Farmer Focus: We must work for a future for bull calves

The calf export business has been in the press in the past few months. This has been a lifesaver for many dairy bull calves.

However, one unfortunate farmer I know in my region mistakenly wrote his farm name on his ear tags.

Activists identified the tags at the port and then found his farm’s Facebook page, bombarded it with derogatory comments and started nuisance phone calls by mooing down the line.

One of our local Labour MSPs had called for a ban on live exports in the Scottish parliament without even visiting a farm to get an understanding of why we need such an option.

However, as we see from the likes of Brexit, politics and business very rarely work together.

See also: How a dairy farm is using TMR to improve calf health

In my union roll we held a stakeholder meeting last week about the bull calf issues.

What stood out was the strong will to do something about it, with Scottish abattoirs needing about 50,000 more cattle to improve efficiency. The trick will be getting the right market for the product and, importantly, the right spec.

Ultimately, the answer of course is increased use of sexed semen in cows – not just in heifers – which will take a couple of years to make a difference.

As dairy farmers, we provide almost 60% of UK beef, so it’s in our interests to keep improving the quality.

We are also best placed to supply a very consistent product as well and maximise beef production from our herd, which will raise profitability without doubt.

Last week I attended our Arla regional meeting. I was very impressed by the progress made on brands, market share and new lines of products.

Innovation in dairy never ceases to amaze me, and as we see milk prices beginning to head south, I am confident we are heading more for market correction and not a market crash.

At home we are still cutting fresh grass for low yielders while still very nervous about how quickly silage is disappearing from the pit.

Gary Mitchell is a Farmer Focus writer from South West Scotland. Read his biography.