Export focus: Meet the family shipping thousands of calves each year

Located in Mooreshill, Arklow, Co. Wicklow, the Wicklow Calf Company has grown to be one of the largest calf farms in Ireland.

Under the stewardship of siblings Elizabeth, David and James Scallan, AgriLand visited the operation in recent days, just as bull calves were being loaded – under the supervision of Department of Agriculture vets – for export.

The export business

Touching on the export side of the business, David explained: “We exported 1,800 calves to Continental Europe in recent days and the total for the year is up by 30% on the corresponding period in 2017.

“Four truckloads – carrying 1,200 calves in total – left on Saturday morning and another two left the yard for Europe on Tuesday.

“We’ve built up some very good relationships with our clients and we supply customers in the Netherlands and Spain with Holstein Friesian, Angus and Hereford bull calves.

“All of our calves are sourced directly from dairy farmers across the country and we don’t purchase any calves in the marts.”

Touching on the process involved in loading the calves for export, he added: “The calves begin to arrive on the farm on Friday and are sorted into calves for the home market and those for export.

“Along with two others, we began to batch the calves for each individual client at 7:00pm on Friday. Each calf’s ear tag is scanned and cross-checked with its identification card (blue card).

Wicklow Calf Company

“Calves are then batched into holding pens during the night; each pen corresponds with a lorry to be filled the following morning. All of the calves are fed milk and rested prior to loading,” he added.

As it stands, approximately 66.6% of all calves exported are Holstein Friesian bulls, while the remaining 33.3% are Hereford and Angus males. As the season progresses, this is set to change to 66.6% early-maturing calves and 33.3% dairy-bred bulls.

The home market

Along with running a thriving export business, the Scallan family also sell a large number of calves on the domestic market; over the past seven days, 400 calves have been sold to Irish farmers.

Up to 300 calves can be housed in a specially-designed calf shed at any one time and breeds include: Belgian Blue; Charolais; Holstein Friesian; Angus; and Hereford – to name a few.

David explained: “The home trade is extremely important to us. We source and supply all breeds throughout Ireland and we pride ourselves in sourcing calves directly from Irish farmers.

“Farmers interested in buying can arrange to come and visit our farm and select what calves they want to suit them; no order is too big or too small. We can also supply farmers with reared calves.”

Purpose-built housing

The calves destined for export and those for the domestic market are housed in separate facilities on the Wicklow-based holding.

Built in 2009, the purpose-built, A-roof shed stands at 190ft long by 30ft wide. All of the calves to be sold to Irish farmers are carried in this unit.

The building is divided into two sections of 11 calf pens, while a care area and feeding area are also located under the one roof.

The external walls of the shed stand at approximately 6ft high; allowing for a constant air flow throughout the design, while wind breakers are also used to reduce excessive draughts.

However, since the shed was constructed in 2009, another key feature has been added – a magdek calf vent.

Spanning the length of the shed, the custom tube system – with multiple hole layouts – distributes air evenly without creating draughts.

David has noted a drastic improvement in calf health since the system was installed, as air change within the shed is essential to remove aerosols that pass bacteria into the calves’ lungs.

Due to the design of the shed, all of the pens are easy to clean out and bed. This keeps the calves happy and healthy during their stay on the farm.

A centrally-located drainage system is also located in the shed to carry any excess seepage away from the calves bedding and out of the shed.

A milk replacer preparation area is also located in one of the corners of the shed, where milk is prepared to feed up to 300 calves on a daily basis.

The prepared milk is then transported through a series of pipes and is easily distributed to each pen of calves in the shed.

All of the calves on the farm are fed with the Wicklow Calf Company’s own-brand milk replacer – which is available in 21%, 23% and 26% protein variants – and is available to purchase from the company’s base in Mooreshill.

Missing an opportunity with calves

David also expressed concern at the amount of milk – or the lack of – some farmers are feeding their calves prior to sale.

“Dairy farmers need to feed their bull calves well prior to sale to improve their chances of being exported out of the country.

“The markets we are dealing with require well-fed calves and it is important that farmers don’t skimp on milk feeding prior to selling bull calves.

“Farmers are missing an opportunity with their calves. If they were willing to feed them that big longer, they could add significant value to their calves.

“The export trade depends of buyers in Holland and Spain receiving well-fed calves. It makes absolute sense for dairy farmers to feed their bull calves before marketing them. A little bit of extra milk could add considerable value to a bull calf,” he concluded.