How has COVID19 affected livestock exports?

The export of livestock continues under the COVID19 pandemic. Animal health and welfare continues to be paramount within all aspects of our supply chain.


Tight interstate border controls are now in place and the movement of livestock is being managed with livestock carriers being deemed as essential services.


Our Government has taken the steps to pause Independent Observers accompanying livestock vessels into market during this time as a part of the national and international response to managing travel through the pandemic. Accredited Stock people and Veterinarians are still accompanying voyages and currently returning on the vessel and self-isolating upon their return to Australia. There have been a number of on-board vessel protocol’s tightened for all shipboard personnel, including our stock people, to ensure the optimum safety and wellbeing to those individuals carrying out their day to day responsibilities during this time.


As we near our shearing season, shearers and wool handlers have also been classified as essential services and due diligence is being taken with the implementation of social distancing in many shearing sheds. Extra hygiene-related practices within these working environments have also been heightened to ensure the health and wellbeing of all workers.


Additional precautions and contingencies are being put in place in each part of the supply chain to continue this important delivery of food to importing countries. Now, more than ever livestock export is needed while there has been a reduction in commercial travel which largely affects the availability of chilled beef supply to many regions.


It is our priority to maintain our food security objectives to all our international trading partners, whilst upholding our world-leading animal welfare practices and ensuring the wellbeing of our people that will be working through this rapidly changing environment.


Other resources for further insight into COVID19 and its impact on the agricultural industry can be found here:

How many people are there looking after the sheep?

The vessel personnel consists of the captain and senior officers, engineers, electricians, catering personnel, deckhands, and accredited Australian stock people. Vessels have 1 dedicated crew member per 2000-3000 sheep. The Australian stock people and Australian accredited veterinarians are in addition to this. Everyone is working towards the common goal of high animal welfare. The top priorities are freshwater, clean feed, dry bedding, and removal and treatment of any sick or injured sheep.

What happens when animals are sick or die?

There is an Australian Accredited Veterinarian (AAV) on all long haul voyages with sheep to the middle east. These veterinarians will treat any sick animals and put them in hospital pens. If necessary, any sick sheep will be euthanised. If any sheep are found deceased in the pens they are moved to regular points for the AAV to inspect and perform a post mortem.

Post mortems are a normal part of disease investigation for a veterinarian. Knowing where the sheep was from on the deck and looking at its ear tag helps the veterinarian investigate the mortality and understand the cause of death and if there is any risk to other sheep.

Records of all sick and deceased sheep are entered into the daily report sent to the Australian Federal Government.

There is also an independent observer appointed by the Australian Federal Government on all voyages which provide another level of reporting to the federal authorities.

What does the vet do during the voyage?

The vet’s role during the voyage is to follow specific instructions provided to them by the exporter, this is called an AEP. This AEP outlines the veterinarian’s responsibilities which comply with the Australian Standards of Export of Sheep (ASEL.30) and the specific exporters Approved Arrangements. The Veterinarian and their compliance with the AEP are audited by Federal Government Independent Observers during a voyage.

For more information on the regulatory framework and requirements please see the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

“As an AAV my daily routine involves a walk around the decks, monitoring environmental conditions, and the health and welfare of the sheep. I will talk with the stock people on each deck to understand if they have any concerns. The stock people get to know their animals and are quick to highlight any concerns for us to work through” Dr. Peta Lewis

The Veterinarian will be present at the daily meeting each day to give an update on any health and welfare issues and work with the Captain, Chief Officer, and Australian Stockperson. The AAV collates information from each daily meeting and the deck inspections into a daily report provided to the federal government.

Will the sheep be killed humanely?

In most Middle Eastern markets, slaughter is performed without stunning because of religious requirements.  However it is carried out quickly & humanely.
All Australian sheep that are processed in overseas markets are processed in facilities which have been independently audited and approved by the Australian Government.

Exporters also have consultants that work in the market to support importers compliance with ESCAS.

Where possible, Australia strongly promotes the use of stunning in our importing countries.

