Beef Farming

 

Research


Beef production from grass is one of Irish farming’s greatest strengths. Ireland’s best asset for beef production is our 1.1 million beef suckler cow herd kept on just under 80,000 farms. These beef animals calve once per year, typically in Spring, with their offspring reared on their mother’s milk until weaning nine months later. The dams are generally Angus, Hereford, Limousin, Charolais or Simmental cross cows, generally sourced as crosses from the dairy herd. The cows are mated to terminal sires such as Charolais, Limousin or Belgian Blue. Full details of the exact make-up of the national herd are available on the superb AIM database maintained by the Department of Agriculture ( www.agriculture.gov.ie ) and from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (www.icbf.com).

 

Beef research and advisory services are run nationally by Teagasc (www.teagasc.ie), while Bord Bia (www.bordbia.ie) promotes Irish beef on export markets. The latter also run the highly successful Beef Quality Assurance Scheme, an audited process that ensures all beef sold carrying the Quality Assured Irish Beef logo meets defined standards.

According to Bord Bia, Ireland produced 564,000 tonnes of beef in 2015. Due to our relatively small population, only about 10% of this was consumed on the domestic market, leading to beef exports in 2015 of half a million tonnes, worth approximately €2.41 billion. 

 

Cattle breeding

Thousands of farmers in Ireland are engaged in pedigree breeding of cattle, with their purebred stock registered in the herdbook of their chosen breed. The numerically largest pedigree breed is the Irish Holstein Friesian Association (ww.ihfa.ie) with over 3,000 breeders (pictured). Eighteen beef breed societies are participants in the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (www.icbf.com). The following are the main beef breeds, as well as their country of origin and year of first importation: Angus (Great Britain, 1843); Aubrac (France, 1992); Blonde d’Aquitaine (France, 1974); Belgian Blue (Belgium, 1980); Charolais (France, 1964); Hereford (Great Britain, 1775); Limousin (France, 1972); Piemontese (Italy, 1982); Parthenaise (France, 1997); Saler (France, 1997); Shorthorn (Great Britain, 1882) and Simmental (Austria, 1971).

Copyright Irish Farmers Journal
Cattle breeding
Copyright Irish Farmers Journal

Cattle breeding

Thousands of farmers in Ireland are engaged in pedigree breeding of cattle, with their purebred stock registered in the herdbook of their chosen breed. The numerically largest pedigree breed is the Irish Holstein Friesian Association (ww.ihfa.ie) with over 3,000 breeders (pictured). Eighteen beef breed societies are participants in the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (www.icbf.com). The following are the main beef breeds, as well as their country of origin and year of first importation: Angus (Great Britain, 1843); Aubrac (France, 1992); Blonde d’Aquitaine (France, 1974); Belgian Blue (Belgium, 1980); Charolais (France, 1964); Hereford (Great Britain, 1775); Limousin (France, 1972); Piemontese (Italy, 1982); Parthenaise (France, 1997); Saler (France, 1997); Shorthorn (Great Britain, 1882) and Simmental (Austria, 1971).

Copyright Irish Farmers Journal
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According to Bord Bia, Ireland produced 547,000 tonnes of beef in 2011. Due to our relatively small population, only about 10% of this was consumed on the domestic market, leading to beef exports in 2011 of half a million tonnes, worth approximately €1.8 billion. Ireland is the fifth largest beef exporter in the world (after Australia, Brazil, Netherlands and USA).

 

Exports

Beef cattle for the export market are slaughtered at one of around 30 approved export meat plants. Three privately controlled firms hold a dominant share of the sector; ABP, owned by Co Louth’s Larry Goodman; Dawn, owned by the Queally and Browne families from Waterford and Kepak, owned by the family of the late Noel Keating in Co Meath.

As well as exports of carcase beef in chilled form, we also export beef in the form of live cattle. In 2011, 215,000 cattle were exported live from Ireland. Most of these were young animals sent to Italy and Spain, where they are finished through further feeding for up to a year. There is also a sizeable volume of dairy calf exports from Ireland to veal units in the Netherlands.

Exporting animals live rather than in carcase form generates less economic activity in Ireland, but farmers regard competition from the live market as essential in order to ensure cattle prices in Ireland track prices in the rest of Europe.

For a long period of our history, Ireland exported live cattle and little else to Britain. The trade is said to have commenced around 1600. A notable collapse in the trade occurred after the formation of the Free State. When the Irish Government withheld land annuities, the British Government placed import duties on Irish imports, including cattle. The resulting “Economic War” led to a collapse in the value of Irish cattle exports.

Thankfully, much progress has been achieved since then. The industry is now strongly poised for growth and expansion.

The past decade has seen a remarkable change in the market outlets for Irish beef. In the 1990’s, European Union intervention and Third Country markets were the main outlets for our carcase beef exports. Today, Irish beef is sold by over 70 of Europe’s leading retail chains. In 2010, 98% of beef exports were destined for continental Europe with the UK accounting for half the total.

 


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