There has been a greater spotlight cast on the live export trade over the last week. The trade is a vital outlet for the Irish livestock sector, but there is no room for the breaches in legislation seen on the RTÉ Investigates programme, which aired on Monday.

The latest live export data published by Bord Bia shows exports surpassing the 250,000 head mark and running 41,465 head higher than the corresponding period in 2022.

A breakdown of the figures recorded in the week ending 24 June 2023 shows calf exports underpinning the lift in exports, with 195,874 calves leaving the country in 2023. This represents an increase of 33,576 head or 20.7%.

Finished cattle and weanlings

Exports of finished cattle and weanlings have recorded a higher percentage increase of 26.1% and 38.6% respectively, but numbers involved are much lower.

The number of finished cattle exported live is running at 23,361 head compared to 18,531 head in 2022. The lift in exports has been partly driven by a recent increase in the number of cattle crossing the border for slaughter in Northern Ireland.

Weanling exports are running at 16,730 head, up by 4,658 head on 2022 levels. In contrast, the number of cattle categorised as stores and exported live has fallen from 15,669 in 2022 to 14,070 head in 2023, a decrease of 1,599 stores or just over 10% lower.

Live export destinations

The Netherlands is by far the greatest live export destination for Irish cattle, accounting for 108,761 head, or 43.5% of total live exports to date in 2023.

The 14.5% increase has been driven by greater demand for Irish calves in veal production systems with numbers available reduced domestically and in other import markets.

Exports to Spain are second to the Netherlands with 57,560 head exported in 2023, over 3,000 head or 6% higher.

Italy has overtaken Northern Ireland as the third highest market on a numerical basis with exports to Northern Ireland representing a higher value.

The number of animals exported to the Italian market is running at 27,204 head, up almost 7,500 or 37% in 2023. The increase is stemming from a combination of higher calf and weanling exports.

The number of cattle exported to Northern Ireland, at 24,156 head is 7.6% higher.

Eastern Europe markets

There is continued growth in exports to markets in Eastern Europe, with some destinations acting as a go-between, with animals exported to Turkey at a later stage.

The number of cattle exported to Poland has increased by over 10,000 head to 12,502 with a high percentage of exports comprising calves.

The 3,467 cattle exported to Hungary, 2,582 to Romania, 2,404 to Bulgaria and 968 to Slovakia are mainly bulls destined for Turkey.