There has been a mixed reaction to details of the 2024 Beef Welfare Scheme (BWS) announced on Tuesday by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue. The scheme with a funding allocation of €20m has two actions – mandatory meal feeding of calves for a period of at least four weeks pre-weaning and two weeks post-weaning, and an optional action of vaccinating eligible calves against clostridial diseases and/or pneumonia.

The maximum payment for meal feeding is €35/calf up to a maximum of 40 calves, while the payment for vaccination is €15 up to a maximum of 40 calves. The maximum payment for a herd is €2,000, with the upper payment rate €300/herd higher than the 2023 scheme which had the same payment of €1,400 for meal feeding and a maximum payment of €300 for IBR blood testing. The scheme will open for applications in early August and at application stage, farmers must denote if they are selecting a vaccination option and if so, which action.

Mixed reaction

On one hand, farmers are pleased to see the core element of the scheme remains meal feeding pre- and- post-weaning, but farmers with autumn-born calves are coming to terms with the fact that they may miss out on receiving payments on a portion or possibly all of their calves.

This is due to the fact that beef calves deemed eligible for inclusion in the scheme are those born to eligible suckler cows (beef breed only) in the period 1 July 2023 to 30 June 2024. A number of farmers have contacted the Irish Farmers Journal since the details of the scheme were announced citing that they have already sold autumn-born weanlings, or will not have the required timeframe to complete actions before their planned sale date.

The concerns raised to date primarily relate to action two, vaccination, with a high percentage of farmers who participated in the scheme in recent years taking their chances on continuing meal feeding. There is potentially a high number of animals in this category.

Birth registrations

Table 1 shows the number of calf birth registrations by breed of dam for the period July through to December 2023. The ‘other’ category, which includes beef dam breeds not listed is contained in this category, but so too are minor dairy breeds.

The latest statistics from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation show that there are 539,923 calves registered for the first six months of 2024, a reduction of almost 37,000 head on the corresponding period in 2023. This means that there could in theory be upwards of 700,000 calves potentially eligible for inclusion.

This is another area where large-scale beef farmers have voiced their frustration with the cap on numbers at a maximum of 40 calves. Some such farmers with higher value entitlements highlight that they continue to lose due to changes in payments under the CAP Strategic Plan and are being also hit under the Beef Welfare Scheme.

Ministerial comment

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue commented: “Supporting suckler farmers is one of my priorities as minister and to this end, I secured an additional €20m in Budget 2024 and ring-fenced it in my Department’s budget for this beef scheme.

“I can confirm that the scheme will open in early August, as it did last year. Together with Suckler Carbon Efficiency Programme (SCEP), this will once again deliver on my commitment to give €200 per cow to suckler farmers. When coupled with the SCEP, participants in the BWS will be eligible for €200/cow-calf pair for the first 22 pairs.

“I am glad to confirm that as with previous national schemes, eligible calves are those born to eligible suckler cows in the period from 1 July 2023 to 30 June 2024. This scheme will consist of two measures aimed at improving on-farm efficiency: namely a mandatory meal feeding action and an optional vaccination action. Farmers can select the second action where they wish to improve overall herd health on their holdings.”

Charlie McConalogue, Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food on the suckler farm of Raymond Palmer, Castlefinn, Co Donegal. \ Clive Wasson

Department questions and answers

Below are a number of questions released by the Department as part of this week’s announcement.

  • Q: Who is eligible to apply for the scheme?
  • Participants must be a suckler beef farmer, ie have eligible calves born to eligible suckler cows in the period 1 July 2023-2030 June 2024.

  • Q: What are participants required to do to obtain a scheme payment?
  • There are two actions in the scheme:

  • Action one – meal feeding pre-weaning and post-weaning is a mandatory action.
  • Action two – vaccination is an optional action which participants (or their FAS advisers acting on their behalf) must select at application stage.
  • Q: What must participants do to obtain payment under Action one?
  • They must introduce meal feeding for a period of four weeks pre-weaning and two weeks post-weaning to reduce the stress on calves at weaning time. Calves must be supplemented with compound feeding stuffs containing appropriate minerals and vitamins. Meal feeding must be carried out on the number of calves selected by the applicant (or their FAS adviser acting on their behalf) at application stage, subject to the maximum of 40 calves.

  • Q: What must participants do to obtain payment under Action two?
  • They or their FAS adviser must select this action at application stage. If this action is selected at application stage, participants must implement a vaccination programme against clostridial diseases and/or calf pneumonia in suckler calves and record details of the vaccination. The maximum payment for this action is €15/calf regardless of whether the calf is vaccinated for one or both diseases.

    Where appropriate, it is advised that participants should consult with their veterinary surgeon for the most suitable vaccination programme for their specific farm. For a vaccine to work properly, farmers must follow the vaccination programme for the product being used and allow the time required for the onset of immunity.

    A record must be kept by each participant on the purchase and use of vaccines. Vaccination must be carried out on the number of calves selected by the applicant (or their FAS adviser acting on their behalf) at application stage, subject to the maximum of 40 calves.

  • Q: What is the maximum payment available to participants who correctly complete both actions?
  • See table below.

    Note: In the event of the scheme being oversubscribed, a linear reduction on the payment amount or maximum number of animals eligible for payment may be applied across either action one, action two or both.