In this week’s dairy segment, That’s Farming, spoke to Michael Butler, managing director of Fleckvieh Irl, about the business, venturing to Austria and Germany and Fleckvieh’s increased popularity in Ireland.
Michael Butler, Bonnetstown, County Kilkenny, established Fleckvieh Irl four years ago, with sales director, Paul Grace, Dunlavin, County Wicklow.
The thriving company sources quality Fleckvieh stock from herds of the highest health status and milk yields in Austria and Germany.
The company’s team comprises Bradley Moffit, who is responsible for sourcing stock and transport; Shirley Farrell, accounts manager; Barry Muldowney, quarantine supervisor; Nicola Synnot BAgrS, administration; and Julie Butler RVN, social media.
The company has also appointed an individual in Austria, who handpicks and transports stock full-time since the Covid-19 pandemic struck last year.
“Primarily, we source Fleckvieh, but also Brown Swiss and Red Holstein cattle. We looked at the need for something other than the traditional dairy breeds in Ireland. I spent a lot of time in Austria, and I would be very familiar with the Fleckvieh breed.” Michael told That’s Farming.
“Paul has a herd of Fleckvieh, and we were getting a lot of enquiries about the breed. When we went looking for them, it was not possible to get the quantity or quality of Fleckvieh that we needed in Ireland.”
“So, we set up Fleckvieh Irl, an import business. We spent a lot of time in Austria, sourcing Fleckviehs ourselves from farms. We called to possibly 300 farms in Austria, and we whittled it down then to the higher end of the Austrian farms and began buying stock from them.”
“The farms we went to would all be milking 100% pedigree Fleckvieh cattle. Paul is milking a herd of about 250 cows. We use my place for importing and quarantining, and we do a lot of the breeding here.”
Michael believes Southern Austria is like Southern Ireland, referring to it as the “golden vale of Austria”.
Demand for stock
The managing director outlined that their most significant demand this time of year is for maiden heifers, but they also receive high volumes of enquiries relating to pedigree bulls.
“From April on, we have a big demand for calves that are suitable to go straight to grass. We do not deal in suck calves, but buy calves that are four months plus.”
“99.9% of our market are dairy farmers. We would only sell roughly ten animals in the year to suckler farmers. We have minimum criteria that they must milk 7,500 litres annually.”
“The herd average in Austria is 7,500 litres, so we do not buy anything below that average. Combined solids, we are looking at 7.5% as a minimum, 4% butterfat and 3.5% protein.”
“That is the minimum requirement we have set. When we are purchasing heifers, we are not just looking at the mothers, but the two grandmothers’ records.”
Michael highlighted that one of the last consignments they acquired for a client comprised 30 maiden heifers. As a group, based on their dam’s milk records, they averaged 8,440 litres, with solids all above 7.6%.
Michael highlighted that heifers are farmed under a grass-based system for their first lactation achieving 7,000 litres.
“Some are taken from indoor systems in Austria. The records for indoor system heifers can be anything up to 12,000 litres. They are not going to achieve this on an Irish grass-based system, but in their first lactation, they are doing 7,000 litres on an Irish grass-based system.”
Besides, Fleckvieh Irl also sells certified organic Fleckvieh stock, which they source in Austria.
Furthermore, they officiate as agents for farmers wishing to direct purchase stock from Austria and oversee introductions, paperwork, transport, quarantine and a certified veterinary vaccination programme.
“We can quarantine them on my quarantine farm or on Paul’s quarantine farm. Besides, we can bring them to the farmer’s farm to quarantine them. We sort out all the paperwork for the quarantine that will take place on their holding with them.”
“I tell farmers the quarantining period takes a month. Sometimes it only takes 2-3 weeks. It depends how quick all blood tests results are received and everything.”
The quarantining process is all completed in accordance with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s guidelines.
“The stock are coming in from primarily a disease-free country. Our vet provided us with a list that they should be vaccinated for. If a farmer requires a vaccination for his/her own farm, we can provide that. All our vaccinations are administered through our veterinary practice, and they certify all our vaccinations.”
The breed’s increasing popularity
Michael commented on the breed’s increasing popularity on the island of Ireland and the reasons behind the movement.
“A Fleckvieh should last in the herd 8-10 lactations. They are very docile, very fertile and will go back in calf every 365 days, with no problem.”
“Farmers who are having problems with traditional dairy breeds are looking at other breeds. They see the Fleckvieh as being a very hardy, robust animal.”
“A pedigree Fleckvieh bull calf is making €400 plus, and the heifer calves could make €600 plus. On average, pedigree Flevkvieh calves are making around €500.”
The Kilkenny native explained that Fleckvieh Irl is currently aiming to meet its daily demand for stock.
“A problem now is getting enough of them sourced in Austria and Germany as there is a big European demand for dairy stock. It is not just an Irish thing since the abolishment of quotas.”
“We are competing with a lot of other countries to source stock that we want. The prices have gone out of hand; stock in Europe has gone up. Maiden heifers, in their own right, have gone up about €200 per head.”
“It is driving the price of them up; the price for dairy stock in Ireland has increased in every breed. We are finding it difficult to source the volume of stock that we need at the moment. In my view, there is a lot of below-average stock available, but we will not buy them.”
“I am blown away by the interest in Fleckvieh in the last couple of years. When we started out, half the phone calls were enquiring about what are Fleckviehs. Now, it is purely farmers looking for top-end stock. They understand the breed and have done their research,” Michael concluded.
You can find more information about Fleckvieh Irl by clicking here.