How are sheep prepared on farm, prior to being exported?

When an  Australian exporter and overseas importer have made a contract, livestock buyers representing the exporter will approach livestock agents and farmers to fill the specific order. This order will specify the type and class of sheep required and outline the requirements farmers must meet to ensure sheep are prepared for export appropriately.  Livestock buyers will inspect the sheep on-farm and select those suitable for export.  They are then transported to the pre-export quarantine feedlots.

Is road transport stressful for the sheep?

Once sheep are yarded on the farm, the weights are then used to calculate the space required for trucking the sheep. Each deck of the truck is carefully loaded and gates closed. This prevents sheep from over-crowding and provides a safe transport environment. Too loose and too tight is not ideal, the truck driver carefully prepares and plans his loads in line with the road transport guidelines to ensure every animal is delivered in good condition.

How are sheep prepared in quarantine?

As sheep arrive from farms into quarantine feedlots, they are inspected against the buying requirements. Any sheep not suitable are immediately removed and rejected from the export consignment. Any rejected sheep are marked, treated if required, and kept separate from the other sheep in quarantine.

After receival into the quarantine feedlot, sheep will be drafted (separated) into groups based on weights, sex, and breed so ‘like with like’ sheep are together. This is required for careful planning and preparation of the vessel load plan. During drafting any sheep with wool length longer than 20 – 25mm will be removed and shorn. The drafting process also allows for further separation of any sheep not suitable for export.

Sheep are kept in their drafted lines in sheds or paddocks and provided access to the same feed they will be provided on the vessel.

What happens when sheep arrive into the overseas markets?

Australian exporters accept the responsibility to ensure the welfare of sheep throughout the supply chain until slaughter.


That means Australian exporters are responsible for their animals, even after they are discharged and sold to the importer.


Through detailed recording systems, exporters know exactly where the sheep they have supplied are in the supply chain at all times.


Importer facilities are independently audited by accredited international audit companies according to Australian Government standards (ESCAS), which is higher than the international animal welfare standards (OIE).  Australia is the only country to have made this a requirement of the sheep export trade.


If you want to learn more about ESCAS check out the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

Information source and for more information thanks to ALEC

Can we replace the sheep live exporting trade with chilled meat?

Australia already sends significant amounts of chilled meat to most markets that receive our live animals.

Our live animal trade helped drive consumer demand for Australian product in many countries. However, there is still a demand for live sheep and fresh products for many reasons including, freshness, meeting religious requirements, and as part of their national food security measures.

Why become a live export vet?

Veterinarians like Mik Hopper are part of the livestock industry because they care about animal welfare and want to see it constantly improve.

Why do we export sheep live?

Australia has a long history of exporting sheep to many countries around the world and for many reasons, which have evolved over time.

Today, many countries want Australian sheep because:

  • Increasingly our efforts to help improve animal welfare is recognised as contributing to wider social and ethical change, better treatment of local sheep, improved worker safety and better meat quality.
  • Australian live sheep supply is an integral part of the importing countries’ food security programs.
  • There is a strong demand for sheep meat in Middle Eastern countries.  Australian supply provides the opportunity to meet that demand.  Without it, there would be a food deficit in these countries – the alternate supply is difficult and costly.
  • The majority of sheep exported comes from Western Australia, which is the closest side of Australia to the Middle East.  The live trade is an integral part of the WA sheep industry and provides a significant sales channel and livelihood for many WA sheep farmers.
  • Middle Eastern markets have been predominantly sheep meat consumers for thousands of years.  Beef is consumed in relatively small amounts.
  • Our customer’s first preference is for fresh meat, not chilled or frozen.  Fresh meat is generally considered as the best option.
  • Some religions require meat to be slaughtered in their country.
  • There is greater consumer confidence in fresh meat from locally processed Australian sheep versus imported meat.
  • Importing countries have confidence in the health status and quality of Australian sheep, regulatory certification systems, and our ability for meeting the consistent supply of high-quality sheep.
  • Australia can provide a variety of sheep classes and breeds with excellent quality and health status
  • Australian sheep offer great value for money.  They are high yielding, often the heaviest and best value (per kilogram) red meat option in the market.
  • Local businesses can use not just the meat, but the entire animal for different products
  • It strengthens breeding and herd numbers with quality genetics
  • It supports the development of a local processing sector in developing countries

Information source and for more information thanks to ALEC: http://auslivestockexport.com/good-animal-welfare-is-good-for-business/live-trade-faqs

What training do livestock carriers undertake?

