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Dairy sector needs to gear up fast for the end of live exports by producing better calves

Ciaran Moran


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Ethical Farming Ireland, an animal rights group, recently shared a video purporting to be Irish calves on the way to France.

The short video was simple yet powerful — three artic lorries with calves bawling on the back of a ferry full of holidaymakers.

While the merits of exporting calves have been debated ad nauseam, and its defenders will argue ‘follow the science’, ultimately, it is the court of public opinion that will decide its fate.

What this latest video demonstrated to me is that the end is nigh for the practice.

I’m not alone in feeling this way; many in the sector feel it’s only a matter of time until the authorities or the ferry companies finally relent on the issue.

As one industry insider said to me earlier this year, “we might get another season”.

Many farmers feel that relenting on this issue will just lead to the ‘animal rights’ people moving on to some other element of their business. That’s understandable and probably correct.

However, what they should be asking is, are there better ways to rear calves here at home, rather than send them on the boat to Europe?

One of the most shocking revelations from last week’s calf slaughtering story was that producing quality calves ranked so low in dairy farmers’ priorities.

While it’s understandable on one level — as it’s what’s in the bulk tank that pays the bills — it’s short-sighted, to say the least.

Where will the calves go when the boat is no longer an option?

Anyone under the illusion that calf slaughtering is a solution needs a serious dose of reality.

As one farmer representative put it to me this week: “The idea of a farm leader having to defend the slaughter of 10-day-old calves has sweat running down the back of my neck.”

The dairy sector is at a crossroads on this issue. It needs to gear up fast for the end of live exports.

It needs to get serious about the impact for both the dairy and beef sectors if this is mishandled.

And it needs to start producing better calves.

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