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Dairy Breeding and Calf Welfare

The mistreatment of the animals shown on the RTE Investigates programme is totally unacceptable, and is in breach of animal welfare legislation. Such practices cannot be tolerated. We welcome the investigation by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), into the alleged breaches of animal welfare. We fully support this investigation.

Dairy Breeding and Calf Welfare

Teagasc acknowledge that the growth in the Dairy Industry post-quota, while having been a positive opportunity for the development of the dairy sector following decades of restrictions within quotas, it has resulted in more calves being born with genetics dominated by dairy traits.

Teagasc has undertaken a number of significant research and advisory projects over the last 15 years to address the welfare and management of dairy bull calves. These initiatives are consistent with the overall Teagasc programme objective of improving animal health, welfare and performance within livestock production systems in Ireland.   

Sexed semen

Teagasc commenced large-scale farm trials on the use of sexed semen in 2013, prior to milk quota abolition. Two further trials took place on farms in 2018 and 2019. Arising from these study results, Teagasc have developed management protocols to maximize the use of higher beef value genetics in dairy herds, while maintaining supply of dairy female calves. To address demand for sexed semen, a lab to produce freshly sexed semen was established in Moorepark in 2021. A second lab now operates in Ireland and a total of 300,000 sexed semen straws were available to dairy farmers in 2023 to use to breed their dairy replacement heifers. A plan to reach 800,000 sexed semen straws being used in Ireland was outlined at the recent dairy Open Day.  See https://www.teagasc.ie/news--events/daily/dairy/more-beef-sired-calves-from-the-dairy-herd-with-sexed-semen.php  

Dairy Beef Index

The dairy beef index (DBI) is a breeding tool which was launched by ICBF and Teagasc in January 2019, and its primary objective is to improve the quality of beef animals produced from the dairy herd. The main benefits for beef farmers from the DBI are that it selects for higher carcass weight and conformation. It selects to ensure that more animals meet factory specifications. The main benefits for dairy farmers from using the DBI, is that they will be producing a more saleable calf that is still easy calving and which also have a short gestation length. This animal will achieve an improved carcass conformation. This will result in improved returns for the beef farmer which should mean the dairy farmer will get repeat customers for their calves in future years which benefits the overall industry.  

Breeding Guidelines for Dairy Farmers

Breeding guidelines have been circulated to all dairy farmers in advance of the breeding season for the last number of years.  These breeding guidelines have been developed by a DAFM-led dairy calf welfare working group, consisting of key industry stakeholders. Members of the working group include the following: DAFM, ICBF, Teagasc, National AI companies, IFA, ICMSA, ICOS, Dairy Industry Ireland, Meat Industry Ireland, Bord Bia and Animal Health Ireland.

 See link below to the guidelines that were circulated to all dairy farmers in Spring 2023, ahead of the breeding season. https://www.teagasc.ie/animals/dairy/breeding--genetics/dairy-breeding-policy-/  

Dairy Beef 500 Programme

The first phase of the Green Acres calf to beef programme was set up in 2015 to demonstrate profitable dairy calf to beef systems on a whole farm basis. A second phase of the programme was rolled out, and this was succeeded by the Teagasc Dairy Beef 500 programme which is currently running. These and other initiatives have promoted direct farm-to-farm linkages between dairy farmers with beef producers, and have demonstrated and highlighted best practice in the breeding, rearing and production of beef from Dairy cross offspring. See  link for more detail https://www.teagasc.ie/animals/beef/dairy-calf-to-beef/dairybeef-500/  

Calf to Beef Research

Teagasc has been conducting dairy calf to beef research in Johnstown Castle, county Wexford since 2009 in conjunction with meat processors. Teagasc also ran 4 dairy calf to beef demonstration farms from 2009 to 2013 alongside this research in Johnstown Castle. This was initiated prior to, and in anticipation of, the removal of milk quotas and the likely increase in dairy beef calves. More recently Teagasc set up a Dairy Calf to Beef research demonstration unit in Grange, county Meath.  A new Dairy Calf to Beef demonstration farm has been set up at Ballyvadin, Co Tipperary. This initiative is in collaboration with Shinagh Estates and Dawn meats.

 Calf Rearing Manual

Teagasc has conducted numerous research projects in recent years on optimizing the management and welfare of dairy calves. These have followed decades of previous work on the topic. Notable advances have included improved guidelines on colostrum quality, nutrition standards, and housing systems. In 2017 a calf-rearing manual was produced by Teagasc with accompanying videos to demonstrate best practice for farmers and industry. See below 


Annual Calf Care Events

The annual CalfCare events take place on farms every January across the country. The series are run by Animal Health Ireland and Teagasc and are supported by Volac Ireland in conjunction with the major dairy co-ops. Calf health depends greatly on the quality and management of the calf in early life, particularly in the first six weeks. This series of events help to prepare farmers for the upcoming calving season and outlines the importance of best practices in calf rearing.  

Animal Welfare Education

All level 5 students on Teagasc courses (first year) take the Principles of Agriculture course and Farm Safety and Farm Assurance, both modules contain animal welfare training.  These are mandatory modules. These include topics such as animal behaviour and safe handling and movement of animals. Teagasc also offer courses to those involved in animal transport at a number of locations.