More than 100 dairy farmers have slaughtered calves under eight weeks of age this spring, despite animal welfare rules specifically prohibiting the practice.

Figures released to the Irish Farmers Journal by Bord Bia confirmed that 105 dairy farmers were deemed to be non-compliant with the agency’s Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) because they had culled underage calves.

However, Bord Bia confirmed that the 105 herds which breached SDAS rules includes a number that provided evidence of force majeure circumstances as part of their closeout.

This may have been due to a TB outbreak in the herd.

Dairy farmers have been banned from slaughtering healthy calves under eight weeks of age since 1 January this year. Any farmer found to be in breach of the rules is required under SDAS to implement a calf breeding and management plan.

The farm will also be subject to a further audit in the following 12 months.

If the farm is found to be non-compliant on calf slaughter grounds again, then the holding’s SDAS certification may be suspended.

Meanwhile, there has been a major fall-off this year in the number of calves slaughtered.

Up to 13 May 2023, the number of young calves slaughtered last year was 30,380 head. However, the overall figure for the same period this year was 18,512 head. This is a reduction of 11,868 head or almost 40% from 2023 to 2024. The total number of young calves slaughtered in 2023 was 30,775.

In related news, Bord Bia confirmed that six farms lost their certification for SDAS during the first four months of the year.

The figure for the same period in 2023 was 10 herds, three of which were re-audited and had their certification restored.

A total of 4,263 SDAS audits were carried out between January and April.