Export focus: Shipping thousands of dairy calves to Dutch and Spanish markets

With the peak of live calf exports approaching, AgriLand visited Wicklow Calf Company’s export yard where calves were being prepared for the Spanish and Dutch markets.

The company is one of the largest exporters of dairy-bred calves in Ireland.

Seamus Scallon explained: “All our calves are bought direct from farms. We buy no calves in the mart. It’s not that we have anything against the marts, it’s just a welfare thing for the people we buy for.”

Featuring on this week’s episode of FarmLand, Scallon explained that the calf-export company sources dairy calves from across Ireland and has different days for buying calves in different areas.

Scallon explained that the calves being exported go to the Netherlands and Spain – two of the chief importers of Irish dairy calves – and sometimes Italy.

He expressed optimism that the market is going to open up in Poland, stating: “When we get the lairages all done, there will be more space for the calves to get into.

“I think the Polish market is going to become a big player in the whole calf export business,” he added.

Scallon explained that the company places a massive emphasis on calf welfare. Once the calves arrive in the yard, they are sorted into pens in accordance with their weights and breeds.

“We check everything out,” Scallon stressed. “All our continental calves are taken out for our home trade and the Friesians suitable for export are put into different pens.

“After arriving to the yard, all of the calves are fed 2L of milk. He said: “We mix all our milk at 50° and we feed at 40°. We mix only enough milk to do so many calves so the milk won’t get cold,” explained Scallon.

“The temperature in the calf sheds are monitored. We keep the temperature right the whole time to ensure the calves are never too hot or never too cold.”

Once the export lorries arrive in the yard, officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine conduct inspections on all the vehicles to make sure they are compliant with the department’s export criteria.

“We then come along and straw bed the lorries and get them backed into their loading positions.”

Scallon noted that all the lorries have fans. They are temperature controlled and equipped with water drinkers.

“We are very much into the welfare of the animals because our business totally depends on how good our last shipment of calves was.”

He outlined that his customers’ priorities are: “Number one is calf welfare; number two is the quality of the calves on arrival; and number three is the price.”

Once loaded, the calves make their way to the boat which then travels to Cherbourg in France, where they are unloaded again and go straight to the lairages to be fed and rested before continuing onto their destination.

Concluding, Scallon said: “We need the dairy farmer, but the dairy farmer needs us guys that’s exporting and selling the calves.”

He outlined that if lairage capacity issues were solved in Cherbourg, calf exports could further increase, saying: “We need an extra six trucks per day sailing.”