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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 21 May 1947

Vol. 33 No. 19

Slaughter of Calves.

I move:

That the Seanad is of opinion that in order to maintain our cattle population, it is essential to restrict the present slaughter of calves and requests the Minister for Agriculture to devise a scheme by which the increased price to be paid by creameries for milk be paid only to suppliers who rear a certain percentage of calves.

It is with a certain amount of reluctance that I propose this motion, because I am very definitely opposed to Government interference in any business, and particularly Government interference with the farmers and telling them how to carry on their work; but calves have been slaughtered to such a very great extent that the cattle trade have become alarmed. They feel that, if some restriction is not put on the slaughtering of these calves, the country in a few years will be denuded of cattle. In the fortnight from April 4th to April 18th, 5,400 carcases of calves were exported by the L.M.S. to England. I have no record of the number exported since, but I understand that slaughtering is still going on. Senator Corkery, I am sure, can tell the House that, in his part of the country, there has been no slackening off, and that they are slaughtering all the calves they can get. I have been told that a particular firm in his district, up to now, have been slaughtering 1,000 calves per week, and, in addition, in every part of the South, hundreds of calves are slaughtered every week and fed to greyhounds. That is a fact and anybody who has any knowledge of the South must admit that it is so.

Unfortunately, the biggest number of calves sold for slaughter come from those districts where they have the best land and the good cows. In the poorer districts, very few calves are ever slaughtered, and I am sure that the Minister and Senator McCabe can tell us that, in County Cavan, they very rarely slaughter a calf. I have been told that, in Cavan and other Border counties, calves are being smuggled across the Border from the Six Counties for rearing, so the fact is that calves are not being reared in the Six Counties, are not being reared in England and are not being reared in Éire. The position appears to be getting very serious. There are many other farmers outside the Minister's county who rear calves, but they are not rearing the same number as they used to rear, and if the calves are all slaughtered in the producing districts they will not be able to get the calves to rear. The motion does not propose that there should be any compulsion on farmers to rear calves. What it suggests is that, where a farmer sells his calf for slaughter for a few shillings and sells the separated milk for manufacturing purposes for a few pence, there should be some restriction.

Farmers outside the creamery districts are the biggest section and consequently they pay a very large proportion of the £2,500,000 of bounty which the Minister says is now being paid to farmers who supply milk to creameries. We who are outside the creamery districts and who are not getting one penny of that sum of £2,500,000 while paying the biggest proportion of it, have a right to have a small say in what these farmers should do. I do not say that these farmers are getting a great price for their milk, or getting anything more than they are entitled to, but if the slaughter of calves is not in some way restricted, it will mean disaster for the country.

The cattle trade believe it would be a wise policy to subsidise the rearing of calves and they recommend that every calf reared by any farmer in Éire, and in good condition at nine months old, should get a bounty of 30/-. They recommend that that bounty should be given in the shape of a voucher to be exchanged for artificial manure and accepted only in payment for artificial manure, the same as the half-crown bounty which farmers get from the millers in respect of every barrel of wheat they supply to them. I have been told that to administer such a scheme would be very expensive, but I do not think it would be. It could be administered in the same way as the scheme of relief of rates in respect of agricultural employment.

In that scheme, every one of the 350,000 farmers in this country got at the beginning of every year a form on which he was asked to state the number of agricultural workers employed by him for the whole year, including members of his family or relations under 17 years of age. He fills up that form and sends it to the county council, then it goes to the Gardaí and there is a check upon it. I have hardly heard of a single prosecution of any farmer for making a false declaration of the number he had employed. If the Minister would adopt the proposal, the question of expense of administration need not trouble him, as it could be done in the same way and with just as little expense.

Every economist preaches that, if we want to improve our standard of living, we must increase our production per man, per cow and per acre and make exports balance imports. Our production per man is fairly satisfactory, but our production per cow and per acre could be very much improved. The greatest help would be a liberal supply of artificial manure. It would improve our tillage land and our grass land, and as grass is the cheapest and most nutritious of all foods the giving of a subsidy for the rearing of calves would pay for itself and produce very good dividends for the country. It would increase the number of calves and increase the food available to rear them and keep them in good condition.