John Mitchell explains the importance of low stress stock handling in the transportation of livestock.

What do the crew do on cattle live export boats?

Peter, an experienced First Mate explains the daily routine for him and his crew on-board a livestock export vessel – and why they love what they do.

Why can’t we just process livestock in Australia and send overseas as boxed meat?

There is strong demand for both chilled and live animals from many countries that Australia exports to. These two trades are often complimentary due to catering to different demographics in the importing countries. Chilled meat only has a shelf life of 70 days and caters to more affluent demographics because of the cost of importing chilled and frozen meat is much more expensive than fresh meat from wet markets.

How are cattle transported?

Mark de San Miguel is a truck driver owner/operator based out of Broome and explains how cattle are transported in the live export supply chain. A role where you have to be a stock person too, not just a truck driver.

Why can’t producers utilise their land in other ways rather than breed and sell livestock?

Emma White from the Kimberley Pilbara Cattleman’s Association explains why cattle producers from the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of WA cannot just ‘go and do something else’ with their land. Pastoral leases are leases over Crown land which gives the lessee the right to graze authorised livestock on the natural vegetation. SOURCE: https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/information-an…/…/pastoral-leases

What role do vet’s play in cattle live exports?

Bryce Mooring explains his role as a veterinarian working in Western Australia. Vets are critical to ensure the health and well-being of the cattle in all parts of the supply chain.

Why is live sheep exports so important for our farmers?

Each year sheep are exported to countries where they are used in breeding programs, to rebuild and improve flocks as well as for meat and protein. As such, sheep export provides a valuable market option for WA producers.

As well as providing a living for many Western Australian farmers, the trade supports many businesses, including feed suppliers and manufacturers, transport companies, shearers, veterinarians, exporters and livestock agents. These businesses have either emerged to support the sheep export industry or have grown in response to it and are largely dependent on the trade for their business. The trade plays a crucial role in underpinning the economic activity and social wellbeing of large parts of southern WA.

In the absence of live sheep exports, there is Insufficient sheep processing (abattoir) capacity in WA to support the production capacity of the WA sheep flock.  As the major state supplying the live export trade, stopping exports would result in a reduction in price for WA farmers, a down turn in wool production and a rapid decline in sheep numbers.

In 2017/18, the live sheep trade contributed $209.3 million to the WA economy.

Why stopping live exports will not improve animal welfare.

Of the more than 100 countries exporting sheep, Australia is the only country regulating international animal welfare standards from the farm to the point of processing in overseas markets. The industry is positively influencing the actions of other countries by its presence in the market place and investment in training and infrastructure.

Boxed meat is not a substitute for live sheep – the supply of sheep and chilled or frozen meat often caters to distinct markets that are not interchangeable. Australian sheep are in demand due to logistical difficulties in delivering and storing meat (in some markets), cultural/religious preferences, and price. There is still strong demand from the Middle East for live Australian animals and when we can’t meet this demand, it is not filled by Australian boxed meat but by live animals from Sudan, Somalia, Eastern Europe, and Asia – countries that do not share Australia’s commitment to animal welfare.

What is Wetbulb?

Wet-bulb temperature is measured using a standard mercury-in-glass thermometer, with the thermometer bulb wrapped in muslin, which is kept wet. The evaporation of water from the thermometer has a cooling effect, so the temperature indicated by the wet bulb thermometer is less than the temperature indicated by a dry-bulb (normal, unmodified) thermometer. The rate of evaporation from the wet-bulb thermometer depends on the humidity of the air – evaporation is slower when the air is already full of water vapour. For this reason, the difference in the temperatures indicated by the two thermometers gives a measure of atmospheric humidity.

