Pressure is mounting for the future of live calf exports, particularly for the lighter, younger calves, whose largest export market is the Netherlands.

The Dutch government was recently presented with a plan to fast-track tougher regulations around calf exports. These regulations were not expected to come into play until 2028 or 2029, but it is now likely that they will be in place from 2026.

Under this plan, calf exports to the Netherlands will only be possible if calves are sourced from herds with the same health status as Dutch farms. This will mean that Ireland would need to have a national IBR eradication programme in place – calves sourced from vaccinated herds will not be enough.


Cork Marts will handle the sale of about 95,000 calves this year, across its six sales centres. Jonathan O’Sullivan, manager of Cork Marts, said that 65% of the calves sold are bought for export.

“It’s a huge concern if these rules come into play – it’s going to completely change the sale of calves. If they’re going to enforce the IBR requirement, we’re goosed.

“The Netherlands is a great outlet for that younger, fresh calf. Most of these calves are between 14 and 35 days old. There are very few beef farmers in Ireland showing demand for that type of calf,” he said.

The onus, O’Sullivan said, will fall back on the dairy farmer to rear them to weaning, adding that the day for exporting unweaned calves is “on life support”.


One of Ireland’s main calf exporters told the Irish Farmers Journal that he doesn’t know what dairy farmers are going to do once the rules come in.

“It’s going to be hugely problematic, farmers are ringing every day with calves, despite the year getting off to a slow start there’s a strong demand for exports at the minute,” he said.

Bord Bia’s livestock manager Seamus McMenamin has said that the move will pose a huge barrier for Irish exports.

“There’s a range of pressures to the live export of unweaned calves. The Dutch government were under pressure and they’ve pulled the timeline forward. We are exploring other markets for older categories of cattle. They’re [calves] going to have to be older,” he said.

The Netherlands has been Ireland’s largest calf export market for several years.

Almost 77,000 calves have been exported there to date.