I know that a proposal to produce more cattle for export to feed John Bull was never very popular with a certain section. It was unpopular with the Government when they were advocating the slaughter of calves and preaching the policy of self-sufficiency. The Minister for Industry and Commerce has exploded that policy in a recent speech.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I doubt if we are dealing with that policy under this motion.

It is touching on the proposal that, if we do not rear the calves, we will not have anything for export. It is all hinging on the policy that if the calves are slaughtered, we will have nothing to export. In a recent statement, the Minister for Industry and Commerce said: "We must export or perish. Our adverse trade balance in 1946 was over £33,000,000 and to meet that demand we had to draw on capital, as the returns from exports and our interests from investments abroad would not meet the charge". If this is our position in 1946, when we can get only a quarter of the goods we require, what will be the position in 1948 when we can import all the goods we can pay for? If our calves are slaughtered and we have no cattle to export, our adverse trade balance may not be £33,000,000 but four times that amount. When it was £15,000,000 in the old days —I do not remember it ever going over £20,000,000 or there would be a great to-do about it—cattle were a big proportion of our export trade, so I do not know what the adverse balance may be when we have not the cattle.

Certain people may find satisfaction when that occurs. They were always denouncing the British and the paper money of England. That will all be used up in a few years if this policy goes on and that may be a great satisfaction to those people. Over 90 per cent. of our total exports is in the form of cattle, horses, poultry, rabbits and eggs. Our cattle exports are steadily declining. The total number exported to Britain and the Continent was 276,000 through Éire ports and 53,000 through Northern Ireland ports, together with a certain number—I do not know if it is on record—sent to be fed in Northern Ireland.

What figures are those? They are awkward figures and I cannot place them in my mind. Where did the Senator get them?

I saw them in the Irish Press about a fortnight or three weeks ago and I have them from the records of the cattle trade. There is a record kept by the secretary of the Insurance Board of every beast leaving this country, either to a British port or through an Éire port, as they have to be insured, so the numbers are quite correct.

I think the Senator could check up on them with advantage.

The shipping companies cannot accept a beast unless it has a stamp from the cattle trade insurance company on it. The figures are 276,000 through Éire ports and 53,000 through Northern Ireland ports. We have no record of the cattle sent to Northern Ireland and fed there.

If it were said in 1930 that, in the year 1946, our exports of cattle—which were then 800,000—would be reduced to 330,000 and that we would have no exports of sheep or lambs, of pigs or bacon or of butter; that we would not be producing enough of those commodities to feed our own population; that a fat 10 cwt. beast would be worth £20 more in the Dublin market than a British-bred beast would be worth in England; that we would be smuggling fat cattle across the border to feed our population here and that the Government would have to prohibit the export of the few pounds of beef we were sending to our friends in England, the man who would make that statement in 1930 would be laughed at and told he was a fool, that there was no sense in it and that it could not happen. I am saying here now that the cattle trade is going down quickly and in a few years' time it will be a serious proposition unless the Minister takes some steps to alter it.

