IN THE NEWS: On MAR 11, 2017
Sheep get stressed and aggressive when put in conditions approved by Australia for live animal exports, a study has found.
The University of Queensland's Gatton campus tracked the effects of high-stocking density and sea motion on the welfare of sheep.
It found a 25-kilogram sheep showed signs of aggression and stress in crates set to the Australian shipping standard of 0.78m2 per animal.
They would need at least 20 per cent more space to improve their welfare, the researchers said, while acknowledging it may drive up export costs.
The study put sheep in different stocking densities on a platform and replicated the motions of a ship for one hour, a few times each day.
The animals' heart rates and behaviour were constantly monitored and recorded.
UQ's School of Veterinary Science professor Clive Phillips said the animals were stressed by the constant movement and being packed in together.
"In the high-stocking density, they were tending to push each other more and the heart rate responses showed that they were experiencing more stress," Professor Phillips said.
Cost implications of better conditions
The majority of Australia's sheep are exported to the Middle East on ships that can carry up to 75,000 animals.
Professor Phillips said very little was known about how sea transport affected livestock.
"One of the things that we don't understand fully yet is how it all plays out over the 10 or 12 days in which the sheep are being transported to the Middle East," he said.
"That's why it's so important that a study like this is replicated on a ship.
"We appreciate that giving sheep an extra 20 per cent space or even 30 per cent space would, or potentially could, dramatically reduce the profitability of exporting live sheep overseas.
"But if that is what the public requires for the sheep to be transported in a high-welfare situation, then it may be that is what needs to happen."
The UQ-funded research is due to be published mid-year.