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Ray Doyle, Livestock & Environmental Services Executive

Farmers urged to audit and plan storage space for calves if and when weather stops sailings.

Department must supervise travel arrangements to avoid lairage overloads.

While it is expected that there will be lairage capacity for up to 5,000 Irish dairy calves per sailing to Cherbourg by next Spring, farmers should still plan to have on-farm facilities in place to store calves for periods of up to 3 or 4 weeks in the highly likely event that bad weather curtails sailings, ICOS has said. 

Last week, representatives from ICOS along with the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) and the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) met lairage owners Robert Drique and Jean Luc Pignet in Cherbourg.

According to Ray Doyle, Livestock & Environment Executive of ICOS “Mr. Pignet said his operation will increase lairage capacity by approximately 1,000 spaces to 2,500, while Mr. Drique already provides that capacity, hence the figure of 5,000 in overall lairage capacity per sailing.”

“Lairage for 5,000 calves is the equivalent of about 16 trucks per sailing in total, given Department  of Agriculture provisions of 316 calves per truck in stocking density.

“However, there is clearly capacity between both Stena Line and Irish Ferries to carry far more vehicles and calves than that. Stena Line alone has capacity for 22 trucks or just over 6,900 calves per sailing, with three sailings a week.  If that was the case, it’s the equivalent of well over 20,000 calves a week which would completely overload the system.

“The maximum number of calves travelling on the ferries last year from Ireland to Cherbourg was 12,000 per week. While that indicates significant leeway in lairage capacity, it is nevertheless essential that Irish exporters communicate well in advance with the lairage operators to identify whether or not that capacity is available before sailing. It’s equally important, if an exporter cancels their sailing, that the lairage operator is also informed so that they can signal available capacity to other exporters.

“Last year the two lairage owners had difficulties with some of the Irish exporters not communicating with them in time – either they cancelled bookings and never told them until the last minute; or they arrived with an extra truck that they hadn’t booked.”

“The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine should supervise and regulate live exporters to ensure that bookings are in place at the lairages before the calves leave Ireland. This is essential given there are now over 300,000 animals a year overall being exported from Ireland and transport is clearly a major element of this process. Animals shouldn’t be loaded, or a veterinary check authorised, until the accommodation for the calves is confirmed in advance of sailing.  That way there can be greater assurance to be had on calf welfare which is essential from start to finish in the journey.”

“Still the biggest issue is one of actual sailings being cancelled due to bad weather and this is very likely as there is a reduced threshold for calling off a sailing when calves are involved than for human or goods transport. This could create a major backlog of calves all the way back to the farm where it’s essential that farmers should plan to have housing and feeding capacity in pace for calves who are delayed transit which could be anything from 3 – 4 weeks depending on sailing conditions and the volume of animals queued into the system. If these facilities are not in place then that becomes an animal welfare issue and nobody wants that.”