We have had statements by the Minister and I think a few times by the Taoiseach and others about the millions that are being given for the relief of agriculture. The Minister has spoken a lot about the £2,500,000 he is giving to the dairy farmers supplying the milk to the creameries. There is no truth in these statements whatsoever. The farmers are not getting one solitary shilling out of these millions. All these millions are being paid to keep food cheap for the manufacturers and the shopkeepers and the people living in the towns and cities. The farmers are getting nothing out of it though they are paying their portion of it. If the old rule of supply and demand operated in fixing prices, it would not be 1/2 per gallon that we would be getting for our milk, it would not be £3 per ton we would be getting for our wheat, it would not be £4 a ton we would be getting for our beet. We would be getting more than twice these prices if it was a question of supply and demand such as operates in the case of manufacturers and others in connection with the sale of their goods. Nobody can deny that if we were not controlled, and controlled at uneconomic prices, we would be much better off. I am sure that some of the creamery representatives, if they speak here, will thank the Minister and the Government for their generosity in giving this extra price for milk. I do not thank the Government. I think that the price they have given now should have been given eight years ago. If any thanks are due it is to Senator Baxter and Senator Sweetman for their able advocacy of the farmers' case which persuaded the Minister to consent to examine the case made by them and I may say that I think the Minister had a tough job getting the Government to advance the price. We can congratulate him on his success in that regard. I am not asking the Minister to decide definitely on the proposals that I have put up here. I ask him to consider the proposals and to do as he did in the last case, that is, if he thinks that matters are as serious as I have suggested, to consider putting up a scheme to prevent the slaughter of calves. If he does this, I will withdraw the motion.

To have a discussion on this subject is to me very interesting indeed and accordingly, as a member of the same executive as Mr. Counihan, I second this motion. I think he has, from his own point of view, made a very excellent case but I must say as one in contact with dairymen there is another side of the case to consider just as well. I am almost as much opposed to the slaughter of calves as I am to compulsory tillage. I hate the very idea of compulsion in a free country. My idea is to insist upon the Government devising and operating schemes upon such lines as the nation's best interests would demand. If for the well-being of the community calves must be slaughtered in order that milk will go into the homes of the people I hope it is only a passing phase. Slaughtering of calves looks to me like cutting immature and unripened oats or taking out potatoes too soon. I have yet to learn that there is not room in the country for every calf that is born in it. There is an opinion prevailing that certain sections of the cattle trade want to utilise the poor districts to rear calves in order that the people on the richer lands can live lives of ease and opulence. We all hear of the great grazing lands of Meath, Westmeath and Kildare. At the same time if milk is made sufficiently profitable you will have these rich lands devoted to it to the detriment of the poor lands where the younger cattle are reared. We have to consider all these matters and I do not like to see us rushing at our fences. I would like to see us taking our time and considering the changes that are taking place.

I have seen a lot in my 40 years' experience. In 1903 I was secretary of the United Irish League. Then I came down to 1912 and I remember well being on a deputation to Mr. Redmond asking him to establish something like the Drogheda factory in order that our cattle might leave the country only as dead meat. Then we came to the time of our own Government and we had various schemes implemented. I remember myself going wholeheartedly for a scheme in 1933 against political opponents. I was going to become a millionaire out of wheat growing. Then, again, I came to what is called the moisture content and again I found I was on dangerous ground. Now we have the slaughter of calves. We certainly should not say to a man who finds it necessary to slaughter calves that he must not do so when we are not prepared to pay him for them. We are told the pig trade is gone. People whom I knew who reared thousands of pigs will not rear one at all now. I am quite willing to say there are excuses. The past winter has been severe and you cannot blame the Government for that. At the same time since I came into this House I have been harping on the necessity for giving every possible encouragement to stall-feeding. In stall-feeding the much-condemned bullock, to my mind, becomes the nation's greatest employer if he is well looked after and cared for through the winter and the spring.

I am not altogether in favour of sending live cattle out of the country as I think much more could be done to mature them here and to have the offals converted into raw materials that are required for industry. What has been happening is what has been going on for generations. If economic conditions were to go back to the position that they were in some 30 years ago the cattle trade would disappear. It would be unwise to rush to a decision without giving grave consideration to the various aspects of the question. The object should be to devise a scheme that would be of greatest benefit. Personally, I do not think the position of owners of calves should be prejudiced. I should not like to have farmers rearing calves for the benefit of other people. I do not like compelling people to slaughter calves, if at the end of three years these same calves could supply the manure that is now supplied by factories. Manures can be imported more easily this year than in recent years, but the old system of having animals on the land was better for the country.

