As an industry, the suckler herds in Ireland are dependent on direct payments, with Teagasc profit monitors indicating that they are responsible for 110% of the farm income on these farms.

Welfare schemes form a key part of this, with the actions required under the schemes benefitting farmers in their management of their herd while also receiving payment.

Two key welfare schemes were launched this year: the Suckler Cow Efficiency Programme (SCEP) and the National Beef Welfare Scheme (NBWS).

Suckler Cow Efficiency Programme (SCEP)

In much the same way as BDGP, SCEP will focus heavily on genotyping, star ratings and data recording.

For years one and two, 80% of calves must be sired by a four- or five-star stock/AI bull on either the terminal or maternal index, with this figure rising to 85% for years three and four and 90% for year five.

Stock bulls on the farm are not required to be four- or five-star like they were in BDGP; the Department of Agriculture’s focus will be on the percentage of calves born to four- or five-star sires.

A derogation exists for year one (2023) as cows have already been served to potentially non-qualifying sires.

Farmers who are breeding autumn calving cows in the next number of weeks will have to ensure that over 80% of straws used for AI are from eligible bulls or risk penalties.

For example, if a farmer had 20 suckler cows and bred 80% of them (16) to an eligible bull and the remaining (20%) to a non-eligible bull, there is a risk that some of the cows bred to the eligible bull would scan empty, while the cows bred to the non-eligible bull could all scan in-calf.

If this were to happen, the number of calves born to eligible bulls would dip below the 80% cut off.

The rising star percentage of star-rated animals feeds through into females as well.

Farmers will be required to have 50% of their reference number of cows having four or five stars on the maternal index for years one and two, with this figure rising to 65% for years three and four to finish at 75% in year five.

Females must be genotyped and over 18 months of age to qualify, with the reference day being the 31 October each year.

Farmers who previously participated in the BDGP and have enough eligible females in their herd have no reason to panic, but farmers who are yet to genotype animals should do so immediately as there are reported backlogs in laboratories, as a result of the scheme.

Eligible heifers

Should you find your herd below the 50% mark after genotyping results come back, you can purchase eligible heifers for which there will be a number of special sales running throughout the country in the coming weeks.

For farmers who have enough eligible animals without further genotyping, they still have to have all their genomic samples returned for SCEP by 30 November 2022.

Application criteria

In a first for a beef welfare scheme, mandatory participation in the Bord Bia Suckler Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme (SBLAS).

Farmers were given the deadline of 16 October 2023 to become compliant, with approximately half of the 20,000 farmers not being SBLAS-approved prior to applying.

Farmers must also remain in SBLAS for the duration of SCEP or risk clawbacks of monies paid.

Another requirement of the scheme is to calve down 50% of the farm’s reference number each year.

Reference numbers were calculated by a farmer choosing three years of cow numbers between 2015 and 2022, with the average of the three chosen years set as the reference number.

Alternatively, farmers could have chosen a number lower than this if they had reduced cow numbers or planned on doing so.

There also exists a facility for farmers to drop their reference number by 20% each year of the scheme.

Much like BDGP, farmers must take part in a one-day training course that will cover the main criteria of the scheme, while a half-day mandatory animal handling course is a new addition.

National Beef Welfare Scheme (NBWS)

The National Beef Welfare Scheme (NBWS) is the replacement for BEEP-S and is a one-year scheme with the funding sourced from the Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR).

BEEP-S involved applicants having to weigh the unweaned cow and calf, with the option of either meal feeding pre- and post-weaning, vaccination of calves or optional faecal sampling.

For the NBWS, the weighing element has been removed as this has previously been absorbed into the above SCEP scheme, with the option of faecal sampling or vaccination dropped. Instead, the NBWS has two mandatory actions – meal feeding and IBR testing.

IBR testing

Each participant must commit to participating in the IBR testing action managed by ICBF on behalf of the Department.

They are required to engage a PVP (vet) who will blood-sample and test up to 20 bovine animals per herd, ideally nine months old (if feasible) or above if present in the herd, or all ages if there are less than 20 in the herd for IBR gE antibodies.

Where a herd has 20 or more bovines, a minimum of 20 must be tested. Where a herd has less than 20 bovines, all must be tested. Payments per head are set out below.

Number of bovines tested – payment rates

  • Between two and six animals (inclusive) – €120.
  • Between seven and 10 animals (inclusive) – €180.
  • Between 11 and 15 animals (inclusive) – €250.
  • Between 16 and 20 animals (inclusive) – €300.
  • There has been a lot of angst amongst farmers regarding the testing of animals for IBR, with farmers fearful of the implications in trading stock should there be IBR-positive animals in their herd post-testing.

    The Department has assured farmers that the test results will not be widely available with only the farmer, testing veterinary surgeon and the Department having access to them.

    Meal feeding

    Participants 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.

    Eligible suckler calves are those born between 1 July 2022 and 30 June 2023. The rate of payment is €35 per calf for a maximum of 40 calves.

    Should an inspection be carried out, the farmer may have to produce receipts for the purchase of concentrates to validate their participation.

    In order for farmers participating in the scheme to receive payment in this calendar year, the above actions must be completed by 1 November 2023.