A lot of detail remains to be worked out on a new suckler scheme due to start in 2025, including around a potential quota system, retention period and the final payment rate (expected to be over £100 per cow).

At present, there are two main eligibility criteria.

The first relates to heifers, which must calve down at under 34 months in the first year, reducing each year to a limit of 29 months in Year 4.

The second is a maximum calving interval (CI) for mature cows, which starts off at 415 days, reducing to 385 days by the fourth year.

DAERA analysis has previously suggested around one quarter of sucklers won’t meet the 415 day target and around 40% have a CI over 385 days.


It is a valid aim to try to improve these figures, but theory should not get in the way of practice. Even in the best herds, at least 20% of cows will have a CI beyond 385 days.

To illustrate the point, if a farmer starts calving on 10 March each year, it means the bull goes out on 1 June.

The first cow to calve on 10 March has to wait 82 days before re-joining the bull. So there is a very tight window for that animal to get back in calf and meet the new CI targets.

The cow might calve on 1 April the following year, right in the middle of your planned calving period, but miss out on the payment.

That will be viewed as a nonsense by farmers. It would make more sense to simply include a cut-off figure for CI (e.g. 430 days), incentivising farmers to cull poor fertility cows.


The other issue to be considered is the new database being created by Sustainable Ruminant Genetics (SRG). There is an opportunity via the suckler scheme to get farmers to provide data on the likes of calving ease, docility, calf vigour etc.

The value of that information is immense and it can help drive positive change in the industry. But for SRG to get the data, farmers need to be on board with the new scheme, not alienated from the start.