Calves are being slaughtered in dairying districts and prior to the economic war thousands of them were exported by dealers. Buyers came to the southern markets for calves. Those who own cattle always rear a certain number of calves and sell the others. Senator Counihan does not suggest any way that would bring people from the Midlands and from the West to buy calves. There must be something wrong when buyers are not now coming to the markets for calves. It cannot be due to the transport charges as they are not very high. When there is no demand something has to be done with the calves that are not needed.

The slaughter of calves has been going on as long as I can remember. A certain number of white calves were always slaughtered before being exported to England, and there never was any outcry about it. The position of the dairy farmer has to be considered. He brings calves to the market in September or perhaps keeps others until May.

At present some farmers find it very hard to feed the stock they have. They complain that they are overstocked, and this motion would compel them to increase their stock. If Senator Counihan could get buyers from the West and from the Midlands to buy more calves something might be done to solve this problem. Many people have gone out of the dairying industry, not because of the price being paid for milk, but for other reasons.

That is not altogether due to the price that is paid for milk, but rather to the difficulty of getting people to milk cows on Sundays. Perhaps the difficulty that we are up against could be got over if Senator Counihan could provide us with a six-day cow.

As an indication of how this question is viewed in the dairying counties, I would like to refer Senators to a resolution which was brought before the Kerry County Committee of Agriculture a week ago dealing with the slaughter of calves. The only support the resolution got was from the proposer and the seconder. I think that Senator Counihan is unduly alarmed about the position. There is no danger of the cattle trade suffering from a scarcity of raw materials because of the fact that calves are not being reared. What we are suffering from at present is a scarcity of feeding stuffs to feed the cattle that we have. There is something wrong, as far as the dairying counties are concerned. In the old days they were generally overstocked. At that time farmers always reared their calves. The price of dairy products was uneconomic then and one of the things which helped to keep the dairy farmer on his feet was the slight profit he made on rearing young stock. Another was the unpaid labour of the members of his own family. One of these props has since been completely withdrawn, due to the uneconomic price for young stock. In the past these calves were taken off the farmers' hands when they were from three weeks to six months old. They started selling them about the 1st of May and were able to find plenty of buyers for them. There are now no buyers for them.

We have, therefore, the position in the South that we have a lot of yearling cattle which are difficult to sell. If Senator Counihan were to attend some of the fairs in the South he would find a surplus of these cattle and very few buyers to look at them. While there seems to be a good price for the finished article, the gap between young stores or calves and the older class of cattle has widened considerably. Who is going to tide the farmer over the period when his young cattle are most unprofitable to him? For a long number of years the farmer was supplying cheap butter and cheap milk to the rest of the community. I think the limit of his endurance is reached when he is asked to supply raw material for the cattle trade at his own expense. I do not believe there are as many of those calves being sold for slaughter as some people say. I know a number are being sold. What are the unfortunate men who have them to do with them? As a rule the dairy farmers in the South are men with small farms. The big farmers have long since gone out of dairying. The men with the small hillside farms of 15, 20 or 60 acres always kept their full complement of milch cows. They are unable to keep young cattle until they reach an advanced stage. If young cattle are not taken off their hands they are going to be confronted with a very serious problem.

What was our experience in the South last year? Farmers in the Kerry area usually dispose of 50 per cent. of their cattle between the 1st of September and the middle of December. We all know the very inclement weather we had during the last harvest. It affected the Midlands as well as the South, but from the 1st of September the fairs in the South collapsed and there was nobody to buy the young cattle. From one-third to one-half of them died. Many farmers, as a result, were placed in a very serious position indeed, and I do not know what remedy is going to be found for them. It is not going to be found by rearing young cattle as Senator Counihan has suggested. What guarantee can we have from the cattle trade that if the calves are reared they will be taken off our hands? It is out of pure necessity and not because of any perversity on their part that southern farmers are selling their calves for slaughter. Normally, that is the last thing a dairy farmer would do. I think that Senator Counihan is unduly alarmed about the position. There are plenty of cattle on offer at our southern fairs, and I hope Senator Counihan will do his best to get buyers to take the cattle off the people's hands.

Debate adjourned.