Source: http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/glossary/wetbulb.shtml

Wetbulb and Dry bulb temperature are recorded on live export vessels every 4 hours to monitor environmental conditions. If there has been a water leak or rain come onto an upper deck, the increase in wetbulb will be noted which reflects the increased humidity. This information is used to make management decisions and monitor certain areas of the vessel more closely.

The industry is trailing the use of more automated real time monitoring as it moves forward to provide even more detailed information about micro environments on certain decks.

What’s a typical voyage day like?

During the voyage, the daily routine is the key to success. Usually in the early morning as the crew enters the decks all sheep are stood up and inspected. During this process, feed and water troughs are cleaned and fresh feed placed in all troughs. Throughout the day, the crew continues to monitor the animals, checking automatic water troughs, and feeding the animals routinely again.

Do the sheep ships decks get washed?

Sheep decks don’t get washed during a voyage because they have wool and their manure is very dry so forms a firm pad.  Washing sheep decks would make the environmental conditions humid and flooring underfoot very slippery. The manure forms a pad which is actually soft bedding that gets trampled down. This is similar to the yard areas on-farm that hold sheep.

How does the ventilation work?

Each vessel has different ventilation systems. There are large numbers of supply and exhaust fans taking fresh air in and then removing it to ensure a constant circulation. Each fan is fitted with an alarm system which can be reacted to in real-time by engineers and electricians on board. Vessels are also fitted with additional fans as part of their contingency planning.

Ventilation systems on livestock vessels are now independently verified and this report is sent to the Australian Federal Government. The Pen Air Turnover (PAT) is verified and these figures are used in the Heat Stress Model when planning the voyage.

How are sheep loaded on the vessel?

Once all sheep are drafted into lines, the numbers are used to calculate a load plan for the vessel. The load plan is followed closely by Australian stock-people as sheep arrive at the wharf and the vessel is loaded. The load plan is carefully calculated based on specific vessel factors, sheep factors, and according to the regulatory requirements.

All voyages to the Middle East require the load plan coincides with a Heat Stress Risk Assessment (HSRA). This HSRA model has been used by the industry for many years to predict and avoid heat stress events. If the time of year and certain sheep are at risk the vessel will be destocked or those classes of sheep will not be exported.

What is the daily routine on board a cattle ship?

Each stockman will have their own routine, but a daily example is:

  • 5:30am – 6am: Scan the decks prior to feeding to observe how the cattle are acting in a rest period.
  • 6am -7:30am: Watch the cattle as they are receiving their morning feed. Seeing how aggressive they are on the feed, and seeing which animals are hanging back and understanding the mood of the cattle.
  • 7:30 – 8:30am: Stockman breakfast.
  • 8:30am – 10am: Do the ‘rounds’. This is ensuring every animal stands up, checking their legs and individually assessing the animals to ensure they are all comfortable and healthy.
  • 10 – 10:30am: Morning Smoko.
  • 10:30 – 11:30am: Any other checks/treatments that are required. Moving animals to hospital pens if requiring any extra TLC. If required, a top-up of feed can be given.
  • 11:30-12:30: Morning meeting with Chief mate and Bosun (Deck Boss) about the voyage. At this time if adjustments to plans need to be made, it will be done here. The stockman will then go and write their daily report about the voyage to be sent to the exporter (and the department depending on the voyage).
  • 12:30 – 1:30pm: Stockman lunch.
  • 1:30 – 3pm: Walking the decks to observe the cattle. Making a plan for the afternoon feed and assisting the crew to clean waters.
  • 3 – 3:30pm: Afternoon smoko.
  • 3:30 – 5:30pm: Afternoon feed and doing the rounds of the cattle.
  • Between 5:30pm and 5:30am there will be a night watchman that goes through the decks to clean waters and observe the cattle. If they observe any issues, they will alert the stock person immediately. The stock person may also go down in the evenings to have a look at the cattle whilst they are in a resting state. You do not want to constantly be disturbing the cattle in the evening as they are trying to rest.

