FAQs

We understand you may have questions about the live sheep export sector. We have created the following FAQs to help discuss some of the more common questions we are asked. We plan on continually adding to these to be as open and transparent about the sector.

There are also a number resources available online, to help you find out more about the industry.

The Sheep Collective was developed to provide some clarity about the live sheep trade on behalf of our Western Australian farmers, truck drivers, vets and industry representatives.  We hope this helps provide you with some of the sector facts and why the health and welfare of our sheep is so important to us.

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 strong demand for sheep meat in Middle East 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 system, 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

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Can we replace the 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.

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What happens when they arrive into the 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 http://www.agriculture.gov.au/export/controlled-goods/live-animals/livestock/information-exporters-industry/escas

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

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How are they 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 and 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.

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How are they prepared in quarantine?

As sheep arrive from farms into quarantine 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 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 vessels 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.

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Is road transport stressful, do they get enough space?

Once sheep are yarded on farm the weights are used to calculate the space required for truck loading. 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.

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How are they prepared on farm?

When an exporter and importer have made a contract, buyers will approach 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.  Buyers will inspect the sheep on farm and select those suitable for export.  They are then transported to the pre export quarantine feedlots.

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Will they Be Killed Humanely?

In most Middle East markets, slaughter is done without stunning because of religious requirements.  However it is carried out quickly & humanely.  
All Australian sheep in overseas markets takes place 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.

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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 fited 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.

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What does the vet do during the voyage?

The vets role during the voyage is to follow the specific instructions provided to them by the exporter this is called an AEP. This AEP outlines the veterinarians responsibilities which comply with the Australian Standards of Export of Sheep (ASEL) and the specific exporters Approved Arrangements. The Veterinarian and their compliance with the AEP is 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:  http://www.agriculture.gov.au/export/controlled-goods/live-animals/sheep

“As an AAV my daily routine involves a walk around the decks, monitoring environmental conditions and health and welfare of 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 and 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.

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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 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 is 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 provides another level of reporting to the federal authorities.

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Do the 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 conditions underfoot very slippery. The manure forms a pad which is actually a soft bedding that gets trampled down. This is similar to the yard areas on farm that hold sheep.

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What’s a typical voyage day like?

During the voyage, the daily routine is key to success. Usually in the early morning as crew enter 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 crew continue to monitor the animals, checking automatic water troughs and feeding the animals again.

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How many people are there looking after the sheep?

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

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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.

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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 and investment in training and infrastructure. 

Boxed meat is not a substitute for sheep – the supply of sheep and chilled or frozen meat often caters to distinct markets that are not interchangeable. Australian sheep is in demand due to logistical difficulties in delivering and storing meat (in some markets), cultural / religious preferences and its price. Strong demand remains 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.

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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 and 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.

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