A large amount of our surplus calves from our dairy industry are finding their way to the continental veal market in the Netherlands and other European markets.

Last year, according to Bord Bia figures, there was a 6,035 head or 15% jump in the number of calves exported to the Netherlands – bringing the total number to 47,585 cattle; the majority of these going for veal production.

Up until October 19 of this year, the figure has jumped to 83,240 head – a rise of 35,655 or 75% on 2018 levels.

This year, this figure is likely to grow, but with Teagasc noting that we need to reduce our dependence of calf exports – because of the welfare risks associated – it is uncertain what the future will hold.

Last week, during a discussion on managing dairy calves at an event hosted by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), farmers were anxious to know why a veal industry couldn’t be developed in Ireland, rather than exporting the calves to the Netherlands.

Responding to farmers, Ray Doyle – livestock and environmental services executive at the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) – said:

“On the point of a veal industry, when our calves go to Holland, they end up as white veal – which is three months – or rosé veal which is over six months.

They are the two exceptable ages that you are going to put a calf into the meat chain.

“From our point of view, were are eating next to none of our own meat anyways, so it would make no odds if we were eating veal or otherwise because we are exporting it all.”

He stated that the big consumers of veal are Holland and Belgium, while going on to say that they have three advantages over us in terms of a veal industry.

Advantages over us

“Firstly, they have an extremely flat calving pattern. They are calving 52 weeks of the year. So, the veal units over there have veal calves going in and out the same day.

“Secondly, they have a market to sell the veal to and, thirdly, the veal industry over there is dominated by one main enterprise that controls over 70% of the veal industry; so setting up a new unit would be very difficult.

Continuing, he said:

The biggest challenge of setting up a veal industry in Ireland is the seasonality. Here you have six-to-eight weeks of a lot of calves and then nothing.

This, he said, is a “massive problem” and if we wanted to develop a veal industry here we “would have to flatten the curve”.

He also noted that “the beef industry would be affected due to a lack of supply of calves during the time in which the veal units were running – for that six-to-eight week period in the spring”.

This is just one of a number of potential solutions raised by farmers and industry representatives for the quantity of male dairy calves coming from the expanding dairy industry.