Home > Sheep Exploitation > Live Export

What are the impacts of Live Export on sheep?

“It begins with the mustering of the stock, often on remote properties, and it ends with animal slaughter in the country of destination. In between, the stock will be handled at least a further five or six times and the whole process is likely to last between one and two months. Little is known about the cumulative effects of these combined stresses on the welfare of the animals but it is possible that multiple stressors could make the animals anxious, depressed or enter a phase of learned helplessness.” [1]

The following are the issues involved in Live Export detrimental to the lives of the sheep involved. These issues are either difficult or impossible to rectify through regulation and are the reason why a majority of Australians are in favour of an end to the industry:

  1. Before boarding a ship or plane, animals may be stressed by food and water deprivation, high stocking densities and high temperatures while being transported by road or rail for up to 50 hours. These stresses can cause dehydration, bruising and salmonellosis in sheep and respiratory disease in cattle. [1]
  2. Stress of loading sheep who are ruminant grazing animals onto the unfamiliar environment of the ships
  3. The sheep are subjected to long voyages, high temperatures (causing heat stress) and extreme changes in climatic conditions
  4. There is stress caused by the noise and constant ship movement. Rough seas and unexpected weather put animals at increased risk of injury and sea sickness.
  5. Hoof damage, painful skin abrasions and lameness are common on board live export vessels due to the abrasive deck surface and inadequate drainage. This may lead to septicaemia.
  6. Untreated, open wounds are at risk of infection and septic cellulitis from exposure to faeces and urine. Skin abrasions are often go unnoticed as they are covered by faecal matter. Infections can be so painful that an animal will refuse to rise, which in turn stops them feeding and drinking and leaves them lying in their own faeces.
  7. Due to the typically high stocking density of the voyages, it is not usually possible for all animals to lie down but if they can then they are often forced to lie in their own waste.
  8. Failure to eat onboard due to the change from a pasture-based diet to an unfamiliar feed of concentrated pellets.
  9. Ammonia gas related health issues affecting an animal’s eyes, nasal cavities and respiratory tracts, resulting in crying, coughing and nasal discharge.
  10. Animals are often not properly tested for pregnancy before boarding and that has led to cows and ewes giving birth at sea. Animals who go into labour on live export ships are not often given the additional space and care that they need, and their young may be trampled or injured.
  11. Deaths during transit. Incredibly, government regulations allow a mortality rate of 2% of sheep on every voyage — which means hundreds, if not thousands, of animals can die at sea without any investigation into the cause.
  12. At the end of the journey the sheep face unregulated handling and slaughter practices in jurisdictions that fail to monitor and enforce animal welfare laws. The sheep are taken outside the reach and protection of Australian animal welfare laws and the regulations, including being killed while fully conscious.
  13. Live export has a history of disasters that have been devastating for animals – ventilation problems, engine failure and even fire have caused suffering and fatalities. Every journey runs the risk of something going wrong and animals are the ones to pay the price.

Despite multiple government and parliamentary reviews and additional regulatory requirements being imposed following these reviews ongoing suffering and deaths have not been prevented. In recent years the evidence of whistle-blowers has proven the suffering that animals endure. This evidence provided by each of these whistle-blowers also demonstrates the significant regulatory non-compliance by the live export industry.


[1] Clive J. Phillips, ‘The Welfare of Livestock During Sea Transport’ in Michael C. Appleby et al (eds), Long Distance Transport and Welfare of Farm Animals (CABI, 2008) 137, 139-40