How do we know the livestock will be cared for?

Once the cattle are delivered into overseas markets, they remain in our supply chain until final processing takes palace. All in-market facilities where livestock are housed is independently audited by third-party auditors to look at the facility, infrastructure, and staff animal handling techniques.

These audits are then provided to the Australian Government for approval. Australia is the only country to have made this a requirement of the livestock export trade. Indonesia was the first country to have the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) brought in. ESCAS ensures that animals are only moving through the third party facilities that are independently audited to the World Animal Health (OIE) certifications. ESCAS covers animal health and welfare standards once Australian animals are delivered in market.

How long do cattle spend in feedlots in market?

In Indonesia, the cattle generally spend 90 – 120 days in the feedlots and are fed a consistent feed ration to ensure they are gaining weight prior to being processed. During this time, the cattle will generally put on 1.4kg+ a day. It is a similar process for cattle that are exported to Vietnam and will spend from 30 – 120 days in the feedlot.

How well do the livestock travel on the ship?

Livestock travel considerably well on the vessels and in most cases will even put on weight due to being comfortable and content in their environment, with consistent feeding and access to fresh, clean water. Most of the livestock will adapt to their new environment within the first day or so and start to settle into a consistent routine. Most exporters aim to have a weight gain on the cattle between Australia and their overseas destination port. The cattle from Northern Australia are tough animals well suited to the South East Asian climate leading to an extremely high success rate on voyages.

What happens when cattle get sick on board the vessel?

Depending on the type of illness the animal may have treatment will vary however the general procedure is:

  • Identify the animal and what is believed to be the issue or cause of the livestock’s concern.
  • If required, pull the animal out of its pen and move it to a hospital pen where it can be isolated and treated without being potentially injured more by other livestock in a confined space.
  • Each vessel is equipped with a range of medicines that the stockman will administer to the animal as required.
  • Continue to monitor and treat the animal accordingly.

Do the cattle ships decks get washed?

Depending on the voyage length, cattle decks may or may not be washed. Often the voyages to South East Asia are too short to require a wash and when the pad is dry, it becomes comfortable bedding for the animals. When cattle are on long haul voyages, washing is planned in accordance with where the vessel is currently situated on the water as there are environmental laws to take into consideration when it comes to washing in certain areas of the ocean. Deck washes on long haul voyages are often planned well in advance to ensure the rules throughout various marine areas around the world are adhered to.

How long is an average voyage?

The average time frame for some voyages to Sout East Asia and Vietnam as an example is as follows:

  • Broome to Jakarta is approximately 3.5 days
  • Darwin to Jakarta is approximately 4.5 days
  • Townsville to Jakarta is approximately 8 days
  • Broome to Ho Chi Minh City  is approximately 6 days
  • Darwin to Ho Chi Minh City is approximately 6.5 days
  • Townsville to Ho Chi Minh City is approximately 9.5 days

Why do we export live cattle to South East Asia?

South-East Asia is one of Australia’s closest trading partners, being home to over 640 million people. South-East Asians generally do not have sufficient land and knowledge to have large scale breeding operations like Northern Australia. These countries also have large amounts of agricultural by-products (like pineapple husk for example) that they can feed to the livestock relatively inexpensively as humans do not consume them.

Animals are processed late at night/early hours of the morning and sold fresh and hot (never refrigerated) in the market early in the morning. Tradition and culture lead to a huge emphasis on fresh ‘hot’ meat as a preference.

The cattle bred in Northern Australia are the preference by our South East Asian customers as they are similar to their local cattle. They are heat resistant (due to similar climates), disease-free, and have low amounts of fat (Asian customers don’t like fat in their meat). Australians eat a different species of cattle that put a large emphasis on fattier and tender meat which are bred in the cooler climates of Southern Australia.

Live exports to South East Asia provides an alternate market for Australian producers – especially in times of drought and flood to off-take large amounts of cattle in single sweeps when processors are full.

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