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Animal Welfare



  It seemingly started with the debate over mulesing and has been fuelled more recently by the isolated instances regarding issues within the live sheep trade. Animal welfare is something we all need to be aware of as it will become an increasing consideration for all sheep producers across the industry. Recent decisions by Coles to ensure all their home brand eggs are from non-caged birds and branding their pork products as sow stall free is in response to an increasingly awareness and sensitivity of consumer sentiment on the issue of animal welfare. Although the issue is often clouded by confusion between organic labelling and what actually constitutes free range or high levels of wellbeing, there is recent increasing concerns over animal welfare in regard to the production of all animal food products.

It would be easy to simply disregard this increasing consumer concern as the manipulation by groups of radicle activists beating up falsehoods. The recent unlawful invasion of a piggery in NSW where cameras were hidden in an attempt to discredit the operators backfired on the activists and didn’t do their cause any favours but there are some serious discussions being conducted across all livestock industries and authorities to address the issue of Animal welfare. The perception of the Australian lamb industry has long been one of “Clean and Green” and this image has served our export credentials well and allowed us to operate in markets without the perception of crowded feedlots and unhealthy livestock. Even within our domestic markets, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the conditions and welfare considerations under which their food is produced.

So what does the issue of animal welfare consider? Animal Health Australia list 5 freedoms relating to animal welfare;

1.       Freedom from Hunger and Thirst

2.       Freedom from Discomfort

3.       Freedom from Pain, Injury and Disease

4.       Freedom to express normal behaviours

5.       Freedom from Fear and Distress

There is the assumption that if an animal is growing well and at the peak of production potential, then all is well with welfare; not always the case! Animal welfare, as per the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) definition,  is “how an animal is coping with the condition in which it lives. An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling and humane slaughter. Animal welfare refers to the state of the animal; the treatment that an animal receives is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry, and humane treatment. Protecting an animal's welfare means providing for its physical and mental needs 

Animal wellbeing is often referred to in the same sentence as animal welfare but according to the definition by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) it is slightly different to welfare requirements; the definition reads a state of wellbeing as “an animal’s present state with regard to its relationship with all aspects of its environment, both internal and external. It implies a positive mental state, successful biological function, positive experiences and freedom from adverse conditions.”

A recent review of animal welfare standards and guidelines within the Australia sheep industry has been conducted and is open for public comment. There is some ambiguity between the legal implications of Standards compared to Guidelines and the draft document is yet to be finalised but will inevitably involve a tightening of standards across the industry. To view the document visit

The main focus to date within the sheep industry apart from the mulesing debate,has been in relation to transport and slaughter standards but with increasing consumer awareness, what is visible “from the road” could potentially be a concern for all sheep producers. The big public items for other livestock industries in terms of factory farming have predominately concentrated on battery cages and farrowing stalls but the visual images relating to mulesing, tail docking and earmarking will build awareness of the practices within the sheep industry and ultimately could impact the image our industry currently portrays. Issues such as lamb and sheep mortality will become important issues for sheep producers and as we push for higher fertility, we need to be aware of the effect it has on mortality and adjust management practices accordingly. There is plenty of research that indicates media attention relating to animal welfare issues has a small negative impact, but nonetheless an impact on demand.

So what do we need to be aware of to minimise any impact of the management practices we use in our operation? Firstly be aware of the requirements and standards set by the authorities. Ignorance of what is required will be no defence against bad animal welfare practice. Common sense indicates good animal welfare practice leads to higher production. There is room for genetic selection in relation to animal welfare; more placid animals should be less stressed and therefore under the guidelines as set out by the NHMRC would indicate a better state of wellbeing.

There is no doubt all livestock industries will increasing become more accountable for the management practices they employ to make their operations more efficient and profitable. Retailers will be more selective in the products they distribute, especially if they perceive a marketing advantage based on public opinion.  The sheep industry will not be spared their attention so be aware of the standards expected and make every effort to ensure that the welfare and wellbeing of stock is at a high level. The high quality piggery in NSW had no idea someone invaded their sheds and placed cameras to spy on their operation. Thankfully they were a highly compliant operation with no breach of set standards of practise; other than the breach of bio security bought about by those activists breaking in and placing the cameras.  Always consider someone is watching the manner in which you care for your livestock and sleep easy knowing your welfare and wellbeing strategies are acceptable according to the standards and guidelines laid out by relevant authorities.