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Views on dairy calf to beef action plan sought


Stakeholders of the beef and dairy sectors gathered in Portlaoise on Thursday, January 18th, for the launch of a 10-point action plan on supporting dairy calf to beef systems in Ireland.

Minister McConalogue launching the consultation on the dairy calf to beef action plan

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D., addressed delegates at the launch of the consultation on a new action plan on dairy calf to beef systems 

Approached in the right way, with the right knowledge and the right advice, dairy calf to beef systems are a profitable option for farmers. To further develop this, the action plan centres on: profitable and environmentally sustainable dairy beef systems; sexed semen; breeding; capital grants available under TAMS 3; knowledge transfer; demonstration farms; the formalisation of relationships between dairy and beef farmers; marketing beef; the role of beef processors; and improved calf health and welfare.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D., launched the consultation process for this action plan, which will run until February 9th.

Speaking from the event, Minister McConalogue said: “This action plan is a collaborative effort between my department, Teagasc, Bord Bia and ICBF, and wider stakeholders. Making dairy calf to beef systems a profitable and sustainable option for farmers requires a huge national effort and I was struck by the enthusiasm and supports outlined for farmers. It is important that the potential of these systems is fully understood in advance of the upcoming breeding season.”

The Minister continued: “This initiative is designed to sit alongside the existing supports to ensure that livestock farmers have as many options as possible and continue to develop in a sustainable manner.

“Its development should be a priority for the dairy and beef sectors. We are keen to hear the views of both and I would encourage all bodies to engage with the consultation on the action plan. I intend to publish it shortly afterwards with its implementation a priority for all involved.”

Building blocks in place

Professor Frank O’Mara, Director of Teagasc, highlighted the role Teagasc will play in the delivery of this action plan, focusing particularly on the role of sexed semen, breeding indexes, the dissemination of knowledge through programmes such as the DairyBeef 500 Campaign and the organisation’s role as an educator through its network of agricultural colleges.

Professor O’Mara said: “The building blocks are in place now to improve the beef merit of the calf crop from the dairy herd given the progress that has been made in the use of sexed semen, and the advances in genetic tools such as the Dairy Beef Index and the Commercial Beef Value (CBV), coupled with the new genotyping programme.

“This presents an opportunity for beef farmers which can be maximised by greater integration between dairy and beef farms. Breeding and good colostrum management, along with calf rearing and health, and good grassland management are key technologies underpinning profitable dairy beef systems,” he added.

Industry views

As part of the launch event, representatives from the beef and dairy industry, along with those in the breeding and genetics side, shared their thoughts on the action plan.

Speakers at the launch of the dairy calf to beef action plan

Pictured at the launch of the consultation on the 10 point action plan for dairy calf to beef  from left to right are: Pat Sheahan, Chair of Dairy Industry Ireland; Dr Margaret Kelleher, Quantitative Geneticist with ICBF; Dr Doreen Corridan, CEO of the National Cattle Breeding Centre; Jim O'Toole, CEO of Bord Bia; Professor Karina Pierce, UCD; Professor Frank O'Mara, Director of Teagasc; Brendan Gleeson, Secretary General at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; and Philip Carroll, Chair of Meat Industry Ireland.

Pat Sheahan, Chair of Dairy Industry Ireland, discussed the key actions the dairy industry will take as part of the action plan, included in this is the National Genotyping Programme – an initiative supported by DII - and actions focused on calf welfare.

“From a dairy point of view, we are exporting €16.5 billion worth of product across 160 countries, so welfare of the calf is critical in terms of sustainability,” he said.

Philip Carroll, Chair of Meat Industry Ireland, highlighted how the beef industry has grown to be more dependent on the dairy sector, given the rise in animals of dairy origin since the removal of quotas in 2015; animals of dairy origin now account for ~60% of Ireland’s beef throughput.

By the beef and dairy sectors working together, he said, the development of a better quality product can be achieved. He also noted that the uptake of technologies such as the National Genotyping Programme and breeding tools will enable the sector to produce better quality meat for top quality markets, while at the same time reducing the age of slaughter which is high on the industry’s sustainability agenda currently.

Jim O’Toole, CEO of Bord Bia, commented that Bord Bia was very happy to be a part of this initiative and its role would be in relying the messages coming from the marketplace in terms of beef quality and market specifications.

“We are promoting on the basis of grass-fed Irish beef. We have made a lot of progress in highlighting the sustainability of our offer, but that is all underpinned by product quality and I think there are real impacts from this action plan that will ensure that we have more product of the quality that is going to attract our customers in Europe particularly,” he said.

Dr Margaret Kelleher, a Quantitative Geneticist with ICBF, explained how the action plan contains a whole toolkit to improve the quality of beef coming from the dairy herd. Such technologies include the information garnered as part of the National Genotyping Programme, the Dairy Beef Index and the CBV. She noted that the National Genotyping Programme and the CBV will tie hand-in-hand to give choice to beef farmers when it comes to sourcing calves this spring.

Dr Doreen Corridan, CEO of the National Cattle Breeding Centre (NCBC), also commented that the industry isn’t starting from scratch when it comes to the genetics in play, but a continued focus must be placed on increasing the carcass weight and value of progeny produced from the dairy herd without impacting upon calving traits. Pedigree breeders using the appropriate genetics, testing programmes, breeding tools and the use of technologies to aid heat detection all have an important role in achieving this, she said.

For more information on the 10-point action plan and to share your views, click here.