Photo from above of the cattle station, where cows are going out of a gate

Understanding the issues: cattle stations.

While many cattle on the vast stations in the north of Australia are destined for live export, their troubles begin well before they ever set foot on a ship. Painful procedures, infrequent monitoring and care, and the stresses of mustering make this far from an idyllic life for animals.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated December 8, 2021


To prevent unwanted pregnancies, many female cattle on extensive properties are spayed. Although spaying is less common than other painful procedures, such as dehorningcastration (in males) and branding, it is a highly invasive and painful procedure. Shockingly, this is usually done without pain relief, and can even be performed on pregnant animals.

The unfortunate animal may suffer one of three common techniques:

  • Dropped ovary technique: The wall of her vagina is pierced with a sharp tool, which is then used to cut off each ovary, leaving them to fall into her abdomen.
  • Flank method: The skin and tissue layers on her left side are cut open, so that her ovaries can be reached and cut out.
  • Webbing: A portion of her fallopian tubes is cut out.

As a result of spaying cows can suffer severe blood loss, infections and reduced growth rate.

Click here to take a glimpse at the other painful procedures most cattle in Australia must endure.

Infrequent care, neglect and death

Given the size of many cattle stations, animals may only be mustered into holding pens once or twice a year. This infrequent contact with humans, and the sheer number of animals on such farms means that injured and sick animals can go long periods untreated or die unnoticed.

It is not surprising that mortality rates on such stations are high. According to industry reports, on average, around 9% of steers (castrated males) die each year (although some regions report that as many as one in every four steers die). Meanwhile, over 6% of females die (with some regions reporting as many as one in five dying). However, since herd records can often be incomplete or inaccurate, in reality, more animals may be dying than we will ever know about.

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Portrait of brahman cattle/ cow


For animals unfamiliar with human contact, mustering can be very stressful. Cattle are rounded up and chased by horse, motorcycle, quad bike and even helicopter. Animals who don’t comply may face rough handling.

Some stations are reported to use shotguns, fired from helicopters, to scare cattle out from under trees. Unsurprisingly, animals can be inadvertently shot. While proposed changes to national Standards for cattle would prohibit the use of metal pellets being used, it is a poor reflection on the attitudes of some stockmen towards animals that we even need laws to prevent such practices.

Cattle may be mustered over tens of kilometres, pushing some to exhaustion, dehydration and heat stress. Heavily pregnant mothers and young calves are often the first to succumb to these added stresses of mustering.

You can help!

Call for an end to live export: The grim fate for many animals on cattle stations is to be loaded onto ships in the live export trade. Exported to countries with no laws to protect them, these animals can suffer unspeakable abuses — including having their throats cut whilst fully conscious. Click here to urge your MP to support a ban on live animal exports.

Make your choices count: Every time you sit down to dinner, you have an opportunity to make a difference. By making the choice to eat more meat-free meals, or take animals off your plate completely, you can help protect these wonderful animals and save lives. Click here to find out more about how you can help animals at every meal.

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