Beef production in Australia was almost brought to its knees when the government banned all live cattle shipping to Indonesia in 2011 because of concerns about animal welfare.
Indonesia is a major market for Australian live beef cattle, taking in about 700,000 cattle per year. The ban lasted one month but it had severe knock-on effects to the live shippers, holding centres and farmers who rely on it for their incomes.
Cattle welfare is a top priority for the staff at Coomalie Holding Depot in Australian’s north, just 90 kilometres south of Darwin.
This holding centre normally handles around 70,000 head of cattle per year, as was the case in 2017, but this year, 75,000 cattle have been exported in the first six months.
Cattle are shipped live to both Indonesia and Vietnam and come from all parts of Western Australia and it’s up to the staff at Coomalie to ensure they have the best attention before their long journey.
There has been a massive effort to improve standards following the ban of live cattle shipping from Australia to Indonesia in 2011 due to poor welfare conditions.
Jason Baker is the manager of the holding centre and says animal welfare has vastly improved on live shipping over the past few years.
“Following a public outcry into livestock shipping conditions going into the Indonesian market, there has been a huge improvement on animal welfare,” said Baker.
“The Indonesian market takes cattle with a liveweight of 300 kilograms to 370 kg, which will go to fattening units there, whereas the Vietnam market takes them finished at 460 kg liveweight.
“The exporter buys the cattle from the farmers and owns them through handling and shipping until delivery to customer.”
Baker said the Coomalie centre holds and feeds the cattle for three to seven days. Five staff members work at Coomalie to constantly monitor the cattle for signs of lameness or disease.
Cattle all have to pass regulations before they can travel.
“We check for ticks, lameness and sickness,” said Baker. “Cattle with horns over 12-centimetres long are given 30 percent extra space in the pens, but if the horns exceed 60 cm tip-to-tip they cannot travel.
“In our pens, we feed the cattle top quality hay and the best pelletized feed we can buy. They also receive fresh water by hand as we want to ensure all the drinkers are clean all the time.”