Teagasc is planning to trial a charter flight of dairy calves in the spring of next year, documents seen by the Irish Farmers Journal show.
The option of flying calves to destinations on the European continent is being closely considered due to potential Brexit disruption to normal shipping routes, this newspaper exclusively reported.
Teagasc has begun sounding out the market for an experienced livestock air charter operator to put on a trial flight between 1 March and 30 April 2021.
The trial flight will consist of unweaned calves aged between two and six weeks of age, with each calf weighing between 30kg and 50kg, according to the documents. The flight would be from an Irish airport to an airport in the Netherlands or Belgium.
Teagasc has not set a desired price, but outlined the need for “an economical option” to be proposed that will closely mimic stocking densities on existing commercial calf flights.
Shipping calves by land and sea is estimated to cost in the region of €35/head. Although faster, flying calves could cost double this amount.
Ideally, a company with experience in managing over 50 livestock air charters per year is sought, along with the provision of a “professional flying stockman” with a minimum of five years’ livestock flying experience.
The trial flight is part of an overall initiative called Moove Project, which is examining sustainable transport of unweaned calves from Ireland to EU destinations.
“This transportation is being examined from the point of view of calf welfare and environmental sustainability,” Teagasc says.
To support the welfare side of the project, the monitoring of calves over penning, loading and unloading will need to be accommodated.
Operators are also asked to provide designs of different stalls for calves to allow researchers choose the most welfare-appropriate option.
There are no details on the possible airports being explored, though Teagasc said it would be desirable if interested operators had experience in flying livestock from the airport they specify in their applications.
The charter company should also be able to provide ground stockmen at the airport to assist with the loading of calves into stalls or support existing airport handlers in doing so.