.

“The challenge for the dairy sector’s social license will depend on dairy farmers continuing to treat calves ethically,” he said.

Transparent genetics

He outlined Teagasc’s key steps for spring 2020.

“We need more space on our dairy farms to rear calves, there is already mention about sexed semen and the Dairy Beef Index (DBI).

“But what I would say is, the most important thing that dairy farmers need to do for next spring, is they need to rebuild the trust and the relationship with beef farmers.

“We need to supply them with healthy calves and with transparent genetics, so they know what they are getting.

“That is fundamental to our sustainability – that beef farmers trust us with the calves they are getting,” he concluded.